Can you make bread without salt? It’s a good question and one that I’m often asked. Many of us are leading healthier lifestyles either by our own self-preservation or requests by the doctor. We all know that a diet high in sodium isn’t very good for us on any level -so any way to limit our intake is welcomed! So is it possible to make homemade bread without salt?
In short, yes, you can make bread without salt, but you probably will not like it! Adding salt to a dough adds flavour to the bread and strengthens the gluten. Salt slows the rising process as it absorbs the water required for the yeast. This produces a flavoursome loaf with optimum texture. I don’t recommend skipping the yeast, you can use less in your bread recipes with great success.
It does not take many ingredients to make a loaf of bread. Four of them, to be exact – flour, yeast, water, and yes, of course, salt are the ones that feature as the essential ingredients in most recipe books and baking websites.
You need the flour and water; they make the dough. Then, you need the yeast to make the dough rise. But what about the salt? Do you really need to add salt to your dough? Before answering that question, let’s talk about salts’ many roles in making a loaf of bread.
Salt helps to strengthen the gluten by tightening its structure. This allows the gluten to hold more carbon dioxide and water, which in turn, lets the dough expand without tearing. So, less salt means less moisture is absorbed, leading to a weaker dough that tears easily.
A weakened, salt-less, structure will cause your bread to spread outwards, rather than rise when proofing. The stronger the dough is, the easier it is to handle. You will also find that there is a much better volume in the rise and oven spring of “salted” bread, and a more delicate crumb is produced too!
When the dough structure has not been reinforced with salt, carbon dioxide will burst the gluten pockets in the oven, leaving holes that weaken and ruin the texture of the crumb.
Does bread taste nice without salt? Of course, you can, but it won’t be as flavorful. When you don’t use salt, the bread will taste bland. When it comes to how much salt to add, your recipe will tell you, but it’s typically around 2% of the weight of the flour. But be careful, going the other way and adding too much salt is equally unpalatable.
Don’t get anxious trying to coax fermentation flavour by adding in more salt. Yes, salt does add flavour but it does not replace the flavour of well-fermented flour. Remember salt’s role is to enhance the flavour of your bread, not take it over.
Salt plays an essential part in controlling the fermentation of your yeast. The yeast’s cell wall is semi-permeable. Through them, the cell absorbs oxygen and nutrients through osmosis as it emits enzymes and other substances into the dough. Yeast activity requires water in order to happen. Salt absorbs water whenever it can, and does so inside the dough.
With the presence of salt, yeast has less free water, slowing the yeast’s fermentation process. When there is an excess of salt in the bread dough, the yeast’s fermentation process will slow down significantly. On the other hand, if no salt is present, the yeast will ferment way too quickly, which can ruin your bread. So, through this process, the salt assists the baker in controlling the rate of yeast activity.
Salt will improve the colour of the crust of your bread. You just spent all that time baking that loaf of bread; you want the prettiest crust to show it off. But salt is white, so how exactly does it improve colour?
Salt improves colour as a result of slowing down the fermentation process. The starch in the flour is then processed into simple sugars. Then these sugars are consumed by the yeast as it ferments. And since salt will slow that consumption rate, more sugar is left behind during baking to produce that lovely golden colour on your crust.
When you don’t have salt in your dough, the yeast will consume more of the sugar, and there will not be enough present in the baking process to create that golden colour.
Not only does salt affect the colour of your crust – but it also plays a role in the colour of your flour. Wheat flour has natural carotenoids or plant pigments. These carotenoids are what give the flour its beautiful colour and aroma. Over-oxidizing the dough by mixing your dough too energetically or bulk fermenting for too long will also destroy them.
Since salt slows the process of dough oxidation, it has a positive effect and preserves the carotenoids. As a result, bakers recommend that you add salt at the start of mixing your dough. That way, the salt will contribute to the final flavour of your dough during the mixing process.
Adding salt later in the dough-making process can also harm the carotenoids. This is called bleaching the flour as its colour becomes white.
Salt retains moisture in baked bread. This not only maintains the soft texture of the crumb for longer but also prevents the starch from retrograding. This is where the starch particles revert to their unbaked crystalline structure making the bread hard and dry. To see this starch retrogradation at home, simply place a loaf of sliced bread in the refrigerator and you’ll notice how hard it becomes in just a day or two.
Both of these benefits combine alongside others when salt is added to keep bread fresh.
You can make your bread without salt, but how about just reducing it? In most cases, you can reduce the amount of salt used in your dough by half without seeing much change to the texture or colour. try adding less salt to see how you like it.
If you are worried about your bread being bland, try mixing in some herbs. Your dough will be sure to stand out and think about all the fun you can have being creative. With so many herbs out there, the options are endless!
When you want to make your bread without salt, try Tuscan Bread. Tuscan bread was developed as a salt-less option due to a government-imposed salt tax in Italy. Since it was typically eaten with salty foods such as meats and cheeses it’s still a popular choice today.
To avoid a floppy mess, the bakers did not knead the dough as long as other doughs. Also, the dough is misted during the baking process to produce a golden crust.
I do have to warn you, though, that this bread is pretty bland. Serve this bread as it was designed – with meats and cheeses. You may enjoy it with stews or flavorful soups. Try it with crushed herbs, good olive oil, and fresh garlic.
Not really, but the phrase “separate the salt from the yeast” does have some merit. See the does salt kill yeast page for a deeper discussion on this.
I suppose you can, but in most instances, the bread may not turn out as you had hoped. We discussed the many ways in which salt plays an essential role in the bread-making process. Two of the top roles are taste and colour. Isn’t that why you went to the trouble to make a loaf of bread in the first place? Who wants to spend time baking a loaf of bread only to create something bland with no colour?
However, some people have no choice but to reduce their sodium intake. And I understand. Start by reducing the amount of salt you use in your bread recipes. And don’t forget about the Tuscan Bread!
If you don’t bake your own bread, you should consider it. Baking your own bread gives you complete control over the ingredients you put in it. Think of it this way, commercial bread, even good quality bread, will have anywhere from 180 to 270 mg of sodium per slice. So, a healthy sandwich will give you a hefty dose of salt. For people on a low sodium diet, this adds up quickly so why not bake your own?
If you happen to create a tasty, low sodium or no-sodium bread, I hope you will share the recipe with us. I know a lot of people would love a copy!