Excess sodium in processed foods — bread specifically — first attracted attention during the 1980s. The Food and Drug Administration acted on public health worries about the link between sodium consumption and hypertension and announced rules for labeling foods as “low sodium” or “reduced sodium.” Based on a 2-oz, 2-slice serving size, most breads would not qualify for either category. Historically, white pan bread formulations included 3% salt (flour weight basis), although bakers had begun to cut that to 2.1% or even as low as 1.8%.

Researchers at the American Institute of Baking decided to test still lower levels, weighing the performance factors of mixing time and gas production plus finished product quality as seen in crumb appearance and taste. They learned that at the very lowest levels (0.5 to 0% salt), yeast activity suffered, resulting in longer fermentation times and diminished flavor. However, good results occurred at 1.0 to 1.5% salt and showed minimal effects on volume or taste, according to the group’s report in the AIB Technical Bulletin of August 1984.

When sodium content again hit the news recently, the American Society of Baking asked AIB to review and update its study for a presentation at the society’s 2011 annual meeting. AIB looked at replacement of salt in bread and sodium acid pyrophosphate in cake and verified that a one-third reduction from current levels produced acceptable results.