You added an extra pinch or two or the saltshaker lid slipped off, and now your soup is too salty. Dumping the whole pot and ordering takeout isn't your only option. You can usually fix your meal when there's too much salt in your food.
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Dilute, distract your tastebuds or add a starch to soak up extra salt — these are all good solutions when you have soup that’s too salty. Know that salt hacks can help, but won’t solve every overly salty pot.
Salty Soup Fixes
Salty soup can range from mildly unpleasant, with unbalanced flavors, to severely salty and inedible. If your flavors are off, try one of the following strategies.
Too Salty Fix No. 1: Dilute It. Soup can taste too salty when it's reduced too much. The flavors, including salt, concentrate. An easy fix for this is to just add more water or a sodium-free broth. Use this hack if your soup is broth-based or clear. Creamy soups may suffer textural changes if you add water.
When you do add the water, pour in just a little at a time, tasting as you go. You don't want to "fix" the problem so well that your soup becomes bland.
Too Salty Fix No. 2: Add Acid. For soup that's mildly salty, adding a splash of lemon juice or vinegar helps to balance the flavors. Add just a squeeze or a teaspoon at a time. The pucker power for these acidic ingredients distracts your taste buds. Sometimes, a pinch or two of sugar, in addition to, or in lieu of the acid, can re-balance your soup's flavors.
Too Salty Fix No. 3: Go Creamy. If you have a soup that's too salty, adding a creamy element, such as half-and-half or sour cream, can mellow the flavors. For example, if you have a roasted tomato soup that's too salty, add some heavy cream to both dilute it and mellow the saltiness.
The taste of a too-salty Mexican-style soup can be tempered with the addition of sour cream. If your soup is already cream based, adding more may make it taste too milky — so be judicious in your additions.
Too Salty Fix No. 4: Add Potato. Potato and other starches soak up some of the salt and mellow your soup's flavor. Noodles and rice are other good options. You can even try adding a whole potato, allowing it to soak up some of the salty flavor and then removing it before serving.
Starchy additions also make your soup a little thicker, so you can add more water to dilute your soup without compromising texture. The starch fix is usually best for mildly salty soups.
Too Much Sodium
Ultimately, you're better off making homemade soup. Some of the highest-sodium foods are canned, or restaurant made, soups, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Making your own is the best way to keep control over how much salt is added.
If you use a store-bought broth as an ingredient in your soup, do invest in the low- or no-sodium options that are available. This will help manage your sodium intake, and puts you in better control of the salty taste in your recipe.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends Americans consume 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, or less. Too much salt in the diet can lead to high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease, explains the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. You may also suffer calcium loss as a result of a high-sodium diet. Most Americans consume around 3,400 milligrams of salt per day — that's about 1.5 teaspoons.
One batch of overly salty soup won't put your entire diet over the edge when it comes to salt intake, but it may indicate that you have a heavy hand with a saltshaker. Consider alternative seasoning strategies such as fresh herbs, salt-free spices, garlic and pepper for imparting deep and exciting flavor to your soup.
Over-salting: It could happen in a million different ways. Maybe, like in those old Three Stooges films, you keep your box of salt on a shelf directly above the stove and a cat jumps up there and dumps the whole thing into your soup. Maybe the recipe you’re following called for Kosher salt, and you used table salt (which is twice as salty by volume) instead. Regardless of how it happened, the question is, can you fix a soup or sauce that becomes over-salted?
The Potato Trick
We've all heard about the magical "just add a potato" solution to fixing an over-salted soup or sauce. The theory is that if you add a potato to a salty soup and simmer it, the potato comes out salty. If there's salt in the potato, it stands to reason that you've removed some of the salt from the soup.
Is this piece of culinary folklore really true? Or is it like the idea that holding a slice of bread in your mouth when you chop onions will stop your eyes from watering?
