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.
I don’t use low sodium bread recipes mainly because some seem to use too much yeast for the amount of flour called for. 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.
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
Part 7 – Favorite Buns and Rolls