Sunday, April 18, 2010

Baking Low Sodium Bread - Introduction - Part 1

The next few posts will focus on making lower sodium bread. I didn’t really get interested in bread baking until my husband was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Before that I had made a lot of yeast dough products – cinnamon rolls, orange rolls, cream cheese braids, etc. But I had never been interested in regular bread loaves. That all changed when I realized how much salt was in commercially prepared bread products.

Grocery store or bakery breads may contain anywhere from 140 mg – 250 mg or more sodium per slice. Because they’re small, dinner rolls are about the same as bread slices. Sandwich/hamburger buns can range from 290 mg to over 480 mg sodium per bun, and bagels are around 420 mg each. Flatbreads and wrap-sized flour tortillas can get close to the 600 mg mark. None of this is very good news if you’re on a low sodium diet.

The problem is not in eating a slice or two of store-bought bread or having an occasional dinner roll with your evening meal. It’s the cumulative effect of eating bread stuffs at every meal. Slices of toast or a bagel in the morning. A sandwich on a French roll for lunch. Or maybe a stuffed wrap or pita. A couple of soft dinner rolls with supper. Add it all up, and you’ve accumulated a hefty portion of your sodium allotment for the day without even considering the meats, cheese, condiments, sauces, etc. also present in the various meals.

That’s why making homemade bread is encouraged; you can control the sodium content. However making your own homemade lower sodium bread is easier said than done. Some people simply don’t have the time to devote to bread making. Others don’t have very much experience or even interest.

Thankfully, there is help available for the reluctant or inexperienced bread baker: useful appliances include food processors and stand mixers; helpful recipe techniques include batter breads, the famous 5-minute a day artisan breads, and the equally famous no-knead breads. All these make preparing the bread dough much easier, but they also require shaping manually and baking in the oven. Only one appliance completes the entire process – from kneading, to rising, to baking: the “Automatic Bread Machine.” Thanks to bread machines, a person on a low sodium diet is no longer at the mercy of the grocery store bread aisles.

Several good quality bread machines are available. I have a Zojirushi, but I’ve heard great things about Panasonic, Sunbeam, and Breadman machines. If you’re interested in purchasing one, I recommend perusing the Bread Machine Digest web site. In particular, check out the bread machine review section at the bottom of the home page. Also take a look at the bread machine listings on Amazon for additional reviews. Amazon also has a good selection of bread machine cookbooks.

Bread machines are fairly easy and convenient to use. You simply add the ingredients (flour, liquid, salt, yeast, etc.) in the order suggested by the manufacturer. You only need to check the dough a couple of times during the kneading process to make adjustments such as adding a bit more liquid or flour depending on the dough’s consistency. The machine does the rest of the work – all the mixing and kneading. Then you decide how you want to use the dough.

You can let the machine bake a loaf or you can remove the dough to make free-form loaves, buns, rolls, bagels, pizza, etc. You can also take the dough out after kneading and place it in a covered container for a slow, cool, overnight rise. This option is especially helpful when your baking activities are interrupted. Just a word of warning, however. Lessening or eliminating the salt content in any bread recipe and particularly in bread machine recipes requires more oversight. It adds complications that full-salt recipes don’t have.

I make all our breakfast breads – oat scones, biscuits, bran muffins, waffles, toasting bread, and bagels, etc. I use Featherweight sodium free baking powder for the quick breads and freeze everything for later use. I also make all our sandwich & hamburger buns and freeze them.

Every few weeks I have a baking marathon. Depending on what I’m running low on, I’ll make one or two quick breads and one or two yeast dough products. That way I know there’s always some variety available for breakfasts, and I can make quick sandwiches or paninis for lunches. It’s not unusual for me to make bagels and hamburger buns plus either a loaf bread or some dinner rolls all in one day. I can get one recipe started in my bread machine, take it out after it’s kneaded to rise in a separate container, and then get started on another recipe. I do the same with the second recipe, and finally, I’ll let the third recipe actually rise in the machine. In the meantime, as the doughs rise, I’ll shape and bake them. By the time I’m done, I’ve got bread products for several weeks.

If I’m making panned loaves, I prefer to bake them in my oven. I think I have better control over the finished product, and I like the oven-baked crust better. Nevertheless, it’s amazing how my pickiness disappears during the middle of our hot Sacramento summers. Then suddenly a less than perfect crust doesn’t seem like such a problem.

