Tuscany, taxes and hypertension

Eating salt-free bread is a healthful option.

Eating salt-free bread is a healthful option (photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)
Eating salt-free bread is a healthful option
(photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)
If you are one those people who suffer from hypertension, chances are your doctor or dietician has prescribed a low-salt or salt-free diet. Becoming accustomed to eating salt-free foods, and particularly salt-free bread, can be a harrowing experience.
It will surprise you to know, then, that in the Tuscany region of Italy, the inhabitants have been eating salt-free bread for centuries. Depending on which legend you believe, the traditional salt-free Tuscan bread is a derivative of simple economics or, more excitingly, political intrigue.
According to the first opinion, during the Middle Ages the tax on salt was so exorbitant that the Tuscans simply stopped using it in their food, including their bread. Even though the price of salt eventually came down, by then the Tuscans had already gotten used to salt-free bread.
If political intrigue spices your life, the second legend will appeal to you. In the 12th century, the cities of Florence and Pisa were at war with each other. To assure victory, the Pisan army allegedly blocked the supply of salt to the city of Florence, hoping their rivals’ propensity for spiced food would result in surrender.
The staunch Florentines, however, simply eliminated salt from their diet. When the siege was lifted, the bread remained as a traditional reminder of that conflict.
Regardless of which version you believe, two facts emerge. Firstly, it is possible to get used to eating food without salt or with reduced salt. Today’s industrially processed food is inundated with excess salt. During mass production, the intrinsic flavor is lost. To compensate, extra salt and monosodium glutamate are added to enhance the food’s flavor.
By gradually reducing the salt content in one’s food over time, one can easily become accustomed to less salty food. In fact, after a number of months of such a reduction diet, eating regular foods will taste overly salted.
It is similar to coffee and chocolate. The more you become an aficionado, the more you come to appreciate less sugar content in your coffee and chocolate, the stronger coffee and the more bitter chocolate then being preferred.
The second fact that emerges from our tale is that it is possible to make bread without salt and still obtain something edible and even preferred as in Tuscany. Granted, the Tuscan bread, or pane toscano, is very bland and will probably taste insipid when eaten alone. For this reason, it is usually sprinkled with spicy olive oil or used as an accompaniment for other Tuscan dishes that are regarded as extremely flavorful. The bland bread complements the spicy food.
The trick to making tasty, salt-free bread is maximizing the intrinsic flavors of the other ingredients to compensate for the lack of salt. Use of whole-grain flours with their own inherent flavor, such as rye and spelt, is preferred over white flour, which has no taste. Rather than using bakers’ yeast, sourdough yeast adds flavor. The longer the fermentation, the better the flavor. Finally, addition of other spices such as garlic, coriander, etc. also enhance flavor.
While the rustic tiled Tuscan roofs are something that must be seen to be appreciated, you may partially recreate the Tuscan experience in your own home by following the recipe below for salt-free Tuscan bread. Accompanied by a good Florentine steak, you will be virtually transported to the natural and architectural beauty of the birthplace of the Renaissance.
Sourdough, stage 1
✔ ¼ cup whole spelt flour
✔ 5 Tbsp. water
✔ 1 tsp sourdough culture
Mix well and leave covered for 12 hours.
Sourdough, stage 2
✔ 1½ cups whole spelt flour
✔ 1 cup water
Add to the stage 1 sourdough, mix well and leave covered for another 6 hours.
✔ 1 1⁄3 cups whole spelt flour
✔ 1⁄3 cup rye flour
✔ 3 Tbsp. water
✔ ½ tsp. instant powdered yeast
✔ 1 pinch granulated garlic
✔ 1 pinch ground coriander
Mix final dough ingredients with the stage 2 sourdough and knead for 10 minutes. Shape into oval loaf and place in loaf pan to rise for 2 hours. Bake for 35 minutes at 240°. Master baker Les Saidel, originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, lives in Ginot Shomron with his wife, Sheryl, and four children. He is CEO of the Saidel Artisan Baking Institute, which specializes in training and education in the field of organic, healthy, artisan baking and the inventor of Rambam Bread. The SABI conducts baking workshops year round and during the summer vacation for families and groups.