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On salt... | Sourdough Companion

On salt...

The following is an expanded version of a comment I originally posted as part of another discussion on The Fresh Loaf. I thought I'd post it separately under its own heading here, as it's a topic that interests me and that I haven't seen brought up much in a bread baking context. Interested in others' comments.

My partner has some kidney impairment, which necessitates her being on a low-sodium diet - that was one of the factors that led to my baking pizzas and bread (just shows, every downside has an upside!).

I decided from the outset to support her by sticking to the same diet. I figured lowering my salt intake wouldn't hurt, either. Well, I was wrong - it did for a while. I do the cooking, and of course am used to tweaking the seasoning to bring out the best in the flavours. I felt very hamstrung when I first began low-salt cooking, and became quite depressed intially, thinking that this was the end of recipes I had worked on for years, and worse, the end of many of those flavours, ingredients and dishes that add so much to the quality of life. Almost my entire cooking repertoire had to change - and many dishes probably had to be culled!

However, as well as figuring out workarounds to salt using various spices and different cooking techniques, as time went on I found I became far more sensitised to salt. Now, many commercial offerings are way too salty for me - including what was once my favourite local sourdough bread. I have no doubt that the same would be true of my 'old' cooking pre the low-sodium restrictions, were I to revert straight back to it.

So, to bread. I generally halve the recommended salt in bread and pizza recipes, and although this is going to sound less than credible to many, I find the flavours improved! I've always been very into bread, but I can honestly state that I have never enjoyed it so much as now. The 'true' flavour of the wheat and other grains comes to the fore if you do not cloud them with salt. Using 1/2 quantities of salt is a long way from NO salt, however - that is too bland a prospect to contemplate (not to mention the chemical role salt plays in bread dough).

My strong suspicions are that the traditional 2% of salt is too much to a palate that is not de-sensitised to salt through excessive intake (and let's face it, most of us probably do habitually have too much salt).

The big surprise for me has been that what started off as a somewhat resented medically-based reduction in salt has now ended up in a new appreciation of flavour! I can only speak for myself, but I think it's worth trying reducing salt in your bread rather than assuming the 2% 'rule' to be ever-applicable. Maybe reducing by half as I do is too big a drop for those who are accustomed to high-salt food, but try reducing it by a third, for example, and see if it doesn't taste better! I'd be most interested in comments from anyone who tries this.

I used to think salt content in all food was determined by some sort of absolute flavour scale. Celeb chefs judging aspiring cooks on TV cooking competition shows, for example, often screw their faces up on tasting and declare "not enough salt" - this is invalid, although you'd never convince them of that. The fact is - and I can now state this through experience - the quality of saltiness, of 'too much' or 'too little' or 'just right', is subjective. This applies to all food, I believe, including bread.

Cheers all
Ross

14 comments

How our taste buds judge the level of saltiness of our food is a matter of ingrained habit. And as in all habits, this perception of whether a meal is salty enough can be changed.

 

The good news is most people do get used to the reduced salt in their food within a week. It is definitely healthier.

 

I will give Ross' idea of reduced salt in bread a try, if only for the health benefits. But since salt has been touted as being essential in the stabilisation of gluten in bread, I wonder if a reduced amount can affect how how breads turn out. It obviously has not affected Ross' breads; they are great. I mean a rookie like me.

 

I have had too many loaves collapse on me. It is heart-breaking every time.

 

What do you think, Ross?

Give it a go, Occabeka - that will tell you more than any comment of mine. I'd suggest dropping the salt from the standard 2% to about 1.75% initially, then to 1.5% and assess the difference in flavour at that point. But honestly, health benefits aside, I really reckon the flavour of most bread is great with less salt!

BTW, I can assure you that the gluten development/stabilisation will not be altered by reducing the salt content of the dough to the extent I am suggesting. And neither the crust nor crumb is adversely affected. I'm not advocating reducing salt to miniscule levels - that really could have an adverse effect, I imagine.

I can say that I have averaged 2-3 bakes per week for about 8 or 9 months now if my memory serves me well, and during that time have made a lot of different varieties of bread, all with salt reduced significantly from the standard 2%. I've had two failures in that time: my first ever loaf, which was a 'brick' due to my starter not being genuinely active and my not understanding that, and my first spelt loaf, which absorbed more water than I anticipated in the dough mixing stage. Salt was not a factor. I'm very happy to say that all my other bread has exceeded my expectations. I still can't get over how well SD turns out at home. It's a matter of constant wonder for me.

As for your loaves collapsing, I'm wondering about your proving times. But perhaps someone else would like to take you up on that...

Yes, I've seen that one on Susan's blog, LeadDog, but thanks for the link.