There are basically three kinds of low sodium recipes one can use in a bread machine:

Bread recipes written specifically for low sodium diets. If the recipes were created for bread machines, simply follow them. If they were written for manual kneading or a standing mixer, then you’ll have to place the ingredients in your machine according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Both the Megaheart and Low Sodium Cooking websites list several low sodium bread recipes, many of which are written for the automatic bread machine. However, many low sodium bread machine recipes do not adjust the yeast quantities in order to deal effectively with the lower salt content. I simply don't trust most of the low sodium bread recipes I've seen. The yeast quantities seem too high for salt free breads, and often times, the role of salt in yeast breads is completely misrepresented. As a result, I don’t use low sodium bread recipes. I don’t want to worry more than necessary about overproofing, and I sure don’t want to end up with collapsed and misshapen loaves.

Bread recipes written specifically for bread machines. The Bread Machine Digest website mentioned above has a huge list of bread machine recipes as does King Arthur Flour’s site. However, you will need to adjust BOTH the salt and yeast amounts. To lower the sodium content, you will have to lessen the amount of salt in the recipes. Salt serves to control the rate of yeast fermentation. In simple terms, salt keeps the yeast under control. Yeast dough made without salt or with a lower salt content will rise much faster and could collapse. A good rule of thumb to remember is to reduce the amount of yeast the same as the amount the salt has been reduced. For example, if the salt content is reduced by half, then reduce the yeast by half. Obviously, if you’re making totally salt free bread, you need to reduce the yeast by at least half and watch the dough carefully during rising. It will probably rise at close to double speed, so you need to check it often. Do not let it overproof or it will collapse once it starts baking. Even if you have lowered the amount of yeast used, it still is important to watch the dough as it is rising to avoid over proofing

Bread recipes not written specifically for bread machines. You will need to place the ingredients in the machine according to the order recommended by the manufacturer and you will need to adjust both the salt and yeast quantities.

A Rant: My biggest frustration with lower sodium bread machine recipes is that the pitfalls of lower sodium yeast bread baking are hardly ever discussed. You get the mistaken impression that all you need to do is dump the ingredients in the machine, turn it on, walk away, and miraculously a couple of hours later you’ll have perfect, tasty, lower sodium bread. Just as good as a professional bakery’s. You barely had to do any work at all. And you didn’t have to know anything about bread baking either. It’s just not that simple!

Next Post: Baking Low Sodium Bread - Beginning Basics - Part 2

Baking Low Sodium Bread Series:

Part 1 – Introduction  

Part 2 – Beginning Basics

Part 3 – Getting Started

Part 4 – Keeping It Fresh

Part 5 – Without a Bread Machine

Part 6 – Favorite Bread Recipes


Steven said...

I used to bake my own bread before I had to cut back on sodium. I tried to make a low-salt bread once and I didn't like the results. I've been buying a loaf of Alvarado's No Salt Sprouted Grain bread about every two weeks just for myself. It's pretty good as far as no-salt bread goes, but my family won't eat it. I'm curious if you've found a way to make bread that's good for a low sodium diet and that others will find tasty.

shambo said...

Steven, I've purchased the Alvarado No Salt Bread several times too. Like you, I find it just barely OK, but I really don't enjoy eating it. I understand your family's hesitation.

Actually, I've found several good tasting bread recipes, and I'm going to devote at least one post to those. However, as I metnioned in the blog entry, I don't make no-salt bread. I just cut the amount of salt in half. But even that can make for bland bread if there aren't some other flavoring agents such as sweeteners, fats, eggs, dairy, etc.

French type breads taste insipid even with half the salt. That's why I encourage the use of a pre-ferment. It adds a zip that low salt breads need. The same for adding spices, herbs, & seeds.

My next few posts will discuss the pitfalls of making low sodium breads and also how to enliven their flavor. Hope something helps.

Tara said...

Awesome post! I just made low-sodium bread in a bread machine for the first time a few weeks ago, and it was not the greatest. I am excited to learn from your experiences!

I've had good luck with Trader Joe's Sodium-Free 100% Whole Wheat bread, I keep it in the freezer and it is useful for any meal throughout the day. Toast at breakfast, sandwich bread at lunch... and well I guess I don't use it at dinner time!

shambo said...

Tara, I've also used the Trader Joe's salt free bread. It's OK but awfully bland. My problem with using it or other completely salt free breads at breakfast is that I don't like jams and jellies. So it's just blah toast topped with unsalted butter. Not very exciting. That's one reason why I prefer making my own breads. I lower the sodium content but can add things to boost flavor.

