Salt

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I have a general question. I live at 3500ft. in Idaho which may or may not have any bearing
on the amount of salt to use in cooking. My question is: Other than taste what does salt do for your cooking ??.
I know it is a dumb question, but as a novice I need to learn and I am 81 yrs. young
 
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I'm no expert by any means so the following is just my humble opinion :) I once read "salt brings out flavor". I can't remember where I read it but I always keep it in mind when I'm cooking. I've found that it enhances the flavor that's already there (versus using spices which add their own distinct flavor to the dish). An example I have is with sweet potatoes. Initially, I'd never think to add salt to an item that was meant to be sweet and I didn't use to. So I'd just cook the sweet potatoes, maybe add a bit of butter and call it a day. One day I decided to give salt in the sweet potatoes a try. I found that, when I added that little bit of salt to baked sweet potatoes, it brought out more of its natural flavor and haven't looked back since :D

Something to note, there are different types of salts out there (regular table salt, sea salt, kosher, etc). Ever since my husband (who loves to cook) and I discovered kosher salt, we use it almost exclusively for cooking. However, I don't really bake with it unless the recipe specifically calls out for it.

Salt has also been used as a preservative for hundreds of years (fish, meats), but that's all I really know about it.
 
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John, that's not a stupid question at all. It's actually an excellent question. Ingredients create chemical reactions. The end product whether we are cooking or baking is the result of all of those chemical reactions. Salt plays a critical chemical role both in cooking and baking.

Ninamari is correct that salt doesn't just add flavor, but salt actually enhances flavor. Her example of the sweet potatoes is excellent as she demonstrates how to use salt in non-savory applications.

And as she mentioned it has been used as a food preservative for centuries

Salt not only dehydrates but it also aids hydration. By brining in salt, water initially is drawn out and then pulled back in to the tissue.

In baked goods salt plays a critical role in dough development, especially in bread. Salt actually tightened the gluten structure. That extra strength provides elasticity. If salt is not added to dough it would be very very slack and sticky. When baked the bread will have very low volume.

Salt also helps to regulate fermentation. People frequently comment that salt will kill yeast. That's not quite accurate. Salt is hygroscopic meaning that it attracts water from its environment. In the presence of salt, yeast releases some of its water through osmosis. Osmosis simply means that the water moves through the cell membrane without any need of energy. So in the presence of salt, yeast releases the water, salt absorbs it. That release of water actually slows yeast ability to reproduce. So in the presence of too much salt, yeast reproduction pretty much comes to a halt. So there's little to no rise when too much salt is in the dough.

The interaction between salt and yeast also affects browning. All purpose flour is about 10% protein; the rest is starch. Starch gets converted to simple sugars in a process called amylase. Yeast feeds on the sugars. Since the salt slows yeast development, there is more residual sugars in the dough. When baked, heat triggers the Millard effect, which is the caramelization of the sugars in the dough. And that's what gives the color to the baked good. More residual sugar present in the dough, the more it browns during baking. So if you don't have enough salt in your product it will bake up very light in color.

just an aside… If you want to make a steak that is steakhouse quality, rub it down with salt place on a rock over a pan, then place in the refrigerator uncovered overnight. The next day do a reverse sear. I love a ribeye every now and then. And this is the only way I will prepare my steaks.

How to reverse sear:
http://www.seriouseats.com/2017/03/how-to-reverse-sear-best-way-to-cook-steak.html
 
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Northern Calif. Baker and Ninamari,

I thank both of you very much for the replies. I had no idea that salt played such a important part in the
preparation of food. I have my dictionary and thesaurus handy. I have read, reread and read it again. A lot
to digest. Again I thank you all. I have learned a vast amount knowledge but so much more to learn.
 

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