Plant-based cheese contains more salt than its conventional equivalents, according to new data released by UK research group Action on Salt today (27 February).

The non-profit assessed the salt content of over 600 cheeses across ten retailers in the UK.

On average, around 1.91g of salt per 100g was found in dairy-free cheeses manufactured in the country.

Cheddar cheese followed closely with around 1.78g of salt present per 100g.

According to the research, Tesco’s Plant Chef Alternative to Mature Cheese included 2.5g of salt per 100g.

Saputo, producer of Cathedral City and the plant-based brand Sheese, was found to have one of the highest average quantities of salt in its products, averaging at 1.83g per 100g.

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The company declined to comment on the findings to Just Food.

Retailers’ own-label products had a lower salt content on average compared to those made by food manufacturers, with the former containing 1.7g/100g and the latter 1.82g/100g.

Action on Salt said little improvement has been seen in reducing salt in cheeses since 2012, when research showed the average salt content of Cheddar and similar products was 1.68 per 100g. The average quantity in 2023 is now higher, at 1.70g per 100g.

While the researchers admitted most of the products they assessed did not breach the salt targets set by the Department of Health and Social Care, they argued “these large variations in salt, and the lack of any significant reductions since 2012, make it clear that the targets are far too lenient, with scope for further reductions.”

They added the government targets required “stronger enforcement”, with plant-based cheese products not being included under the present goals.

Commenting on the findings, Sonia Pombo, registered nutritionist and campaign lead at Action on Salt said: “As a nation, we are all eating far too much salt, much of which is already added by the food industry in everyday family favourites such as cheese and risks raising our blood pressure and impacting our health.

“The level of salt in some of these products is simply unnecessary and completely undermines the work of some more responsible businesses. It’s therefore vital that our government puts our health first and sets the wheels in motion for more stringent salt reduction targets beyond 2024.”

Responding to the latest study, Dr Judith Bryans, CEO of dairy trade body, Dairy UK argued the report “demonstrates a lack of understanding of how cheese is made and why salt is added in the first place.”

She said: “Salt performs a number of essential roles in cheese which go beyond enhancing taste: it inhibits the growth and activity of harmful organisms, it controls the breakdown of protein which is important for flavour and texture development, and it is crucial for the development of defining cheese characteristics such as colour and crust.

Bryans also stressed cheese had a relatively low overall impact on sodium intake. “Data from the UK’s National Diet and Nutrition Survey shows that cheese accounts for 4% of the sodium intake in diets of children aged 4 to 18 years and 5% in the case of adults aged 19 to 64”, she said.

She added cheese manufacturers could not be asked “to go beyond the current technical limits of cheese making and compromise the safety of the products they are putting on the market.”