Voce said...

Love your blog! I have the same bread maker in the photo & have concentrated on making a few regular loaves to get a feel for the process before I attempt a lower sodium loaf. Am looking forward to your next post on the subject. Especially if you include a half white/half whole wheat recipe. Hint, hint!

Alicia said...

I'm excited to see your tips on making low sodium bread! My husband is on a low sodium diet. I tried to make some no salt breads when he was first put on the diet but wasn't happy with the results and so stopped. We've come to rely on the Pepperidge Farm's heart healthy or reduced sodium breads. I'd love to be able to make my own low sodium breads!

shambo said...

Voce, thanks for your comments. I think you're wise to concentrate on learning the quirks of your particular machine before attempting to play around with lower sodium breads.

It will probably take me at least 2-3 additional posts to thoroughly discuss baking lower sodium breads in a machine. But eventually I'll get to some of my favorite recipes. And, yes, I've found a really tasty one that's half whole wheat & half white flour. I've also discovered a good 100% whole wheat bread recipe too.

shambo said...

Alicia, I've haven't noticed Pepperidge Farms lower sodium breads in my local grocery stores. I'll have to look for them. The few commercial breads I've tried are OK as far as texture goes, but they're so awfully bland. Not inviting to eat at all. That's one of the reasons I like to make my own. There are some tricks to boost the flavor of lower sodium bread. Eventually, I'll be discussing them in future posts.

Dixter said...

Thank you. I just found your blog. I've been salt free for two months but I can't say I'm too happy about it.
I believe your blog will make me happier.

shambo said...

Dixter, you are too kind. I'm glad if I can help or encourage you a bit.

Anonymous said...

You are so helpful! As someone on a low-sodium diet- bless you!!!

shambo said...

Thank you for the compliment. I hope you can get some good tips. We're all inthis together.

Anonymous said...

Coo - you've got a lot of patience for all that baking! I eat about two slices of bread a day (I've got hypertension and am on pills for it) and had been watching my salt intake til just a couple of weeks or so ago, I must get back to it. I found your blog only recently so will be interested to read future posts and catch up if I can with past ones.

Low salt foods are difficult to find where I live - in rural Wales, UK, so it's a matter of improvising a lot of the time.

shambo said...

Absurdold bird, I must confess that I get a great deal of personal satsifaction out of yeast bread baking. So it's enjoyable along with being somewhat of a necessity when following a low sodium diet.

You bring up a good point. Even here in the US, many local grocery stores do not carry lower sodium products. That's why a person on a low sodium diet ends up doing so much from-scratch cooking. And that's why making your own bread stuffs is encouraged.

Thanks for your comments.

me said...

Love your blog, have you ever tried make bread for stuffing? Stuffing is so high in sodium, it would be nice to make the bread with the seasonings, bake it in the breadmaker, slice it up in cubes, toast it, then cook it with parsley, celery & onion & some unsalted butter and maybe Pacific Organic loso chicken broth.

shambo said...

Me, Dick Logue of Low Sodium has a recipe for stuffing bread. I think it's a great idea. I've been thinking of doing something similar for homemade croutons. That way the spices wouldn't burn as the bread cubes are being toasted in the oven. I think you could use any combination of herbs and spices that appeals to you. And if you prepared a stuffing bread, cubed it, let it dry out a bit, and then froze it, you'd have an instant side dish of stuffing whenever you wanted. Here's Dick's recipe:

Anonymous said...

Glad I saw this blog; I need to get back to controlling sodium and didn't even realize that it was the bun or bread that is the biggest culprit. I used to think that if I bought packaged stuffing mix and just added less of the seasoning packet that I was significantly reducing the sodium--now I see that I have been deluding myself as most of the sodium is in the bread cubes! Guess I will never be smart enough, there is too much to learn about everything!

Anonymous said...

I love your article on no salt bread. But, being new to this, please tell me what you mean by this comment: ** "Do not let it overproof or it will collapse once it starts baking. Even if you have lowered the amount of yeast used, it still is important to watch the dough as it is rising to avoid over proofing" **. Please explain what to do in this event. All the sodium free bread I make collapses in the center and is really inedible.

shambo said...

