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Salt Rising Bread, is a dense, white bread that develops its delicious cheesy flavor from a unique fermentation process. It is thought to have first been made by pioneer women in the early 1800s in the United States. As commercial yeast was not available prior to the 1860’s, bread-makers would alternatively create a mixture of either cornmeal or potatoes to make their own rising agent. It is believed that pioneer women then set their “starter” in a bed of heated rock salt, which often was kept in a salt box next to the hearth fire (thus the name “Salt Rising”) to maintain the required warmth. In the morning, they would use this liquid, known as a “raisin” to leaven their bread dough.
A common misconception about Salt Rising Bread is there is a high amount of salt in the recipe. However, there is only the usual amount found to flavor bread, and some recipes do not use salt at all.
The bread has achieved great popularity in the central and southern Appalachian states (West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and Kentucky) as well as southern California, Michigan, and central New York.
The Science of Salt-Rising Bread
One of the unique characteristics of Salt Rising Bread is that it utilizes naturally occurring bacteria, rather than commercial yeast as its rising agent. The action of this special ferment develops the exceptionally close grain and fine texture typical of Salt Rising Bread. The acid by-products of the fermentation account for the distinctive cheese-like flavor and aroma, as well as the extra-white color of the crumb.
The fermentation loss in Salt Rising Bread is less than one half of one percent. There are several reasons for the extremely small fermentation loss in Salt Rising Bread. First, this fermentation does not produce any alcohol or other highly volatile substances which evaporate. Secondly, Salt Rising fermentation produces mostly hydrogen gas, which is 22 times lighter than carbon dioxide.
The complicated chemical process by which the constituents of flour are broken down appear to be more complete in Salt Rising Bread than in ordinary breads. Consequently, the bread is believed to be particularly easy to digest. Because none of the sugar has been converted to alcohol by yeast, Salt Rising Bread is also sweeter than most other breads. Unlike yeast, the salt rising ferment is highly sensitive to oxygen. Too much exposure to the air will harm the growing bacterial organisms. An over-mixed dough, like an over-fermented sponge, will result in the failure of the bread to rise properly in the pans.
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