Salt – Does It Kill Yeast?

September 23, 2009 12 Comments

Does Salt Kill Yeast?

I get all sorts of questions asked of me by you guys and I try my best to give you a meaningful response but if I don’t know the answer, I reach out to experts in their field for their responses.  Here’s an example.

I received the following email from Grace R. asking,

Hi, I make pizza for a living; I have been told that salt kills yeast. I use salt & sugar with the dry yeast, eggs, oil and water, which is about 135-140 degrees. Was I misinformed? Is it a combination of elements or has the restaurant just been lucky for the past 26 years? Just curious. Thanks….

So I asked two of my favorite experts, Chef Jennifer Field and Chef Ruth Gresser. Jenni is a graduate of the Orlando Culinary Academy in Florida and Ruth is a graduate of Madelein Kamman’s Classical and Modern French Cooking School in Glen, New Hampshire and owner of the top pizza restaurant in Washington, DC.

Here’s what they had to say:

Chef Jennifer Field – It’s a matter of balance.  Salt does retard yeast growth, and in concentrations that are too high, it can indeed kill the yeast.  In judicious amounts, salt is what brings out the flavor in the bread and controls yeast growth so that the resulting crumb is nice and even.

If you ever make a dough without salt, you’ll notice a lot more, and faster, rise and after baking, you’ll see large, irregular holes in the bread where the yeast just got carried away.  So, it’s not that the restaurant has been lucky; it’s just that their pizza dough recipe is balanced so the yeast can do their thing while the salt keeps them in check.

Chef Ruth Gresser
– In response to Grace’s yeast question, she heard correctly that salt and/or too much sugar can kill yeast.  However yeast has become much less perishable and more reliable over the years and the likelihood of that happening is less than it used to be.  Nonetheless I believe that Grace’s success is not luck, but due to the kind of yeast she uses.

We use regular dry yeast here at Pizzeria Paradiso and so proof it without salt or sugar in water that is 100 to 105 degrees F.  It sounds to me as if Grace uses instant yeast that is used by mixing it into the dry ingredients that are then combined with the liquid ingredients, including water, at a much higher temperature of 120 to 130 degrees F.  Grace says her water is at 135 to 140 but perhaps after it is mixed with the other liquid ingredients the combined temperature is in the range of 120 to 130 degree F.

Thanks chefs for your responses.

Last modified on Tue 14 October 2014 1:46 pm

Comments (12)

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  1. bobo says:

    salt does kill the yeast. But if you have 1 tbsp. or less in a recipe that calls for 2 1/2 tbsp of yeast, it just adds flavor.

  2. bobo the monkey says:

    It still lets the yeast rise, but also adds flavour.

  3. mary says:

    you cannot taste th sugar in my yeast rolls. i used 2 pks of active yeast, 2 cups sugar to 6 cups of unbleached flour. my rolls rose but kinda of bland. is there anything i can do. these are refrigerated rolls and i have about two doz more to cook. can they can be refrigerated for 7days?

    hi Mary, not sure but let me ask Chef Jenni for an answer to your question. – RG

  4. anna says:

    i have a science project to do about the best living condition for yeast. i wrote warm water with sugar. if yeast prefers warm water would it be a benefit to boil the water when making bread? i need an answer ASAP!

    • mary says:

      well,i wouldn’t do that,cuz if too hot ,it will kill it,invest in a good candy thermometer,it should in most recipes be 100 f to 115 F.

  5. Jason says:

    Anna,

    Yeast does like warm water, but boiling water would kill them. I have always heard that 100 degrees is the ideal temperature for yeast growth. I could be wrong. If you did boil water to add to flour you would need to let it sit and cool. I imagine boiling water would partially cook the flour! Many recipes use milk, and steamed milk bread might be a cool little experiment! Just don’t use too hot of milk.

  6. Craig Lance says:

    I’m making sourdough bread for the first time. My starter looks good after the third day and I’ll be using it in my bread machine in a couple more days. However, the only recipe I like says to add the salt with the yeast and sugar. The instructions I’ve been using with success for regular bread goes like this:

    Place the water, sugar and yeast in the pan of the bread machine. Let the yeast dissolve and foam for 10 minutes. Add the oil, flour and salt to the yeast. Select Basic or White Bread setting, and press Start.

    I have found a recipe that adjusts ingredients for the amount of sourdough starter, but says to add the salt with the yeast earlier than I’m comfortable. What I’d like to do is use the above instructions, only adding the sourdough starter last. That way the salt isn’t added for 10 minutes.

    My question is, will that work?

    • dean says:

      Yes, in fact it is always safer to leave the salt out of the blooming stage, especially when scaling recipes down. The issue here is the salinity of the water. If you have too little water for the amount of salt you are using, it will kill the yeast completely, because, physically, there is less room for the salt to float around.

      Consider # as the symbol for a water molecule and @ as the symbol for a salt molecule.

      If you had 1 tsp salt in 1 cup water, the distribution might be ##@##@##

      If you 2 tsp salt in 2 cups of water, the distribution might be ####@@####@@####

      It’s still a 1:1 ratio but there is more room for yeast and sugar to swim around between the salt.

  7. Paul says:

    You need a lot of salt to kill yeast. Salt does inhibit growth somewhat, but it can also pull something from the yeast cells to make the dough more elastic. I have baked with pressed yeast initially mixed with only salt. This mix makes the pressed yeast collapse to a liquid, but this liquid still makes the dough rise as normal.

  8. Jacki says:

    I have not had any issue with using a bit of salt but I have a question that came up after watching a movie that centered around a Korean bakery. In the story they commented that adding a bit of corn starch would make the yeast work better. I have searched and not found anything on this..anyone have an idea? I am thinking of trying it with the next small batch that I make.

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