Salt in bread

Many Real Bread bakers use lower salt levels already but the Real Bread Campaign urges all bakers to reduce the amount of salt they use.

In very small amounts, sodium plays a part in a number of functions in the human body but many people in the UK consume far too much of it.

As part of our work in finding ways to make bread better for us, better for our communities and better for the planet, the Real Bread Campaign urges all bakers to see if they need to reduce the amount of salt they use.

Bakers listing their loaves on The Real Bread Finder are invited to note which meet the Food Standards Agency's 1% salt reduction target.

The Campaign's calls

Though many Real Bread bakers’ loaves meet the Food Standards Agency's 1% target for salt, the Real Bread Campaign calls for:

  • All bakers to meet this target
  • Mandatory standards for maximum salt content of bread served in schools, hospitals, care homes and other public sector institutions
  • Supermarket in-store bakeries and chain bakeries to give salt content information at the point of sale
  • Small, independent bakeries to let customers know whether or not their loaves meet the FSA's salt content target

What’s wrong with salt?

The overwhelming evidence is that a diet high in common salt (sodium chloride) contributes to high blood pressure (hypertension) which increases your risk of a number of health conditions, in particular heart disease and stroke.

Studies have also linked a high salt diet to cancer of the stomach, kidney disease, osteoporosis, kidney stones, obesity, and to exacerbating the symptoms of Meniere’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease and diabetes.

For these reasons, the Real Bread Campaign supports the work of Consensus Action on Salt & Health (CASH) and Salt Awareness Week in drawing attention to these risks and finding ways to reduce the amount of salt in our diets.

Current UK governmental advice is that adults should counsume no more than 6g of salt per day.

Are some types of salt healthier than others?

No. Next question?

Claims that sea salt or rock salt 'tastes saltier so you use less' or are 'healther because they contain other minerals' are just nonsense. Some salt is iodised* in an effort to counteract a deficiency in some people's diets, but there are plenty of healthier sources of iodine, such as fish, seafood, seaweed, milk and other dairy products.

For more information on this, click here.

That said, industrially produced salt might contain additives that you want to avoid, such as the anti-caking agent sodium hexacyanoferrate (II).

You might want to choose salt produced by a small, independently-owned business that provides more skilled work for local people per pack than an industrial producer does. You might also find certain brands have processing methods (e.g. sun-drying of sea water) that use less energy and generate lower negative environmental impacts.

* Though the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) notes that: '...iodised salt is not widely available in the UK or used in manufactured products.'

So why use salt in baking?

In Real Bread and industrial loaf baking salt in small quantities helps to:

  • Enhance flavour*
  • Strengthen the gluten network
  • Aid the browning process
  • Act as a natural preservative

*This is especially useful in industrial loaf production that doesn’t allow enough time for the dough to ‘ripen’ and develop flavour naturally.

What can professional bakers do?

Many industrial loaf makers, and even some traditional bakers, allowed salt levels in their products to creep up to unecessarily high levels and their baked goods became a major contributor to salt in our diets.* The Federation of Bakers (which represents many of the country's wrapped/sliced loaf producers) gives the figure as about 17% of the salt we consume in the UK.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) set a (sadly voluntary) target for bakers to reduce the levels of salt in their Real Bread (and other bread-like industrial products) to 1g of salt per 100g of baked loaf by 2012.

Adverse publicity over the years has helped to persuade many industrial and craft bakers to lower the salt levels of their loaves and other baked goods, which are reaching the target gradually. Now we want to ensure that all bakers follow suit.

FSA research has shown that reducing salt in bread is easy and acceptable to customers, with no discernible effect on taste. In the FSA study bakers reduced the level of salt in their bread by 25% over six weeks and customers did not notice the difference. Not only that, the quality of bread baked in commercial premises, under different conditions, using different recipes remained high.

The Campaign urges all Real Bread (and other) bakers to look at the salt level you are using in your loaves, and to lower it if you exceed the 1% of loaf weight target.

NB The 1% target is based on finished loaf weight, not dough weight or baker’s percentage based on flour weight.

* As at February 2012, industrial loaves still appeared to be the largest source of dietary salt in the USA.

How to much salt to use

Unless you're making pane Toscano, you'll probably want to use at least some salt when baking bread.

