A recent commenter on one of my recipe posts remarked: “… my dough was very sticky not coming together. … Thinking it must be too wet, I added a little more flour to no avail. Then I realized I had forgotten to add the salt. Shortly after adding the salt the dough came together well. Is this coincidental, or does salt play more than a flavor enhancing role? ”
This was absolutely not coincidental. Considered to be one of the four essential bread ingredients (along with flour, water, and yeast), salt does indeed do something more than loafing around and tasting good.
- Salt affects dough texture, making it stronger and less sticky, as the commenter noticed.
- Salt reduces oxidation of the dough during mixing. Oxidation causes the degradation of carotenoid pigments in the flour that contribute to flavor and crumb color.
- Salt regulates yeast activity, causing fermentation to progress at a more consistent rate.
- Salt affects shelf life. Because it attracts water, it can help keep bread from staling too quickly in a dry environment. However, in a humid environment, it can make the crust soggier.
All of that said, the primary role of salt in bread remains to enhance flavor. If you’re on a low-sodium diet, I wouldn’t discourage you from experimenting with reducing the salt in your doughs, or making a saltless Tuscan bread; just be aware that your dough is likely to be stickier and the fermentation time might need adjusting.
Typically the amount of salt in a dough is between 1.8 and 2 percent of the amount of flour, by weight. If there is a large proportion of other ingredients, such as seeds, for which salt also enhances flavor, the percentage of salt could be a little higher.
Some people say non-iodized salt is best, but I haven’t noticed a difference between iodized and non-iodized in the finished product. If you use Kosher salt, remember that it’s “fluffier” than table salt, so you’ll need more by volume (although by weight you’d still use the same amount — and we’re all measuring by weight, aren’t we?)
Barry Fowler says
Susan – Wild Yeast just gets better and better! (if that’s possible). Thank you for sorting the ‘Salt’ issue for us – so clear and concise. BTW What are your thoughts on the Tartine Bread Book & Method? Barry (Bath, UK)
Wow, who knew that salt was so versatile? Thanks, Susan! xo
I’m always learning something from your blog. Thanks!
Many thanks for this, Susan. We do use kosher salt and I confess that I have been measuring it with spoons if the recipe I’m using is one with measures in volume. This could well account for some of the problems I’ve had with overly sticky dough!!
I guess that one has to assume “salt” in a recipe generally means regular old table salt. (Going to gourmet sleuth now to find out just how many grams there are in a teaspoon of table salt….)
Lucie in Maine says
Susan, thanks for the helpful update on salt. One question about percentage of salt to dough, however. You say that the typical proportion of salt to dough is 1.8 – 2.0%. But in “My New Favorite Sourdough” you use 23 gr. in a 1,980 gr. dough, or 1.1 – 1.2% (if my math is correct). I think this lower percentage is corroborated in many of the bread recipes you also cite. Could you clarify?
Thanks! Lucie in Maine
Thanks for the info on salt. Something remains unclear to me. You say, “Salt reduces oxidation of the dough during mixing. Oxidation causes the degradation of carotenoid pigments in the flour that contribute to flavor and crumb color.”
But if is oxidation that provides the flavour, and salt reduces the oxidation, why do we detect more flavour in a loaf made with salt?
A further question, similar to the blog-commenter that inspired this blog-entry: recently I made a recipe and forgot the salt. Here:
Remembering it 30 minutes after the ‘dough’ had been resting, I simply sprinkled it on top and kneaded it in.
I didn’t really notice any difference in the loaves (from previous attempts to make the recipe), although I guess sometimes bakers have traditionally left at least some of the dough without salt for a certain period, as an autolyse, to help develop flavour. I’m guessing that the dough must be fairly well hydrated to still be able to dissolve the salt enough to provide structure.
Do you have any knowledge or insights about whether this is a good idea, or bad idea, or if there is a ‘point of no return’ when the salt can no longer be added and still expect to be incorporated this way? (I am supposing the different functions of how it adds structure and how it controls or adds flavour may not coincide exactly, if you were to chart it on a graph over time, so there is probably an optimal window of how and when to add it).
Anna Kreimer says
Thank you so much, dear Susan! I learned so much from your Web Site!
Wow! I had no idea. Thank you so much Susan.
Jan Mannino says
Susan, as usual your blog is so helpful. Since my wonderful weekend at SFBI, I have been baking up a storm and am now more confident.
One of my recipes calls for course Kosher salt, which I used. The final result was too salty and almost unedible. I am sure I used the correct amount, but now I am not sure what to do. Any thoughts.
Great information. thanks
Barry, the Tartine book is gorgeous. I haven’t baked from it yet but have seen others get wonderful results. I’m terrified of hot cast iron pots though, so I’ll stick to baking on a stone!
Elizabeth, you’re right — unless otherwise stated, I’d assume salt, when given as a volume measurement, refers to table salt. About 6 g per teaspoon.
Lucie, the 1.8 – 2% is the percentage of flour, not the percentage of the total dough weight. This is the standard convention when talking in “baker’s percentage.” http://www.wildyeastblog.com/2008/03/22/bakers-percentage-1/
In the Norwich Sourdough, the total flour weight (including that contributed by the starter) is 1200 g, making the salt percentage 1.9%.
Cellarguy, it’s the pigments, not the oxidation, that contribute to color and flavor; sorry for the awkward wording. If you forget to add the salt and it’s still fairly early in the fermentation period, I’d dissolve it in a small amount of water and then go ahead and mix it it. Even if it’s later, I’d still give it a try and hope for the best. 🙂 I don’t know that there’s a strict cutoff point.