Well, potatoes don’t pull salt out of anything. They do absorb water, though—and if that water happens to be salty, they’ll absorb salty water. But they’re not absorbing salt in particular. Potatoes are amazing, but they’re not capable of reverse osmosis. It’s more like using a sponge to soak up a spill.
So in theory, if you added enough potatoes to absorb all the water in your super-salty sauce, then removed the potatoes and added more water, you'd end up with a sauce that wasn't too salty.
Dilute It or Drain It
You could've accomplished the same thing by skipping the potatoes altogether and simply adding more water. That's because there's no way to remove salt from something. All you can do is dilute it.
Thus the best way to fix an over-salted sauce or soup is to make a bigger batch of whatever it is. Tomato sauce too salty? Add more crushed tomatoes. Soup too salty? Add more water. Yes, you’ll likely have to add more of the other ingredients as well otherwise the soup will be too watery, but don’t try to reduce it by simmering. You’ll just evaporate the water you added and end up re-concentrating the saltiness.
Another option, if you don't have enough of the other ingredients to increase the recipe, is to just pour out a bunch of the liquid and then add more. Depending on what stage of the cooking you're at, that might be easier.
In some cases, when all is said and done, you may have to face the painful reality that your soup, sauce, or stew can't be salvaged. Mistakes cost money, and cooking mistakes are no exception. But if you've learned from it, it's not a total loss. If nothing else, you'll have a great story about the cat and the box of salt.
You'll also be able to save your potatoes for something more enjoyable.
There’s nothing worse than taking a big bite of an otherwise perfect recipe and getting a mouthful of salt. It could be a result of you reading the recipe’s salt measurement in tablespoons instead of teaspoons, or simply due to the fact that you overestimated what the recipe’s author meant by a “dash” of salt. Either way, it happens to the best of us — even Wolfgang Puck, or so he would have us believe in his MasterClass. In one lesson on how to fix over-salted soup, the celebrity chef assured home cooks that no soup is too salty to the point of no return.
You may think that the only solution is to dilute the broth with more water and cross your fingers, but as it turns out, one of the best solutions is to use a potato. As explained in Puck’s MasterClass, simply place a raw, fully peeled potato into your pot of soup, and let it sit there while the soup continues to cook. You’ll know the potato is ready to be removed once it has absorbed the excess salt and hasn’t cooked all the way through. This will take about 30 minutes.
It's never too late to fix a salty soup
If you were already finished cooking your soup and only realized it was too salty afterwards, the potato hack still has a good chance of working without 30 minutes of extra cooking time. Puck’s MasterClass guide instructed in this case to cut the potato into pieces instead of leaving it whole. By maximizing the potato’s surface area, this will speed up the process so you don’t have to overcook your soup. The one caveat, however, is that this “increases the chance that the salty potato will incorporate into the soup.”
Either way, whether or not you cut the potato up, it still contributes starch to your soup. So while your soup won’t be as salty, the starch will thicken it, and if you’re working with a clear soup, it will cause it to become cloudy. It’s also important to remember that the potato absorbs other flavors as well as salt, for example, if you’re using chicken broth, your soup will lose some of the strong chicken flavor too. If saltiness is your main concern though, there’s nothing a little potato can’t fix.
“The amount of salt and pepper you want to use is your business. I don’t like to get in people’s business,” writes Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor in the introduction to her seminal “Vibration Cooking, or The Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl.” I think about that a lot when I’m developing recipes, because it’s the truth: One person’s perfectly seasoned chowder, soondubu jjigae or pozole is another’s overseasoned mistake.
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Then there are the actual mistakes that happen in the kitchen all the time. I can’t even remember how many times I’ve tipped a spice jar into a bubbling vat of stew, meaning to add just a sprinkle, but watching in horror as far too much oregano or chile flakes or allspice are swallowed up by the boiling waves. Adding too much salt is a common blunder, as is adding too much acidity or spicy heat. But half of learning how to cook, or becoming a better cook, is learning to have confidence in the kitchen. And there’s nothing that will make you feel more confident than knowing how to fix something when it’s broken.