To be honest, while I am open to trying the Tuscan bread at some stage, I'm not keen on the idea of a NO salt bread - I like traditional breads too much to drop salt altogether.However, Susan's description of the flavour of the Tuscan bread has aroused my curiousity and also demonstrates a point I'm trying to make here. That is, that lowering the salt content from the standard 2% does subtly change the flavour profile and uncover some lovely tones that are usually muted beneath the salt (without 'saltiness' being apparent).The Tuscan bread is an extreme example.

My lower salt breads are not identifable as such, by the way, and that's my point here. Lowering the salt a bit is not a compromise to my mind - I'm suggesting it here as a tweak worth trying by anyone, not as a health measure. These breads are full-flavoured and delicious! I confess to being a hedonist, and delectable food - especially including bread - is part of that. I enjoy these reduced salt breads as much as any I have tasted - and while I've only been baking a relatively short time, I'm not a newbie spouting off on something I know little about. I've been seriously into bread since my time in Germany in the mid-80s and have tried a lot of varieties over the years...

 

I presume it is the sodium part of the salt that your partner cannot have much of in her diet Ross?  Have you tried a salt substitute eg Potassium chloride instead?  I know this sounds completely ridiculous, but one of my cats is also in early stage renal failure, and she is supposed to be on a special diet.  She wouldn't eat any of the stuff the vet had in tins or packets, so searched the net for "home-made" recipes and found a bunch by a vet who specialised in care of renal patients.  He recommended the use of the salt-substitute KCl as opposed to standard salt NaCl.  I haven't tried to hunt any down, but just thought I'd suggest it, even though you are right about there generally being too much salt in our diets anyway.

K.

 Yes, sodium is the issue with salt. 

Unfortunately, potassium is also an issue for people with kidney impairment, and has to be used sparingly. But thanks for your thoughtful comment - appreciated.

Cheers
Ross

Yesterday I decided to try a no salt bake for all my bread and I was not very happy with it. In our family we tend to stay on low salt diet but with bread I found out that you need some salt and just a bit works wonders. Instead of cutting the salt in recipe by 1/3 or 1/2 I totally removed the salt, it did not change much in the proofing time but I did find the bread be a bit more softer and chewy, also it seems that if you leave a piece out it hardens faster than the breads with salt. Next bake I will add some salt but less than the 2%. 

 

 

 I'd never suggest leaving salt out altogether, dimitry1 (with the exception of the traditional saltless Tuscan bread LeadDog linked to, of course). Salt in bread is not just about flavour. It plays a chemical role including inhibiting yeast activity, thus extending fermentation and thereby enhancing flavour development, which is one of the reasons behind autolysing (if you can use the word as a gerund!)...in some cases, such as when ambient temperature is very warm, bakers add small amounts to their starters to slow down fermentation. I'll leave it to others with better specific knowledge of this to elaborate. 

When I referred to the subtle tones of flavour that emerge when you reduce the salt content a bit below the  standard 2%, I was certainly not suggesting that the more you reduce salt the better the flavour of the bread! You definitely need some salt, and more than just a pinch. I wouldn't go below 1%, and most of the time I use about 1.5%.

Just thought I should clarify that.

Cheers
Ross

Ross I know you don't suggest leaving the salt out totally but I think I just had one of those What If moments so I decided to give it a try. Nevertheless we are eating the bread and sharing with our friends, next time I will use about 1.5% of salt as you suggest.

 

Thanks for your info.

Dimitry Mishchuk

http://www.ourwholesomehomes.com

I'm very new to the exciting world of sourdough starter and bread making and had no idea what role salt played in bread. The first recipe I ever tried had way too much salt for my liking (a tbsp or more is simply horrifying to me, lol). I reduced it to 1/4 tsp and have never had a problem with any of the loaves I've made (a good 2 dozen so far and counting!). I absolutely love making bread. I'm thrilled to have found this site as it would be nice to be able to "converse" with others who enjoy the same. My mom and my sister couldn't care less, lol, beyond eating the finished product of course. I'm sure they're tired of listening to me talk about my starter. . . . and different flours. . . . and everything else that goes along with making bread.

Sometime ago I decided to reduce the salt in my bread from the 'standard' 2% to 1% of flour.  I find bread with 1% salt perfectly acceptable.  I did back-to-back tests and just couldn't detect a difference in taste and it made no difference to the process - despite having been told it would.  All my bread is made with 1% salt now.

Cheers

Have you ever tried Himalayan Pink Salt ?

Hello Newbie,

By and large, salt is sodium chloride with some other  minerals thrown in depending where it is sourced from.  Given that salt is generally at most 2% of your typical dough, the proportion of these minor elements is going to be miniscule and thus are unlikely to have a detectable effect either on the chemical status of the dough or on the taste.

By all means use Himalayan salt (be it pink, purple or green), Maldon salt, Murray River salt, kosher salt (whatever that is) or evaporate your own from the nearest surf beach, the result will still be mighty fine bread.

Good luck with your projects.

Farinam

Thanks kind for the kind words and love the Himalayan pink salt and with the organic flour Im getting home delivered.. I've got a lot to look forward too :D