Since November, the Dijon mustard, one of the gastronomic prides of France, is not found on the shelves of supermarkets in the country. Housewives, people who like to cook and also chefs, accustomed to accompanying their roast beef sandwiches, or to use it for salads or simply to make a good hot dog, they look for it and can’t find it anywhere. It’s not on home platforms either.
The same absence – which has led to the search for substitutes for this ingredient that may not have the same flavor or quality – is the same that makes the sachet of sauce arrive more and more frequently for the box of Chinese rice at home soy with which it used to be seasoned.
This is not the fault of supermarkets, nor of the global crisis. It’s also not the restaurant’s fault if the flavor changed, not that they skimped on sauces. It is due to the entry into force of resolution 2013 of 2020, which placed a marketing limit on products that exceed specific sodium content limits.
The provision, approved by the Ministry of Health, during the government of Iván Duque, is part of the National Strategy for the Reduction of Sodium Consumption, whose purpose is to «contribute to the reduction of arterial hypertension and associated non-communicable diseases this». Its objective is to “protect the health of the population”.
(You can read: Consuming less salt could save seven million lives in seven years).
For its application, the resolution gave the industry two dates, defined as goal 1 (November 9, 2022) and goal 2 (November 9, 2024). As of the first, only commercially allow products such as peanuts, ham, and sausage, to name a few from a list of 59, that had a certain maximum sodium level (the others should be withdrawn). And from the second, these levels will be lower.
That is, since last November 9, to be marketed in Colombia a mustard must have a maximum of 817 mg of sodium per 100 grams of product. And from 2024, it will only be sold if its sodium content is less than 600 mg per 100 g. For chefs, distributors and restaurateurs, this, in practice, makes it a prohibited food. Just look at the sodium content of any brand of this traditional French product: La Maille, which has been produced since 1747, has a content of 1.1 grams of salt (1,100 mg) per 100 grams of product, according to data from Maille.com.es
Soy sauce has another ceiling: 4,685 milligrams of sodium per 100 grams since last year and 2,959, as of 2024. Much lower than the content in imported sauces –many, premium– from Asia. Ham must contain less than 931 mg of sodium today and should be reduced to 846 by 2024.
“The subject is absurd,” says chef Harry Sasson. They generated some tables and some percentages. If there is too much salt, the product will have all the problems for importation. In Colombia there is local soy sauce. I’ve been using it for years. But if we want a special soybean, like Lee Kum Kee’s dark black or one of the special ones from Indonesia, there isn’t any. It’s up to us, as cooks, to try to reduce what there is, to sweeten what there is, to obtain similar flavors”.
The chef adds that in the table of sodium percentage per 100 grams, it seems that this is a lot. “But you put a few drops or a teaspoon in a large preparation, then you dilute that concentration. The same goes for mustard.»
The effect is felt in restaurants. Emblematic dishes have begun to disappear from the Osaki chain (famous for its Asian cuisine that it sells in six points in Bogotá). They are changing the menu, not out of a creative impulse, but because the arrangement prevents them from accessing fundamental sauces in Asian cuisine that they offer. So they’re saying goodbye to their red curry and miso-based dishes.
The topic is absurd. They generated some tables and some percentages. If salt is exceeded, the product will have all the problems for importation
“The resolution hit us directly,” says Noel Ramírez, head of Takami’s Osaki brand, “because our brand uses fish sauce, oyster sauce and miso. The standard came out at a time when we were looking at how to survive, how not to break (in the reopening after the pandemic) and we didn’t have the opportunity to explain that the use of the ingredient dilutes the sodium content because they are concentrated sauces. No one drinks a fish sauce by itself”.
Osaki experienced a race against time with dates. “He set us up with a race to find substitutes and to reformulate recipes. Since last year we started working with the producers of fish sauce. We are working with a supplier from Peru, bringing samples that meet the limits, but also meet the flavor and gastronomic characteristics. In some cases we succeeded. With others, we had to do without supplies and remove dishes from the menu”.
The measure took the entire sector by surprise. This was explained by Guillermo Gómez París, executive president of Acodros. «The Government did not take into account the gastronomic sector for its preparation,» he said. They argued yes, because they convened gastronomy schools. But it is different to talk to a school than to talk to the productive sector. And we are affected because many of these ingredients, now «forbidden», have no substitutes in the country and because when the client feels that the taste has changed, he criticizes the restaurant and does not return.
Gómez affirms that the Ministry of Health at that time “he limited himself to doing some expert tastings around preparations such as ajiaco and bandeja paisa which are a tiny sample and have nothing to do with the inputs that are prohibited. You cannot make a technical decision without measuring the impact on the dishes that will be affected”.
Since then, Acodres has been working with members of the gastronomy sector, including these importers, to support requests for changes to the measure. They are submitting inquiries to Invima, product by product, looking for them to be excluded from this regulation.
One of his arguments is that the resolution «contradicts itself when it states that at no time can the actions derived from it affect the free market and company law», because, in practice, when a restaurant is prevented from developing its dishes «is jeopardizing your company, your right to work and the exercise of business freedom, since there are no substitutes for these inputs.»
(You can read: The viche, the previously prohibited drink of the Pacific, is now a cultural heritage of the Nation).
It is possible that the national industry tries to emulate them. But there are some whose recipes are ancestral in origin or protected and are impossible to reproduce. And its producers abroad, it is clear, neither go to their secrets nor will they change their shared processes by local legislation. «Colombia is a very small market for manufacturers and they are not going to modify their formulas because the country was given to prohibiting food,» adds the president of Acodres.
He also points out that in the rest of the world, the health institutes have adopted two things as main measures to require excess sodium consumption: warning labels on food (high in sodium, high in fat, high in sugar) and the order not to put salt shakers on the tables. “But, if you arrive at a restaurant and find the dish tasteless, because you cannot use the ingredients that gave it flavor, the first thing you ask for is a salt shaker”concludes.
Colombia is a very small market for manufacturers and they are not going to modify their formulas because the country was given to prohibiting food
Many cooks found out about the measure when suppliers warned them that they would no longer deliver products. This is what happened to Sebastián Cerón, from the Sushiman brand. When he found out, what he did was buy more of everything, to have a reserve that he was rationing, while he watched how he replaced ingredients.
Since then he has been looking for other soybeans within the country. Some you like more than others. She knows that the public will make a difference, but she keeps looking for a way to keep sushi from changing so much that she loses customers.
Another point of impact was said by Thierry Ways, in his column ‘Living insipid’, in this newspaper, when he affirmed that “this government says that it wants to make the country a tourist power. And who says tourism says gastronomy. I want to see how we become a tourist destination on the level of Mexico or Peru if we treat essential ingredients of international cuisine as illicit substances”.
The French Grégoire Besème, in charge of Gastronomic JewelryHe had in his bag a Dijon mustard with truffle for clients gourmet. The measure, he says, restricts the cultural offer. “For me, it will be one less reference –he says–, but it raises a debate about the relationship with food. If you drink a bottle of whiskey a day or smoke many cigarettes a day, you damage your health. If we go into this, we should also ban sugar, whiskey and tobacco. It is a matter of conscience, of education, not of prohibition”.
(Also: Salt and health, five tips to eliminate your daily consumption).
Other foods on the list
Peanuts with nuts, with raisins, with salt, sweet and other peanut products.
Powdered seasoning mixes
Soft panels, pastries, sliced, among others.
Wheat flour based snacks.
wheat flour products
cassava starch products
Varieties of cheeses.
Emulsified and non-emulsified sauces
Soups with pasta to hydrate
LILIANA MARTINEZ POLO