Too much salt. It’s easy to over-salt anything, but especially dishes with multiple components or steps, such as soups, stews or sauces. If the recipe is based on a meat-based stock, or contains bone-in meat, know that bones are a source of sodium. Most store-bought stocks contain some salt, meat- or vegetable-based, and any stock will contribute saltiness to a final dish, especially if the broth reduced as the dish cooked.
Start by playing defense: “If more than one of the added ingredients is salty, especially for ingredients like miso, soy sauce or dried shrimp, I would wait to add any salt the recipe calls for until I’ve tasted it at the end,” says Nik Sharma, author of “Season,” and the new book, “The Flavor Equation: The Science of Great Cooking Explained in More Than 100 Essential Recipes.”
But if it’s too late, there are a few things you can do. If it’s just a little bit too salty, sometimes a touch of sweetness will help, advises Andrea Bemis, author of the new book “Local Dirt: Seasonal Recipes for Eating Close to Home,” and co-owner of the Mt. Hood, Ore.-based Tumbleweed Farm. “I’ll add some honey, a tablespoon at a time, and taste to see if that helps balance the flavors,” she says. Sugar, maple syrup or molasses can work, too.
If a dish is extremely salty, you may need to do some slightly more involved doctoring. “Any good starch will suck out the excess salinity. You can put chunks of par-cooked potatoes in, let the dish simmer for a few minutes, taste, and then remove them,” Sharma says, noting that you can tie the potatoes up in cheesecloth to make them easier to fish out.
Potatoes are ideal because they won’t absorb too much of the broth and have a neutral flavor. Uncooked potatoes work, too, says Steve Samson, the chef and co-owner of Rossoblu in Los Angeles, especially for soups with a lot of liquid, or in the earlier stages of cooking. “I’ll add peeled potatoes and some extra water, since the potatoes will absorb some liquid as they cook, but this evens it out, and helps with the extra salinity,” Samson says.
Another starch Sharma adds to salty soups or stews is fresh sourdough bread. It’s sturdier than sliced white, so it won’t disintegrate into hot liquid, but it will absorb a lot of broth or sauce when you add it to a stew or soup. To compensate, you may need to add more water or broth and then check the seasonings again.
Both Samson and Bemis suggest bulking up any stews or soups that are overseasoned. “If the dish already has a lot of root vegetables in it, cook some more in a separate pot of water — without any seasoning — and then add them to the base, letting it simmer so the flavors even out,” Bemis says.
Samson notes that acidity and salinity can sort of trick the palate. “Often, at the restaurant, when someone said a sauce or soup was too salty, we discovered that it was actually the acidity that was off,” he says.
Too much acidity. Vinegar, citrus juices, wine and pickled and fermented vegetables can all bring acidity to a dish, balancing its richness and perking up its flavors. “I find that salt and acids play with each other. Acids can make a dish taste saltier than it is, so you have to keep that in mind when seasoning,” says Samson. To fix something that’s too acidic, Samson will add something neutral, such as a full-fat dairy or potatoes, which can be pureed into a sauce or thick soup. “I’ll also reach for something sweet, maybe caramelized onions or honey, which can offset the sourness,” Samson says.
If a sauce or thicker stew is too acidic — but not too salty — Sharma says you can add baking soda, which is alkaline. “A teaspoon or less of baking soda will immediately react with the acid and turn it into a salt,” Sharma says. After adding the baking soda, taste the dish again to make sure it’s not too salty. “But don’t add too much baking soda, as it will start to taste brackish,” Sharma cautions.
Finally, some of the same tricks that help ease saltiness can help when a dish is too acidic: Bulking it up with more vegetables or replacing some of the liquid with unseasoned water or broth will help balance the final flavors.
Technically, a slurry is a combination of a starch and water that is added to thicken a dish; however, it will also lessen the sodium content to a degree.
