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I've been getting into ice cream this summer and of all the recipes I've reviewed and tested, none of them call for salt in the ice cream mixture itself. (With the exception of caramel sea salt, and Ben's Chocolate recipe).

My question is why?

More info: I made plum sorbet last week. After tasting, but before churning, I decided to add salt to the base. It dramatically improved the "plumminess" just as you would expect salt to do. Furthermore, the ice cream turned out great. The addition of salt didn't have any effect on the churn.

So, why don't ice cream bases call for salt in the first place?

  • 1
    Good question. I know I've seen salt in a decent number of recipes (for example plenty in The Perfect Scoop call for a pinch), but certainly not all, and it's less common in sorbets for sure. I'm not sure if there's a better reason than "people just never think of it" or "it's easy to overdo it", but we'll see! – Cascabel Jul 27 '15 at 20:51
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    My only guess is that the recipe writers are afraid that it might cause the ice cream not to freeze as well as it would otherwise, either because people don't have a good enough ice cream maker/freezer or because they use too much salt, and then people would complain that the recipe doesn't work. – Dan C Jul 27 '15 at 21:20
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    Both salt and sugar are flavour enhancers they work in much the same way on the tongue. So rather than add salt recipes tend just to add more sugar... – Doug Jul 27 '15 at 23:32
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    @Doug If that were true, then adding a small amount of salt to ice cream wouldn't be a dramatic improvement - but it often is. – Cascabel Aug 1 '15 at 15:59
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    @DanC You'd have to use an insane amount of salt (on the same scale as the sugar that's already in the recipe) to affect the freezing point. – Cascabel Aug 1 '15 at 16:00
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I can't read the minds of all the recipe authors, but I do have a couple ideas.

I've found it's definitely easy to overdo salt in ice cream. A very small quantity goes a long way. In most cases you don't actually want it to taste salty, you just want a tiny hint that people will only notice as improved flavor. The quantities are small enough that it'll be hard to provide accurate measurements, so you're stuck saying "a pinch" and hoping people don't use too big a pinch.

It's also just not the most obvious addition to most people. Ice cream can be pretty darn good without it. While everyone's used to salt in baked goods, as you said, ice cream recipes often don't include it, so there's not too much learning by example going on. We certainly don't usually put it on fruit! So if you're looking at recipes online that people have come up with on their own, there are decent odds that the author just didn't think of it, even if it would've actually been a nice addition.

Finally, just to clear up an oft-repeated misconception: in these quantities, salt is not going to mess with the freezing point, just like it won't affect the boiling point of pasta water. It takes a ton of dissolved salt to significantly lower the freezing point, and we're making ice cream, not seawater slushies. (Even if you did lower the freezing point, it'd probably be a good thing, since homemade ice cream is generally too hard, not too soft.)

  • You might not usually put salt on fruit, but there are plenty of cultures where people do. – Peter Taylor Aug 2 '15 at 20:38
  • @PeterTaylor Okay, but in the places most of the ice cream recipes you'll find are from (especially the ones in English), not so much. Obviously it's actually a good idea in many cases (just as it is with ice cream). – Cascabel Aug 2 '15 at 22:53
  • Yep, around these parts we eat salt on watermelon and tomatoes. :-) – ashley Aug 4 '15 at 19:00
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Most people don't think of it. People making high-end ice cream generally include lots of added milk solids (often over 20% nonfat milk solids by weight) and this naturally includes a decent amount of salt.

Nevertheless, I find ice cream is usally better with even more salt than this. In addition to having 20 or 25% nonfat milk solids, I usually add about 0.7g salt per 1000g of mix. You don't taste the salt, but it pops other flavors into focus.

With some flavors, like chocolate, I'll go as high as adding 2g salt.

If you're making a flavor where you want to really taste the salt (salted caramel etc.) you'll of course have to use quite a bit more.

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pure water freezes at 0°C (32°F), water that has salt dissolved in it has to be colder before it freezes.

also there is a possibility of crystalization of the salt

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    The amount of salt you add for flavor has such a small effect on freezing temperature that it doesn't matter for ice cream. The sugar and fat in ice cream do lower the freezing temperature substantially, but that's a good thing: you don't want your ice cream rock hard. – Cascabel Aug 1 '15 at 15:15
  • Crystallization might be a factor. @Aashish, do you have more information to back this up? – ashley Aug 4 '15 at 19:02

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