Basic bread has yeast, flour, water and salt as its primary ingredients. Whether you add in the yeast yourself as active dry or instant yeast, or rely on naturally occurring yeast, as you might for a sourdough bread, the basic bread ingredients don’t change. I often have people questioning the addition of salt to bread and it’s not difficult to see why. When you bake bread from scratch, the recipe can call for anywhere from a teaspoon to a tablespoon of salt, which can seem like a lot when you’re thinking about the recipe as a whole instead of thinking about how that amount is divided up into very small amounts per serving. I also get a lot of questions about reducing or omitting the salt in a bread recipe.
The short answer is that yes, your bread does need salt. It is possible to make a loaf of bread without it, but your bread is going to look and taste better with some salt added. Salt plays two important functions in bread. The first is flavoring. While breads with added milk, sugar, butter, eggs and other ingredients may not taste too bad without salt, a basic loaf is going to taste flat, bland and somewhat papery without salt. Wheat flour on its own doesn’t taste amazing, and adding salt will bring out the nuances of the flour, round out the yeast flavor and give the whole loaf a balanced taste.
The other important role that salt plays is as an inhibitor to the yeast in a bread dough. Salt slows the rising process, or fermentation, of a yeast bread dough. Slowing the rising period gives the gluten in the dough time to strengthen and develop, resulting in a better crumb and a better crust, particularly in doughs that have a long rising period to begin with.
So, the amount of salt that shows up in your bread recipes is important, and if you balk a little bit at seeing the amount of salt in one recipe, just remember that it contributes to a better looking, better tasting loaf in the end. You can always play around with the amount of salt in a favorite recipe if you really want to try to reduce it. Otherwise, just remind yourself that only a little bit of that initial salt makes it into each serving of your bread and try to enjoy that delicious, homemade loaf.