I'd be happy to explain. Salt acts as a yeast inhibitor. It keeps the yeast from going crazy and expanding the dough too quickly & too much. When you reduce the amount of salt in the bread dough, you run the risk of the yeast "running wild" and over-expanding the dough. That's why it's important to reduce the amount of yeast in the same proportion that you reduced the salt.

The problem with over-expanded dough (sometimes called over-proofed or over-risen) is what happens during baking. The heat of the oven causes the bread dough to expand even more. This is called "oven spring." If your dough is over-risen to start with and then it expands more in the hot oven, it will collapse. It simply cannot keep its puffy structure.

That's why you can end up with sunken tops. The dough expanded so much during the rising & the baking that it could not sustain its internal structure & collapsed.

And that's why it's important to watch the dough carefully if you've lowered the salt content. Don't let it over-rise. Don't go by a set time for rising. To quote some bread experts from the Cooking Forum: "The dough is risen when its risen." That can be after a 30 minute rise or a 90 minute rise. You shouldn't just walk away and come back an hour later because your bread may have over-expanded.

Over-proofing is a common problem for ALL bread makers. However, when you remove some or all of the salt, it becomes an even bigger problem. That's because salt keeps the yeast in check. With the salt lessened, you increase the possibility of over-proofing. And that's why I recommend keeping an eye on your rising lower sodium dough. That's why it's important to reduce the yeast if you're going to reduce the sodium content.

And that's why I get upset with so-called low sodium resources that don't adequately explain the role of salt in yeast dough and how lowering the salt content affects yeast dough baking.

If you're making salt-free bread, you really need to keep an eye on your rising bread dough to make sure it doesn't over-proof. Most bread experts recommend letting dough rise to JUST UNDER double. If you've let the dough double, you've let it rise a bit too much. Also, you might want to experiment with reducing the yeast content a bit, maybe just 1/8 - 1/4 tsp., even if you're following a "salt-free" recipe.

One of the drawbacks to using a bread machine for baking is that all the rises are on a timer. It can't make judgments about when the dough is ready for baking. So the dough can easily over-proof in the machine, start baking, & collapse. Don't get me wrong, though. I mainly use my bread machine for kneading & rising only. But occasionally, I'll also use it for the baking cycle as well. Because I'm careful to reduce the yeast accordingly, I usually don't end up with sunken loaves. But baking loaves manually in your oven is better in preventing sunken tops. You can tell by just a glance that the dough is ready for baking, and pop the pan into the oven before it over-proofs.

I hope you read all the other posts about low sodium bread. They've got a lot of useful tips & information. Good luck!

Matt said...

Seems to be a gap in the market waiting to be filled by a published low-sodium bread machine recipe book - or is there one I don't know about?

Wassi's Meats said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I am a new low salt convert. My husband was put on a low sodium diet due to an issue with his inner ear. His doctor urges him to stay under 1500mg per day. This has been extremely difficult. What an education I have had in the last few weeks! Huge amounts of sodium are in almost everything purchased pre made. Like Shambo said, if you are not a fairly good cook to begin with this can very easily become overwhelming.

My biggest rant is against the food industry for a lack of products and deceptive labeling and the medical
community for not forcing more public awareness.

When a person is diagnosed with heart problems, the doctor immediately puts them on a low sodium diet. The same goes for kidney patients, diabetics, patients with high blood pressure problems. Even when a woman is pregnant, the doctor advises a low sodium diet. 1- Why does the medical community wait until there is a health crisis to recommend this diet? Obviously, high sodium intake is bad for everyone! A diet low in sodium can only benefit our general health. 2-where are the products?! I have learned not to trust labels. Low salt only means it is lower in sodium than the regular version. This may still be much too high for a person following a restricted diet.

Following this diet is definitely labor intensive. I am still a beginner and am gathering as much information and as many recipes as I can. I am learning to cook multiple servings in order to have enough to freeze. One thing we have really missed is bread. I have found a few very low salt breads in the grocery but would really prefer to make my own. I would also love to make the hamburger buns I see mentioned here. Do you have any recipes you can share?

I stumbled upon this site while looking for recipes for no salt bread to be used in a bread machine. Had I not seen it, I would have thrown everything in the machine and waited on the results. Then, I would have been very frustrated when the finished product was not as expected!

If you have any tips for making bread without using the machine, it would be great!

If anyone out there has found really good no salt products, please post them as well as the way to purchase them.

Please excuse any typos and/or grammatical errors. Using a new gadget and can't scroll back to reread this post!

shambo said...

