When to add salt?



I have just been watching a video of Robin Thomson making sourdough at the Beshara School:


He makes a very slack dough, kneads it using the “French” method (more or less) and adds a rather large quantity of starter after he has developed the dough. After more kneading he then adds salt stating that “salt must never come into contact with sourdough starter” and maintaining that the addition of salt prevents the starter from performing its function. Several other experts also advise delaying the addition of salt until the dough is developed (whether by kneading or stretch and fold).

I have been making sourdough successfully on a weekly basis for a couple of years now and my method involves making a preferment, which I leave overnight, then adding all the water and stirring in the salt before adding the main quantity of flour and kneading for ten minutes.

My reasoning is that the salt dissolves more easily this way and the method seems to work well but I would be very interested to know whether there is a scientific justification for not adding salt until later in the process or whether it is simply received wisdom.


463 users have voted.


Croc 2013 April 6

salt does kill just about any living thing out there but as you seen yourself even when you go as far as adding salt BEFORE you add the flour and the rest you endup with nice bread so as much as it affects the outcome a bit it doesn't ruin the process.

I think he goes overboard for no good reason, i always add/mix salt with rest of the flour that that mix then with sourdough and there is no two ways about it my sourdough isn't hurting from that method and is working really well.

if use salt flakes then i sometimes disolve it in water that gets added to the final mixture of flour, starter water but i find even "best" sea salt flakes make no difference to taste of my bread i been for few years using just fine cooking sea salt mixed in with flour as i said above



Croc 2013 April 6

not to be rude but after i finished watching the clip i think he could add no salt at all and his product still looks not so great ;)

Moohie 2013 April 6

I used to add the salt to the dough after it had been mixed and had rested for half an hour.

I always found that it never seemed to mix in properly this way for me though, and I'd always find pockets of undissolved salt when I was stretch and folding.

Now I just mix my salt through my flour before adding both to the starter and water mix. I didn't notice any difference in end product the first few times I tried it this way, so have done it like this ever since. :)


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shasta 2013 April 6

I always add my salt after the dough has set for 30 min. or longer. I use sea salt and started using a mortise & pistil to break the salt down to a powder before adding.
It can take a little kneading but I always get it worked in just fine. I usually fold the dough after that every 30 min to an hour until I see gas bubbles developing in the dough. It always works fine.

gongoozler 2013 April 7

Thanks Guys.

I'm conducting an experiment today: I've made my usual preferment and left it for 12 hours. I've then mixed in the flour and water but not the salt, and rested the dough for 30 minutes (autolyse toi give it its posh name) which I do not normally do.After this I kneaded for 5 minutes then added some ground rock salt (again, I normally use regular cooking salt) and kneaded for another 5 minutes. The salt went in well and I ended up with a very nice dough.

It's now 24 hours later and the dough has been fermenting in the fridge overnight. It seems to have risen slightly more than usual, although I find this does vary quite a bit despite careful temperature control. When shaping I have been particularly careful not to disturb the gluten structure more than necessary. The dough is presently proving prior to baking in a La Cloche. I'll let you know how it turns out..


gongoozler 2013 April 8

I baked the loaf yesterday and had some for lunch today. It rose well and I could detect no difference in the taste from my normal loaves. The crust did not burst in quite the way it normally does but this has applied to the last few loaves I have made and I think the reason is that I have been using Marriages extra strong Canadian flour rather than my normal French T65. The crumb was quite fine but, again, that is normal with my loaves.

My conclusion is that, whilst salt is certainly important for flavour, it doesn't make a damn of difference when you add it.


Pancito 2020 May 24

I don't think it's an autolyse if your levain is mixed in with it.

imhello 2014 October 12

I have been a professional baker for 12 years, and even studied at the San Francisco Baking Institute.  

Salt has three major functions in baking

1.  Adds flavor to bread (have you ever tasted bread without salt?)

2.  Controls fermentation.  At a normal level (1.8 - 2%) salt in a bread recipe, the salt controls the fermentation rate without going overboard and retarding or killing the yeast and/or bacteria.

3.  Strengthens gluten and bleaches flour.  These two actions happen hand in hand.  While strengthening gluten is a good thing, so you get a nice strong loaf of bread, bleaching the flour has a negative effect by killing the flavor of the flour you are using.


There is a general concensus that leaving the salt out of the dough until later in the mixing will produce a loaf with better flavor - and this is true.  Leaving the salt out means that the salt is bleaching the flour less.  However, as long as you arne't overmixing the dough, I have found the results mixed and not particularly worth the effort - unless you are serving your loaf to an experienced bread connoisseur.


Keeping salt well away from your levain is good advice in general, but a bit of an overstatment.  I have baked recipes that add salt (in very small amounts like 0.2%) in the levain - and it is this reason I stumbled upon this thread.  I am currently trialling a product that has a salted levain and it seems to make the levain a lot more sour and aromatic.  I wonder how/why this happens at a molecular level in the dough.  I propose that maybe the salt retards the yeast activity but does not affect the bacteria in the levain leaving a more 'sour' smell and taste in the bread but less volume.  I am open to ideas on this subject and will continue trying to find some research about it.


As for when to add salt?  Add it at the start of the final dough.  It is easier to mix through the dough, you spend less time mucking around with the dough and the positives aren't enough to justify the added time and effort.  (But that is just my opinion)

Jack 2015 December 12

I think the science behind is that in addition to the acidity, the salinity also preferences friendly flora and inhibitants the bd stuff.  I'm still doing research on it, but a little bit of finely ground unrefined sea salt appears to create a better environment for probiotics.  It also slows down the rise to a consistent level avoiding a quick die off.  In a warmer environment a little more salt will help manage the speed of the rise and ensure a thorough ferment.

Antalie25 2015 December 22

The salt tightens the gluten network and slows fermentation so it is a kind of "head start" for the activity in the bread to leave the salt out until later.

Hold back 25-50grams of water from the dough and once you've finished mixing and autolysing, sprinkle the salt over the dough, pour the water over and use this to help the dough absorb the salt. Rub it into the dough as it breaks apart and keep mixing until it comes back together.

Terje 2020 November 5

I'm a beginner sourdough baker. I'm using a very coarse wet French sea salt. I do not know if I can "mill" it smaller as it is kind of "wet" grey salt. I always try to dissolve it in a water before adding in a dough but yet some particles remain undissolved. Can it jeopardise my dough/end result? My bakes are quite ok but I think can be perfected. 

Betsy Carey 2020 December 24

I just made this sourdough bread and I followed Elaine Boddy's method which adds the salt to the water and starter.  I don't think there's a difference.

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