Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ingredients: Salt

Salt isn’t absolutely required to make bread or pizza dough, but most people would say that saltless bread is unappetizing. Most people would say that bread without salt tastes dull or flat. That’s reason enough to add that little bit of salt that most recipes require.

Besides enhancing flavor, salt also strengthens and tightens the gluten and regulates the yeast. Without any salt, some breads can rise unpredicatbly.

Some sources say that since salt toughens the gluten, it’s best to add it at the end of kneading, to make the chore easier. Others say that it should be added at the beginning, for better distribution. I’ll leave that decision up to you.

All salt is chemically the same. The differences are in the structure and size of the crystals, and in the additional ingredients, whether those are natural or added during processing.

As far as add-ins, recently I’ve seen an item marketed as Bread Salt that looks very much like the salt marketed under the brand name Real Salt. It’s mostly pink with flecks of darker reds and looks pretty in a container. This salt is said to contain extra minerals which may be better for you or for your yeasty friends. I’ve used it and I can’t say that I noticed a difference in the finished product.

Non-branded pink, red, black, gray and smoked salts are also available, but most of these are relatively expensive and are intended as finishing salts – that is, you sprinkle them on finished products where they’ll have the most impact. Many of these specialty salts are sea salt. And of course you can buy plain old sea salt as well.

For everyday use, most people rely on table salt or kosher salt, both of which usually come from rock salt. That is, they’re mined rather than harvested from salt water.

Table Salt
  

Table Salt is fine-grained salt, and comes either iodized or not. Iodine is necessary for proper thyroid function, but most people get plenty through other sources, so it might not be necessary to use iodized salt. Table salt also usually contains anti-caking ingredients, to keep the salt from clumping.

Canning and Pickling Salt is much like table salt in form – small uniform grains that dissolve quickly. But it doesn’t contain the iodine or the anti-caking ingredients which turn the pickles dark or cloud the pickling mixture. You can use this instead of table salt, although it does tend to clump a bit if it's left undisturbed for long enough.
 
Kosher Salt

Morton's Kosher Salt


Kosher Salt has larger grains, but not all kosher salt is the same. Morton’s Kosher Salt contains an anti-caking agent, whereas Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt doesn’t have any additives. The bigger difference between salts, however, is what the different types of salt weigh compared to their volume.

Diamond Crystal Kosher

Of course, if you’re weighing all of your ingredients, the volume of the salt doesn’t matter. The difference in crystal size melts away when the salt dissolves. But if you’re reading a recipe designed with one type of salt in mind and you use another salt, your results may not be what you hope for.

My kitchen scale weighs in grams and ounces, in increments of 1 gram or 1/8 of an ounce. Using that scale, a teaspoon of table salt weighed .25 ounces, or 7 grams. Here’s how the salts compared

Of course, measuring inaccuracies and scale rounding errors could mean your weights for the same salts could be a little different.

There’s one last salt to consider when making bread: Sour Salt. This isn’t a salt at all, but is actually citric acid crystals. It’s useful for adding a bit of sourness to your bread – really nice in rye.
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