Probably the most obvious contribution of salt is its flavor. If absent, taste would be the most immediately obvious quality deficiency. “Although salt is not used in large quantities, breads and sweet goods would have an unbalanced flavor, texture and mouthfeel if salt were not present in their formulations,” said Chef Scott Keys, manager, culinary operations, Nu-Tek Salt.
Not only does this ingredient contribute its own saltiness to a finished product, but it enhances other flavors as well.
“In baked goods, salt brings out the subtle flavors like chocolate and fruits and helps balance spices in sweet goods,” said Adam Fisher, partner and COO, Oceans Flavor Foods. “Caramel is good, but salted caramel brings out the sweetness of the caramel and rounds out the creaminess of the taste.”
While often the salt referenced in formulation is kosher salt, he continued, bakers aren’t limited to just this form to meet their needs. Different salts can also offer bakers different flavors, textures and mouthfeels, and bakers can work with formulators to find the right salt for their application. For example, sea salt is denser than kosher salt, providing the same amount of flavor with less salt being used.
SaltWorks’ sea salt flakes are actually less dense, but they have a larger surface area than smaller granules, still delivering more salty flavor without needing to use additional salt.
The company also offers topping salts in a range of natural flavors that add not only visual appeal but also different complementary flavors to the products. For example, salt combined with Italian black truffle flavor adds to the flavor of breadsticks and crackers. These more complex flavors go beyond savory products.
“In sweet goods, salt actually enhances and enlivens sweet flavors and the subtleties of different ingredients, yielding a deeper and more well-rounded overall flavor,” said Megan O’Keefe, media relations, SaltWorks. Sea salts with chipotle or smoky flavors can bring out the sweetness of a chocolate croissant, for example.
SaltWorks also has incorporated current trends into the salt flavors it offers such as sriracha, which can bring popular Thai heat to any bakery formulation: pretzels, crackers or even English muffins.
Flavor is important, but enjoyable taste is more complex than just flavor. Texture and mouthfeel come into play, too, and salt granulation has a lot to do with that. Salt comes in a wide variety of particle sizes, and it’s important that the granulation fits the bakery application, or else consumers will taste the salt in a negative way.
In cookies, for example, there is less water present in which the salt can dissolve. “If the salt granule is too big, people detect the salt, so you want a smaller-sized granulation of salt,” said Julie Schuette, senior food technologist, Cargill. A smaller-sized granulation salt will dissolve better in a low-water formulation like cookies, providing a consistent flavor within the cookies and avoiding the issue of “crunch salt.”
“You have salt sizes across a whole spectrum,” said Janice Johnson, PhD, food applications leader, Cargill Salt. “We match up the applications to what salt works best in that application. In a cookie where there isn’t much water, a smaller particle would help so you don’t feel the crunch of the salt. But for something like bread that has more water available, you can use a salt with a bigger granule size because the salt will dissolve.”
A challenge with salt is that it can sometimes cake or clump together if there is a change in humidity. When relative humidity rises above 75%, atmospheric moisture condenses on the salt crystals, and when the humidity drops back below 75%, that moisture evaporates. However, that leaves dissolved salt to recrystallize together into clumps. Anti-caking treatments can prevent this from happening without having an impact on functionality or taste.
Choosing the right anti-caking additive, however, is important because some can have an impact on the appearance of the finished baked good.
One of the most commonly used additives is yellow prussiate of soda (YPS). However, iron, present either in water, enriched flour or possibly metal shavings from wear of the manufacturing equipment built up in the machinery, can react with YPS and give a blue color to the final product. “It doesn’t have any negative effects on humans, but it’s not a desirable appearance,” Ms. Schuette said.
This issue is easily remedied by enlisting water conditioning and proper sanitation and equipment maintanence procedures between production runs, but bakers can also use other additives to prevent salt from clumping. “There are many other alternatives in anti-caking agent packages that can be used,” Dr. Johnson assured. “Using salts with a different additive package would be an easy solution.”