Jan, did you measure the Kosher salt by weight or volume? Kosher salt is tricky by volume because different brands measure differently. You could try the recipe again, using table salt,which is 6 g per teaspoon, calculating how much you’d need to equal 2% of the flour weight.
Another reason for me to keep going to the scales instead of the measuring spoons. Great post Susan…salt does more than flavor bread but didn’t understand the other.
Thanks for clarifying that Susan. Having only recently gotten a little more serious about bread baking, I am on a steep learning curve that is assisted greatly by your technical tips posts.
I had heard this before, but it bears a reminder. I made Tuscan bread this weekend and it was extremely sticky. I kept adding more flour as I had forgotten the fact that saltless dough is stickier! I had completely forgotten the role of salt. So a timely blog post, at least for me.
I’ve been looking around at different salts lately to try in my artisan breads, my boss at Red Fox uses Sea Salt for everything, and although I’m quite fond of it, I’ve been interested in the effects of other salts on what I’m doing.
great information. I’ve got a question you’ve might have an answer to. I worked at a baker where we added 1/4 of the salt at the beginning of mixing, and the other 3/4 at the moment the mixer would go to second speed.
I was still a young fellow back then and just did what i was told, but now i’m thinking of it and i can’t quite figure out why we did this. Even the literature isn’t giving any answers.
Thanks for the blogging effort. I will certainly be going through your other posts as well as I just happen to conduct almost the exact same oil/no-oil experiment on a bit simpler dough.
I’m replying about salt however because when I put in oil I reduced the amount of salt, which I think was a mistake. At any rate, I thought you all might be interested in something I found on the ADM site…
Salt helps preserve the color and flavor of flour. The carotenoid pigments, naturally present in wheat flour, are responsible for giving flour its creamy color and wheaty aroma. It is extremely important for the baker to understand that an unbleached flour, such as all of King Arthur’s flours, contains a complete profile of carotenoids, and that bleaching flour destroys these fragile components. For this reason alone, choosing a high quality unbleached and unbromated flour is preferred for all breadmaking. Other than bleaching flour and thereby destroying the carotenoids, overoxidizing of the dough during mixing, which occurs when a dough is mixed too intensively for too long, also destroys them. Salt has a positive effect on the preservation of carotenoids, because dough oxidation is delayed in the presence of salt. For this reason it is preferable to add salt at the beginning of the mix. In this way, salt benefits the eventual flavor of the bread by helping to preserve the carotenoids during the mixing of the dough. When salt is added during the later stages of dough mixing, it can be detrimental to the carotenoids, which may become overoxidized.
Aliyu Muhammad Ali says
Thank alot, salt is also a good preservative as it absorbs water so there is less free water for bacterial and fungal growth.
If I use sel gris, which is around 13% moisture, would I increase the salt amount BY WEIGHT by the same percentage, i.e. If a recipe calls for 20 grams of salt, I would need to use 23 if using sel gris???
I own a small bakery and I mixed a dough with 68% hydration and added 30% starter. After mixing it 3 minutes on low then 5 minutes on high, I was going to pull it out when I realized that I forgotten the salt. I added the salt and mixed it another 2 minutes on high. When I pulled it out of the mixer it was sticky and felt dead. I ended up folding it 3 times to build the strength. When it came out of the oven. It had beautiful glistening holes with a creamy texture. The inside stayed moist and the crust hard for several days, ( longer than normal). It was some of the best bread I have ever tasted. It was one of those fantastic mistakes. But I can’t duplicate it. How did over mixing the dough and adding the salt so late contribute to great bread.
Greg, you ‘accidentally’ autolysed the bread. This is a wonderful thing. jeffrey Hamelman (of King Arthur Flour) has written a wonderful book and in it he talks about the value of autolysing. Esp. for sourdough breads.
Hmmm very interesting! I recently just started making spelt bread and although all the tries have been pretty great (oh, except the first attempt!) lastnight, I decided to add just a tad bit more salt than normal (so to 3 cups instead of 1tsp I put 1 1/4) and my bread rose so beautifully like a regular wheat bread. I cant believe the difference is just 1/4 tsp of salt!
Most bakers consider there to be 6 essential ingredients. (flour, water, yeast and salt of course) time and temperature are also considered in this list as bread needs time to mature. With the wrong temperature the yeast wont like to work.
I made Amish white bread w/o salt.
This affected the rising but not the taste.
Also when mixing in a kitchen aide the dough was not sticky.
I was trying to reduce salt intake acct high blood pressure.
Next time I’ll try adding the salt but reduce it some.
Appreciate all the comments.
Wild Yeast is funded by the Salt Institute, right?
Migin yawah says
Thanks for the insight however it will really help us if you can explain oxdise.degredation and other terminologies.
Your style is so unique in comparison to other people I have read stuff from.
Thank you for posting when you’ve got the opportunity, Guess I’ll just bookmark this page.
Stefan GULYAS says
I mix together all except salt 1 min. Autolyse 30 min. Then I add the salt.
After that is coming 15 min of kneading!
thank you for additional learning it helps a lot to answer my exam and helps my baking experience…
Recently I have gone through many recipes for British hot cross bun. I find that almost all recipes just have around 1% salt, including the one suggested by Jeffrey Hamelmann. Do u know why the salt level is lower than usual? Is it because we do not want it to rise so much? Or because of the spices added to the dough?
I made egg bread, (challah) but forgot to add the salt. The bread rose just fine. Is it safe to eat.
it is edible but salt plays a major role in that it makes the bread have a sweater taste
thanks so much you saved my science project!
Please people what can I add to my bread to make it have weight my customers are complaining.