THOUGHTS ON SALT, SODIUM, AND HUMAN AGENCY
Updated: Dec 26, 2019
Over the last few weeks I’ve gotten a number of questions about salt and sodium in our bread, and I thought I should write to let you know more about what’s in our bread, and how you might want to think about it in the broader scope of your diet.
I know that the CDC and the American Heart Association have been working hard to reduce the amount of sodium in our diets. Dietary sodium, as you likely know, tends to increase blood pressure, and that’s bad.
I know, too, that there have been some articles pinging around the web suggesting that bread is often packed full of sodium, and that it’s the number one source of sodium in the American diet.
With that as the starting point, let’s talk about sodium and bread.
Are we talking about SALT, or about SODIUM?
I hear you cry!
Salt is sodium-chloride, and it’s about 40% sodium.
There is virtually no sodium in flour itself.
As bakers, we talk about SALT.
Bakers don’t put sodium in bread; Bakers put SALT in bread! Bread and salt have a sensitive relationship. Too much salt, even just a little too much, and the bread tastes noticeably salty. Too little salt, even just a little too little, and the bread is weak on the baker’s table, ferments and bakes poorly, and tastes bland.
When bakers think about salt in bread, we think about the ratio of salt to flour. If we were to put in equal parts salt and flour, we’d call that “100%” salt, because the weight of the salt is the same as, or 100% of, the weight of the flour. Similarly, if we used 100 train-cars full of flour and we used 2 train cars full of salt, we’d say our salt quantity was “2%.”
I’m not joking. This is how bakers think!
Here’s the thing: bakers, all bakers, use between 1.8% and 2.2% salt. To clarify again, that means 1.8% of the flour weight, or 2.2% of the flour weight. Every 100g of flour gets between 1.8g and 2.2g of salt. Every kilo (1000g) of flour gets from 18-22g of salt.
In my experience, 2% is just right, and at our bakery, we always put in 2% salt. That means, for every 1000g of flour, we use 20g of salt.
If we were on the lower end of the salt spectrum, we’d put in 18g of salt per kilo of flour, using 1.8%. I have a baker friend who always puts in 2.2% salt. For every kilo of flour in the bread, he adds 22 grams of salt. He thinks it tastes better. Me, I think it tastes salty. I don’t like that much salt in my bread.
You can see this is a pretty tight window!
Alright then..How much salt is that in each loaf?
Again, I hear you cry!
If we were going to be super-precise about this, we’d have to account for small variables, such as the quantity of water in the bread, which can vary by the humidity of the day, and by the quality of the flour. If we’re willing to settle a bit, we could say, as we do in the bakery, that every kilo of flour makes 2.5 loaves of bread. There’s some play in there, but it’s pretty close. So every 10 kilos of flour makes 25 loaves of bread. Because every 10 kilos of flour gets 200 grams of salt, then each loaf has in it 8 grams of salt.
How much sodium in each loaf?
I was wondering the same thing!
Because salt is 40% sodium, there are approximately 3.2 grams of sodium in each loaf.
But how much sodium in each serving?
I agree. That is the question!
This is where it gets tricky. It MATTERS how you eat your bread. If you cut 10 slices per loaf, then you’ve got 320mg of sodium in each slice. Cut it into 20 slices and you’ve got 160mg in each slice. Of course, the shape of the loaf matters, and it matters whether it’s a slice from the heel or a slice from the middle. A heel slice from a boule is significantly smaller than a center slice. The differences among slices are less pronounced in a baguette, but baguette slices are generally smaller than boule slices, and there are lots of them in a single baguette. A rye bread that is fully rectilinear, like our Vollkornbrot, will generally have slices of equal size from end to end, but that bread likes a VERY thin slice, so likely the quantities of sodium in a single serving are smaller than in other breads. Oh brother.
So the answer is: Although we always put the same amount of salt in our bread each time, and although the amount of salt we put in our bread is basically the same as every other baker puts in her bread, the amount of salt in a serving of bread varies a lot! And that’s good, because it makes it easier for you to manage your sodium intake.
I’m not a doctor, so I won’t be giving you dietary advice.. Wait! I AM a doctor! But I’m not that kind of doctor. I’m a “real” doctor!! Anyway. I will still refrain from giving you dietary advice.
But.. I will say these few things, mainly about bread:
Is bread “salty”? Nah. It’s way less salty than many things you eat every day, and it hasn’t gotten any saltier over the last 100 years.
Is bread a significant source of sodium in your diet? That depends on how much bread you eat.
The amount of salt, and thus the amount of sodium, in all real bread, if it’s baked by a precise and skilled baker, is almost always THE SAME. Even “salty” bread isn’t much saltier than “normal” bread.
Is there such a thing as “no-salt bread”? Is there such a thing as “low-salt bread”? Yes. But if we confine our conversation to bread made by fermenting and baking wheat and rye flours, you know, “BREAD,” then.. not so much. Even “Tuscan no-salt bread” and suchlike are so bland that you’ve got to slather them with anchovies to make them worth eating. And quite a few of the “no-salt bread” formulas actually contain… salt!
Let’s get real.
If you want to reduce the amount of sodium in your diet that comes from bread, the easiest thing to do is to cut THINNER slices.
And there you have it!
With great and salty affection,