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I've always learned that DO NOT mix salt with yeast. Because the salt kills the yeast, and the sugar actually helps. You should always put the salt.

So what is the "magic" of this recipe (Classic Challah Recipe) that they mix altogether? How does it actually work?

A long time ago I saw a video of someone doing a pizza dough that they just put the salt and yeast in two different parts of the bowl, so when it's mixed there is a low probability that will get together.

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  • 1
    I was taught the same thing, growing up. Turns out it's just flat not true.
    – FuzzyChef
    Nov 19 '21 at 23:24
  • 2
    I think there is an issue with this sentence: “You should always put the salt.” Nov 21 '21 at 2:18
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It doesn't work "sometimes", it works pretty much always. People are just being sloppy when they say "salt kills the yeast".

Certain levels of salt inhibit the yeast, so that it multiplies less, or slower. If you have an old or improperly stored package of yeast, or you are working with a strain which is not very resilient, then the negative effect may be enough that you don't get a healthy growth process established, and the dough doesn't rise at all. But it is a matter of probabilities, not of certainty.

So there is no reason for a recipe with a direct exposure of yeast to high salt concentration to not work, especially with today's modern, carefully engineered yeast supply. It just has a higher chance of failing when compared to recipes where the salt is added at a different step.

The recipe you linked is also not in any way critical. There you disperse both the dry yeast and the salt with the flour, and by the time you have added the wet ingredients and the yeast wakes up, the salt concentration is as low as it is ever going to be. The finicky recipes are the ones which ask you to bloom the yeast with a teaspoon of salt and teaspoon of sugar in a small amount of water, for example, or prescribe a different high-salt preferment method.

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  • Bonus points for mentioning the salt-yeast method!
    – Stephie
    Nov 19 '21 at 12:25
  • Can you explain why "there is no reason for a recipe with a direct exposure of yeast to high salt concentration to not work" follows from the previous paragraphs? It seems to me the previous suggest direct exposure of yeast to salt can only damage the recipe.
    – Daron
    Nov 20 '21 at 12:36
  • @Daron salt does interact with yeast. The “old” rule was that it “kills” yeast cells. Turns out, the salt puts them under stress, affecting their metabolism, but will kill them only if the yeast is already weak or damaged. It’s too complicated for a comment, but in short, a preferment with salt and yeast can help dough structure, cause higher CO2 production during the rise(!) and can improve the workability of the dough. (See my comment above.) Salt concentration can affect the rise of the dough, but it’s usually a desired outcome.
    – Stephie
    Nov 20 '21 at 13:12
  • @Stephie I get what you are saying. but my question is about the internal logic of the answer.
    – Daron
    Nov 20 '21 at 14:12
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    @Lodinn I have no evidence, theoretical or practical, that it is better in any way. I mentioned it because there are many recipes which prescribe it.
    – rumtscho
    Nov 22 '21 at 9:17
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The vast majority of bread machine recipes add the salt and the yeast to the pan at the same time but not touching, then mix.

The recipes for mine all add salt (& sugar) to water, then flour, with yeast at the top. By the time the yeast gets wet, the water is uniformly salty.

What you do need to avoid (in general) is mixing dry salt and dry yeast, then getting them wet. Then you're trying to rehydrate the yeast with really very salty water. Even then, the overall effect is more likely to be a slowing down than killing all your yeast, but if you're working to time (or a machine is) that's a problem.

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As mentioned a lot of the impact of salt depends on the concentration of salt.

To illustrate consider this graph

impact of salt concentration on growth of brewers yeast

from this paper https://www.researchgate.net/figure/nfluence-of-salt-induced-osmotic-stress-0-10-NaCl-on-yeast-cell-growth-Saccharomyces_fig5_286917973

Its not great for seeing effects at the time periods we would be considering for rising but makes the point that increasing amounts of salt inhibit maximal growth. However, the amounts that have profound effects are at levels of salt that are unpalatable: most bread recipes end up around 1% final salt concentration; 5% would be incredibly salty when you consider that things like Vegemite and the like are about 3% salt concentration.

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