Professional bakers

We urge all bakers to reduce the amount of salt they use to meet the FSA's target. We also call for:

  • Supermarket in-store bakeries and the chain bakeries to give salt content information at the point of sale
  • Small, independent bakeries to let customers know whether or not their loaves meet the FSA's salt content target

To help professional bakers reduce salt levels, in 2010 the FSA worked with the National Association of Master Bakers and Norfolk County Council to create an online salt calculator and guide to Reducing Salt in Bread.

We are trying to find out upon what level of hydration the calculation is based, but here’s one example recipe of our own for a basic tin loaf of white Real Bread at 60% hydration:

580g stoneground white bread flour (baker’s % = 100%)
350g water (60%)
9g fresh yeast (1.55%)
8g salt (1.38%)

= 947g total dough weight

Once baked and cooled, this should weigh 800g, or just over, and so will have 1% salt, or just under.

Things to bear in mind:

  • Different doughs will have different ratios of water to flour.
  • Dough loses weight through evaporation during and after baking.
  • The weight loss will vary according to a number of factors including how long and how hot you bake your loaves, their shape (with its high surface to volume ratio, a baguette will lose more than a cob of the same weight) and whether or not you bake in tins.
  • The recommended scaling weights for the old standard loaf sizes of 800g and 400g were 920-950g and 470-480g, respectively.

Perhaps the simplest guide is to start from the weight you know your loaves to be once cooled and work backwards to calculate 1% of that as the maximum amount of salt to use. So, if you are baking loaves of the old standard weights of 800g and 400g, you should be using no more than 8g or 4g of salt per loaf, respectively.
Campaign supporters have access to The Real Baker-e, an online forum for asking questions and sharing ideas and advice, for example on ways to reduce salt.

Home bakers

Here's an example recipe for a basic tin loaf of white Real Bread:

500g/ml stoneground white bread flour
300g/ml water
8g fresh (or 4g dried active - not instant/fast acting) yeast*
6g salt (a level 5ml teaspoon of salt should weigh around 5.5-6.5g)*

= total 814g

When baked, this loaf should weigh about 650g or just over, and so should have a salt content of 1% or less.

So, if you see a recipe based on 500g flour that asks for 2tsp, 10g or more salt - that is way too much!

* For more conversions, click here.

What about shoppers?

For factory loaves, wraps, crumpets etc. always read the label!

  • If the list of artificial additives doesn’t put you off, then look out for a salt of 1g per 100g or less.
  • If the producer has ignored good practice advice and is showing sodium instead of salt, then look for a level of 0.4g (or 400mg) of sodium per 100g or lower.


An aside from the health issues related to salt.

What is salt rising bread?

In salt rising bread the leavening agent (i.e. the thing that produces the gas that makes the dough rise) is a halophytic (salt-loving) bacterium, yeasts or chemicals such as baking powder.

Here is an abstract of a West Virginia Medical Journal article entitled Microbiology of salt rising bread by Juckett et al:

‘Salt rising bread (SRB) is an Appalachian traditional bread made without yeast, using a starter derived from flour, milk and potatoes. The "rising agent" has been identified as Clostridium perfringens, not salt, and is presumably derived from the environment. Although no cases of illness have been attributed to SRB, C. perfringens type A is a common cause of food poisoning from meats and gravies. Other C. perfringens isolates may cause enteritis necroticans (pig-bel disease) and gas gangrene. Past research documents that pathogenic strains derived from wounds may be used to produce bread and that bacteria isolated from this bread retain their pathogenicity. SRB starter samples were cultured at the University of Pittsburgh and abundant C. perfringens, type A grew out of all samples. However none of the cultures were positive for enterotoxin and thus would be unlikely to cause human food borne disease. While this does not preclude the possibility of other starter mixes containing enteropathogenic strains, the baking process appears to reduce bacterial contamination to safe levels and SRB has not been implicated in causing any human disease.’



Salt: the facts - NHS
Salt and your health - CASH
Salt and Health - Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition

In the news

Many bakeries changed their recipes in the wake of these news stories, but some of the information is still of interest.

The Daily Telegraph - 30 October 2008
Warburtons bread 'has highest salt content'
BBC - 1 March 2007
Warning over bread salt content
The Daily Mail - 1 March 2007
Salty bread 'is putting 7,000 lives a year at risk'
The Daily Telegraph - 1 March 2007
Some bread still has too much salt, finds study
British Medical Journal - 18 May 1996
Salt - overwhelming evidence but still no action: can a consensus be reached with the food industry?

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