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I've been doing a lot of yeast bread baking as of late and I got to wondering what the salt in the bread was for. Upon doing some research it turns out (aside from perhaps some flavor) the purpose is to "Control" the yeast during the rise. This got me to wondering if it was possible to make a yeast bread with no salt at all. My first attempt was met with defeat, and upon some more experimentation I was able to get the salt down 75% with success. Its the last 25% that alludes me.

Is it possible to make a yeast bread with no salt?

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What is the problem/symptoms if you leave out all the salt? I have done it (leaving all the salt out) frequently, and in general I find the result good enough. Also, how much yeast do you start with? If you are relying on salt to inhibit yeast growth, maybe you are just using too much yeast? –  rumtscho Jan 27 at 14:06
    
What I usually run into is the top of the load collapsing in on itself. The recipe I am using calls for 2 teaspoons of yeast. –  iamkrillin Jan 27 at 14:08
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"2 teaspoons" doesn't say much. What is important is the ratio of yeast to flour by weight, with usable amounts ranging from 0.5% to 10% of the flour weight in raw yeast (divide by 3 for active dry). Numbers at the edge of the interval are difficult to work with, 2% for lean and 3% for enriched breads are common, maybe 1% more for quick rises. (2% means 2 gram yeast to 100 g flour). –  rumtscho Jan 27 at 14:14
    
@rumtscho thanks! I'll have to do some more experimenting later today. –  iamkrillin Jan 27 at 14:17
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Look up Tuscan Bread which is traditionally made with no salt. –  derobert Jan 27 at 16:54

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

If you make a bread without salt, you will have to make the dough dryer as well. Salt (for lack of a better word) competes with gluten and yeast for moisture. Without the salt, the yeast will work a bit faster (this effect isn't that pronounced) and the gluten will be very soft. The effect on the gluten usually causes loaves without salt to fall flat as the gluten is overly extensible but not very elastic. This could be part of why your loaves are collapsing, as without salt it is very hard to maintain the tension of the outer gluten sheath.

As SAJ14SAJ points out, the lack of salt will make the bread taste very "flat". While there are breads traditionally made without salt, they are usually served with very flavorful accompaniments like olives and sardines. Depending on what you're using the bread for, I'd suggest using an enriched dough as the added flavor of eggs, butter, and/or sugar will also help to cover the lack of salt.

Edited to add links to a couple of articles describing salt's effects on dough and one on salt taste in general.

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In my experience, you can reduce the amount of salt more (up to 100%) in white bread than you can wholemeal/brown. Less salt in a wholemeal loaf and it doesn't seem to rise as much, and the consistency is different (I have not tried varying the amount of moisture as suggested above). In a white loaf, I can't see much difference in this regard.

As has been said above, salt does play a role in the process, but also the taste. I don't like things very salty, so tried leaving it out. I sometimes make a white French loaf with zero salt, and it's fine, although does taste very different. If you are putting e.g. salted butter on it, this may not be so pronounced. I generally reduce the amount by 50-75% for white, and 25-50% for brown/wholemeal. But if you are serving it with something sweet, saltiness can complement this well (IMO).

To prove it, see below photo of a white French loaf made in an automatic breadmaker with zero salt (just dried yeast, flour and water).

A white French loaf made with no salt, which looks similar to a 'normal' loaf

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It is certainly possible to make bread without salt. You would adjust the initial quantity of yeast and proofing times to get the desired outcome (it sounds like your loaves are over-proofing).

The thing is, it would taste terrible. Enhancing the flavor is the more important role of salt in bread, not just governing the growth rate of the yeast.

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I disagree with the "terrible" part. The enhancement in taste exists, but it is small, and while I can notice it, often I don't miss it when I decide to go without. –  rumtscho Jan 27 at 14:11
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@rumtscho Okay, awful, flat, bland, boring, tasteless, dead, lifeless, icky.... :-) :-) –  SAJ14SAJ Jan 27 at 14:12
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Certain Italian breads have no salt. The flavour comes from a long slow prove and really, really good olive oil for dipping :) –  ElendilTheTall Jan 27 at 14:16
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I would think its very possible to make a flavorful bread with no salt. Perhaps by adding something else to make up for it not being there as @ElendilTheTall suggests. –  iamkrillin Jan 27 at 14:17
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I conclude that while salt certainly changes the taste, it is a matter of personal preference if you find this change necessary or optional. I have never met somebody who has found it unwanted, so bakers are on the safe side when adding it. And sure, this answer is right that taste is the main reason for salt in bread. –  rumtscho Jan 27 at 15:32

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