Anonymous, I agree with everything you've said. Doctors seem to leave you without any resources after ordering you to go on a low sodium diet.

Please investigate the links on the right hand side of my blog. Low Sodium Cooking and MegaHeart are great sites full of information and recipes. You can also sign up for free newsletters.

For real life experiences, check out The Daily Dish. Christy shares some wonderful recipes & techniques as does the Low Sodium Adventures blog.

As far as bread is concerned, I encourage you to read all seven of my installments specifically addressing low sodium bread. I think it's full of good information and some good recipes too. Once you get the connection between salt & yeast, you'll be able to use any bread recipe and adjust it easily to make it low sodium.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Have you ever tried using a salt substitute in a bread recipe

Jenna said...

Maybe you should try sea salt. A lot better for you. You could still cut the amount but have a little better result?Haven't tried it yet.

shambo said...

I've never tried using a salt substitute. For one thing, most salt substitutes are made with potassium chloride and my husband's doctor warned against overdoing potassium. Also, sometimes salt substitutes leave behind a strange metallic taste. But my real reason for not using substitutes is that I'd rather make low sodium bread using tasty ingredients: herbs, spices, onions/garlic, etc.

shambo said...

Jenna, unfortunately when it comes to sodium, salt is basically salt -- whether it is sea salt, a gourmet rock salt, kosher salt, or just plain table salt. It's the sodium content that counts. Sea salt has a small smattering of additional minerals not found in table salt but not enough to actually lower its intrinsic sodium content.

Some people like the flavor of sea salt better. Some like working with kosher salt more. And others enjoy the unique characteristics of gourmet salts like pink salt, grey salt, and smoked salt. But measuring salt in cooking is the same for all varieties of salt. The bottom line: if your target is 1500 mgs. of sodium a day, that applies to all salts across the board.

Sam said...

I am so excited to have found this site. I have been trying over and over to make low-sodium bread and have failed every time. I had no idea about lowering the amount of yeast. I've been buying Trader Joe's flourless, sprouted, 8-grain bread because it's the only commercial low-sodium bread I can find that doesn't contain soy or a bunch of other junk. I've been eating it for years and it tastes just like cardboard, especially when toasted. I HATE it! But I love sandwiches.....You are a lifesaver.

To anonymous who asked if anyone knows of other really good salt-free products: World Market carries fantastic spice mixes like, cajun, jerk, chile powder mix, and a bunch of others, all salt-free. These are great in breads as well as other dishes. They're very inexpensive too, 1.99-2.99 per bag.

shambo said...

Sam, thanks for your comments. Yes, the relationship between yeast and salt is many times overlooked in low sodium bread recipes. But it really needs to be discussed more. It's especially important if you use a bread machine to bake loaves. Too much yeast and too little salt can result in overproofed breads that collapse during the automatic rising and baking process.

And I definitely agree with you regarding the World Market salt free spice blends. They have a huge variety, and they taste great. I have several favorites.

Emily said...

Glad I saw this blog; I need to get back to controlling sodium and didn't even realize that it was the bun or bread that is the biggest culprit. I used to think that if I bought packaged stuffing mix and just added less of the seasoning packet that I was significantly reducing the sodium--now I see that I have been deluding myself as most of the sodium is in the bread cubes! Guess I will never be smart enough, there is too much to learn about everything!

shambo said...

Emily, you're definitely not alone. Most people don't realize that bread products contain significant amounts of sodium. I think it's because bread doesn't taste salty. You instinctively know, after the first few bites, that potato chips are salty. But, except for a few instances, bread doesn't seem salty.

The good news is that, if you're not inclined to made your own, there are a lot of newer low sodium bread-type options available now . Personally, I enjoy baking bread and prefer the taste (even with lower salt content) and texture of my own homemade stuff. But that's just me. I know not everyone has the desire or time to do their own baking. That's why it's so encouraging to find good low sodium products.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I made my first loaf of plain white bread- machine bread today using the formula you provided to lower the salt content in yeast breads. Perfectly delicious. This is the first article I found that explains what part salt plays in the making of yeast dough. Thank you so much.

shambo said...

Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I'm so glad your bread came out well. It was a real eye-opener for me when I first came across the formula. It has allowed me to use all sorts of interesting bread recipes with confidence. I'm not limited to what's in a low sodium cookbook. My favorite source continues to be King Arthur Flour.