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I was always taught to add a pinch of salt to flour when baking (mainly cakes / muffins and puddings).

I have recipes that specifically mention adding salt and others that don't.

Is there a scientific reason to add salt?

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  • baking what? bread? pastry? There are important reasons to add salt, both chemical and taste, but they depend on what you're cooking! Please rephrase to be more specific.
    – Harlan
    Commented Jul 22, 2010 at 19:51
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    I don't think it needs more specificity. The roles salt plays in baking anything are rather well defined.
    – hobodave
    Commented Jul 22, 2010 at 19:57

3 Answers 3

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Salt serves two primary purposes in baking:

  1. To regulate yeast
    • Salt kills yeast. The addition of salt to a yeast leavened dough prevents the little beasties from growing completely out of control.
  2. To enhance and mask specific flavors
    • Salt is almost a universal flavor enhancer. Virtually anything that tastes good, will taste better with salt. What typically comes as a surprise to people is that this holds true with sweet things too, particularly chocolate. The addition of even a tiny bit of salt can make a sweet dish significantly sweeter. It also serves to mask the taste of raw flour.

Update

Also according to Progressive Baker salt affects the strength and shelf life of baked goods.

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  • Yup - masking the taste of raw flour was what I understood to be the main reason. Which begs the question of why it's not standard in all recipes?
    – rbrayb
    Commented Jul 22, 2010 at 20:01
  • Dunno. Off the top of my head I can't think of a single instance of not using salt when baking.
    – hobodave
    Commented Jul 22, 2010 at 20:05
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    Salt should usually be included. Self-rising flour contains a small amount of salt in addition to baking powder so recipes that use self-rising flour may not specifically include additional salt. However if it's a savory item using self-rising flour I most typically would add more. Commented Jul 22, 2010 at 20:10
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    @Darin: Under what circumstances does a chef use self-rising flour? I've always dismissed it as something unnecessary.
    – hobodave
    Commented Jul 22, 2010 at 20:13
  • @Darin: I answered it myself by stumbling across your blog! chefdarin.com/2009/08/flour-power
    – hobodave
    Commented Jul 22, 2010 at 21:08
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I believe salt cuts the gluten in the flour and makes it more supple and less elastic, especially when baking breads.

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    Welcome to Seasoned Advice, and thanks for your answer! Unfortunately, I think the reality is a bit of the opposite of what you claim: salt is known to strengthen and tighten the gluten structure in bread dough.
    – Athanasius
    Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 15:38
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I was wondering if baking powder reacts with salt as a catalyst to produce more CO2 bubbles that make the flour self-rising. It also can react with baking soda added to some recipes for the same effect. Salt lowers the pH of any solution it is added to. This is because salt dissolves in water and releases hydrogen ions into the solution. Hydrogen ions decrease the pH of the solution. For instance, adding 1 teaspoon of table salt sodium chloride to 2 cups of water decreases the pH from 8.4 to 7.6. The Hydrogen release may work with the baking powder to promote the creation of carbon dioxide gas as a catalyst.

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    Your supposition there, and your numbers, don’t agree with mainstream understanding of chemistry, which is that sodium chloride has no significant effect on pH of a solution. Pure water, and pure water with table salt added, would each have a pH of 7. Salt does not contain carbon or oxygen, and does not act as a catalyst for acid/base reactions (which don’t need a catalyst).
    – Sneftel
    Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 8:09

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