Once you’ve added more liquid, you might find the soup too thin. In this case, you’ll want to add a thickening slurry which is generally a 1:1 ratio; equal parts of liquid and starch.
The starch used in the slurry determines the thick/thinness of the dish not because of the type of starch, but due to the temperature.
Types of Slurries and When to Add Them
- Aroot-based slurry, (arrowroot, tapioca, potato) thickens at a lower temperature–so add it to warm soup. Note: Arrowroot is not recommended to use with dairy-based recipes; it tends to clump and cling, producing an unappetizing soup.
- Cornstarch thickens at a higher temperature, so turn up the heat when adding this.
- Flour thickens at a lower temperature, so reduce the heat when using flour as a thickener. (Use all-purpose flour, not wheat flour.)
- Whichever type you use, add it near the end of the cooking time. Prolonged cooking times result in the breakdown of the molecules and then it fails to thicken
For example, you have a Cream of Broccoli Cheese soup that is too salty, but you are pleased with the consistency, texture and color.
You added more liquid and now it’s too thin so, mix a slurry of water and cornstarch in a measuring cup, turn the heat up, stir it in and serve immediately.
Types of starch for slurries
Typical starches include arrowroot, cornstarch and flour. Arrowroot and cornstarch slurries will produce a transparent thickener where flour will create an opaque thickener.
Think of it this way: the clear, transparent sauce you get on your Lemon Chicken at your favorite Asian restaurant is made with cornstarch. The result is a translucent sauce.
The cream gravy you put on your mashed potatoes is white; thickened with flour, which results in an opaque sauce. Same goes for brown gravy or sauces.
Step 3: Add Sugar
A pinch of sugar may minimize saltiness of a dish, but note that high levels of sugar will prevent thickening.
If you add sugar and find your soup too thin, add another thickening slurry.
Step 4: Add Acid
Adding an acid (vinegar, lemon, wine) to an over-salted dish acts the same way sugar does in that a little may adjust the salt, but too much acid will prevent thickening.
Add acids at the end of the cooking period to avoid coagulation of any dairy products
Can I add a sliced, raw potato to fix over-salted foods?
Many a cook has been advised that adding a peeled, sliced potato to an over-salty soup or stew reduces the salt. However, the potato actually absorbs more water than it reduces salt.
If you add raw potatoes to a high-sodium dish, the result is a big glob of salty mush because the raw potato extracts more liquid than it absorbs sodium.
There’s nothing worse than slaving away over a pot of soup (or any dish) only to completely destroy it by oversalting. Whether you put hours of effort into the soup or very little at all, the disappointment is still crushing. “No soup for you!”
Luckily, there are a few solutions that can save an overseasoned soup, and one happens to be a food hack that probably predates most of the hacks you’ve seen around the internet lately. Some call it an old wives’ tale, while others swear by it. I learned the trick from my mom. Here’s how it goes:
Add a raw, peeled potato into a pot of oversalted soup and let it simmer for around 30 minutes.
Don’t let the potato cook so long that it disintegrates into the soup. Allow it just enough time to almost cook through. The potato will soak up some of the salt and some of the liquid. The starch the potato adds will also balance out all the extra salt. To maximize the surface area of the potato, you can cut it into halves or quarters. When you remove the potato, your soup should taste less salty.
The potato won’t completely eradicate all the salt, however. Naysayers claim the trick is bogus, but a modest difference can be a meaningful one. The Kitchn recently tested the potato method and found a “subtle” distinction and concluded that though the potato trick isn’t a “mind-blowing tip,” it is a reminder that starches and vegetables can be “tasty additions” in addition to “helping absorb extra salt.”
Like The Kitchn, I like to think of the potato as more of an aid than a final answer. I’ve seen good results, especially when I use it in conjunction with another solution, like dilution or adding acid. Of course, the best solution is the simplest: Season slowly and taste often to avoid oversalting in the first place.
