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Does salt kill yeast in pizza dough?

Yes, it does.


But as pizza lovers we should rather ask if there is actually any negative consequence for our dough, if anything bad will happen to it.


I still remember one of the first pieces of advice I was given when I was walking my first steps on the path of the pizza mastery:


"Fabio, no matter what, you will never put salt and yeast in direct contact. NEVER." [insert long echo here]

I was told that a disaster would occur, that the dough wouldn't rise and consequently I should have changed plans for dinner and settled for a sandwich.


The idea of questioning this never even occurred to me, to the point that I mentioned this event in a previous article, as one of the reasons why your pizza dough wouldn’t rise. And I also wrote about it in my book.


In my defence I can only say that I was taught by someone. His authority seemed indisputable to me at the time he pronounced these words. I mean, you just trust your teachers, right?



Fast forward to a few weeks ago, I suddenly felt a sudden rush of rebellion.

I wanted to break the rules.

I wanted to see things in the first person.

I wanted to KNOW.


So I kept salt and yeast in direct contact and, as if it wasn’t enough, I made some dough with the resulting…erm…thing.




I also prepared a dough ball as I usually do, without doing any harm to the yeast. That was my control dough.


If you are more “visual” and you want to actually see the whole procedure, then make sure to watch this video, where the experiment is documented.


For now you can read through to know some of the science behind the experiment, which will also explain WHY mixing together salt and yeast could actually be a good idea for those who struggle with stretching their pizza base.


Warning ⚠️


I will oversimplify things for the sake of readability. This will undoubtedly lead to imprecisions and the scientist who reads will laugh at me - rightly so! But I’m perfectly fine with it as I’m writing for those who don’t want to dig deeper into science.



Now, the explanations, I will keep the scientific lingo at the minimum.


Salt is hygroscopic, this means that it has a great affinity with water and humidity in general.

When I put yeast and salt in direct contact, I am actually looking at two solutions with different concentration of salt: one is the yeast itself and the other it’s the surrounding environment - which obviously includes salt.



These two solutions must try to balance their concentration of salt. This happens by moving water from one, the yeast, to the other, what’s outside. This process is called osmosis.

When the water leaves yeast’s cells, it will break their wall, the membrane that encloses the cell itself.


Once broken, the water will leak all over and you will notice that the yeast will not appear solid anymore.



Are the cells of yeast dying? Like I said at the very beginning, yes.


And the longer the contact, the more cells will die. However, studies show that it takes around one hour to cause irreparable damage. Therefore if you make your dough straight away, yeast’s death won’t be a problem. You will see that the dough will rise normally, as if nothing happened.



Mixing together salt and yeast doesn’t hinder the rising of the dough.

Perhaps it slows it down, but it’s easy to manage the process in order to get the usual timings. Leaving the dough at room temperature for longer should be enough.

When you sink your teeth into your pizza, you will forget that you played the mad scientist before.


Finally, there is an interesting side effect of the whole geekery I described.


While the salt attacks, yeast tries to defend itself by producing a chemical to protect itself: glutathione.


Glutathione acts on the gluten and makes it more extensible.

As a result your pizza base will be easier to stretch and you won’t experience the infamous rubber band effect. You're welcome 😏


Hope you enjoyed reading, see you next time 🍕



 

Here's how you can support me!


🌾 You can simply buy me a bag of flour



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