Salt is one of the most essential ingredients in any recipe (some cooks, like Ina Garten and Chrissy Teigen, even have specific types of salt they use). But when you add too much of it to a dish, it can be overwhelming. It seems easier to fix a recipe when it’s too spicy or too sweet, but there’s something about the flavor of salt that just permeates every element of a dish. Luckily, our years of binge-watching Food Network and obsessively reading food magazines have come in handy. There are chefs far smarter than us who have strategies for fixing food that’s too salty. These tips will help you save your dinner the next time you’re a little too generous with the fleur de sel.
1. Add yogurt
Chef Marc Maron shared this advice on an episode of Chopped. If you make a sauce that’s too salty, you can add some yogurt. The creamy tanginess will help tame and dilute the salinity.
2. Add more liquid
If a soup or stew is too salty, chef and cookbook author Sarah Moulton recommends adding more water (or unsalted broth or stock) to dilute it.
3. Add puréed white rice
Rachel Ray recommends adding cooked white rice puréed with water to soups or stews that are over-salted, which helps tame the salty flavor without making your dish watery.
4. Double the recipe
Ray also says that one of the best remedies is simply doubling the recipe, omitting the salt on your second go-round.
5. Use low-sodium ingredients
The Pioneer Woman star Ree Drummond says that you should use low-sodium stocks and broths in your recipes, so you can control the level of salt yourself. She also recommends adding unsalted broth to gravy made with drippings from brined turkeys to help make it less salty while still adding big flavor.
6. Add lemon juice
Giada de Laurentiis recommends cutting salt with some tart lemon juice. The acidity helps balance your dish.
7. Make a roux
Cookbook author and New York Times writer Melissa Clark says that if a gravy or sauce is too salty, you can add a roux made from butter and flour to the pan.
8. Pair with something fatty
Gail Simmons, Top Chef judge and food writer, pairs overly salted veggies with a mild cheese like fresh mozzarella or ricotta, and adds more butter or oil to dressings and sauces that are too salty.
9. Add dairy
Cookbook author Ellen Brown adds milk or cream to soups that are too salty — the richness helps balance the salinity.
10. Don’t use potato
You may have heard that adding a potato to an overly salty soup or stew can help “absorb” the sodium, but that’s a myth. In his book What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained, author Robert Wolke conducted several controlled experiments to determine if the technique was successful. The potatoes did absorb the salty liquid, but the liquid that was left over was still just as salty. Instead, use one of the methods above to tame your overly seasoned dishes.
With these tips, you’ll never have to sit through a mouth-shrivelingly salty dish again or *gasp* throw out a meal because you added too much salt.
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There’s no denying that seasoning can really enhance the flavour of food; in fact it’s amazing the difference a pinch of salt and a good grind of pepper can make. But what happens if you accidentally add too much salt to your soup, stew, curry or casserole? Don’t worry we’ve got some easy ways that you can reduce the saltiness and salvage your dish.
The first method involves adding pieces of raw, chopped potato to the dish. The potato acts as a salt-sponge and will absorb the excess salt. The starch from the potato also helps to dilute the saltiness. Scoop the potato out after 10-15 minutes and discard. No potatoes on hand? You can make a simple dough of flour and water, shape into balls and drop 3-4 into your dish. Leave to cook for 10 minutes and then remove the dough before serving.
Dilution is another method and works particularly well on soup or broth. Just adding some extra water or liquid will help to dilute the salty taste. If water isn’t going to do the trick then turn to acid flavours to balance out the dish. Lemon or lime juice or vinegar are all acidic and will tame the salt taste. Adding a creamy or fat component like yoghurt, sour cream or butter (unsalted) will also help to reduce overly salted flavours in your dish.
With all of these methods, it is important to taste the dish while you attempt to fix it. Achieving the perfect result is literally an act of balancing flavours and the only way to ensure that you nail it is to taste as you make adjustments.
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