Why Does Salt Preserve Food?
To put it simply, salt preserves food because it reduces or eliminates the water activity in foods. This results in preventing bacterial growth as the more amount of water is there, the more there will be chances of chemical reactions and microbial growth. This is why salt is termed as a food preservative.
We will talk about salt concentrations needed for preserving foods. There is one concept, you have to use 10 percent solution of salt in order to preserve food, to protect against pathogenic and spoilage bacteria, the ring-shaped preserve the food using salt. At a minimum, if using only salt or sugar, without any other preservative methods such as smoke or similar, a general consensus is that you need a salt concentration around 20% on the meats surface to eliminate most types of germs and fungi which are capable of rapidly destroying the food. The amount of salt you will need is 1 1/2 cups for each pound of meat, half of which is applied early in the process.
Being light with salt usage will allow for the formation of bacteria on your meat, causing it to rot. When salt is added to foods like sausages or other processed meats, it causes proteins to gelatinize, which then holds the food together. For the sake of the game, salt is used during the manufacture of foods, so processed foods have a very high sodium content.
|Amount of Meat||Amount of salt|
|1 pound||1 1/2 cups|
|2 pounds||2 1/4 cups|
|3 pounds||4 1/2 cups|
Before the storage of salt, many fresh foods had a product-water activity. Most fresh foods have water activity of 0.99, reducing that to 0.91 will significantly protect food from the majority of bacteria, and salt does this for you.
The reason salt is such an effective preservative is because salt draws the moisture out of food. Salt does not just pull moisture out of the food, it draws out moisture from any bacteria or germs that are on or in the food, killing them in the process. Microbes that can ruin food require moisture in order to grow, and salt acts like a preservative, drawing water out of the food.
As the level of salt increases in the solution, the growth potential and survival ability of microorganisms such as fungi and bacteria declines. At recommended levels used in dry brining and pickling, no microbiological growth occurs.
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Bacterial growth is inhibited at salt concentrations of only 3 percent, but other types you need concentrations of up to 20 percent. If the plasmolysis process takes too long, the food may rot before salt concentrations are high enough to keep the bacteria from reproducing and ruining the food. A high salt concentration will kill the bacteria which break down food and causes disease. High salt may also be toxic to the microbes internal processes, affecting DNA and enzymes. High salt is toxic for most, but not all, microbes due to osmolarity, or water pressure effects.
Salt may also damage internal mechanisms such as bacterial DNA, so salt has the power to kill the bacteria, thus protecting food from the bacteria and keeping food preserved longer. Salt also helps the fermentation process, which significantly increases the shelf-life of the food. Salt is also a preservative which keeps the bacteria from growing on foods.
Sugar also acts as a humectant, which keeps the food moist and stable, helping extend the shelf life of the many products we have on store shelves. Owing to this quality, salt is used as a preservative for the storage and preservation of various foods, including meats, vegetables, and more. Salt is used in two main ways for food preservation, either as in the form of grains or brine, which is a solution made from salt and water.
This is just a quick look at the examples of food preservation that can be done with salt. Examples of foods preserved in salt or sugar include corned beef, mentioned above, but also bacon, salted pork, sugar-cured ham, fruit preserves, jams, and jellies, among others. Meat is frequently salted, with an entire subset of foods that preserve meat called charcuterie.
Meats and fish are the most commonly preserved foods with salt, sometimes following a local tradition dating back centuries. Beef jerky, pickles, and smoked salmon are examples of common foods preserved using salt. Additional characteristics of even traditionally salted foods, such as dehydration (beef jerky) or the addition of acids (pickles) or preservatives (ham), aid in preservation. Most of the traditional foods, like pickles (0.97%), slices of ham (3.9%), which are considered long-lasting, have a salt content below 4%.
For most edible foods, the answer is NO, high salt concentrations will not help you preserve food, unless you want to risk getting Sodium Poisoning. While salting and pickling take the moisture out of foods such as meat, submerging takes away light and oxygen, keeping food cooler.
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When something like meat is exposed to the correct amount of salt, about 20% salt, the right amount of salt starts pulling the moisture from cells not just of the food, but of bacteria that are in the food, and that makes it last longer, because the bacteria that would ruin the meat would have a harder time surviving in that kind of a salty, little-moisture environment. Sodium chloride, regular table salt, is a major component in helping create an environment in which the bacteria cannot grow and it draws the moisture away from within.
Other types of salts also help keep foods fresh, including other chlorides, nitrates, and phosphates. Whatever form of salt is used, the minerals not only preserve food, they prevent bacteria from growing, including foodborne pathogens like Salmonella, which can cause food poisoning, typhoid fever, and other severe problems. Salt keeps most bacteria from growing, with the exception of Lactobacillus, which then creates an acidic environment, and the combined preservation effects of salt and acidity keep sauerkraut preserved for months, even without refrigeration. The combination of salt and sugar, which decreases water in meat, fruits, and vegetables, helps in preservation.
Once your food has been soaked in a very concentrated solution of salt, store in a refrigerator for a few days (depending on the type and quantity), covered with a sealer or hermetically sealed cover. At the end of that time, replace the brine solution if the food is going to remain in liquid, or dry the food out and cover it with baking salt. Ideally, we would get as much water as it takes to fully cover the food, then slowly add the salt, stirring it as you go, until you get to a point where the salt starts settling at the bottom. So far, the foods that we have listed are known for being salted, but they are generally not foods that we would think of as having salt as a reason for a food being safe to eat.
When was salt first used as a preservative?
Although the exact beginning date is unknown, salt preservation techniques were employed in Egypt by at least 2000 BC. The salt taste buds in the tongue are known to be suppressed by heavily salted food, making natural foods bland and unpleasant.
How does salt prevent bacterial growth?
Salt is a common ingredient in many foods, and it has a long history of use as a preservative. Salt works to prevent bacterial growth by drawing water out of bacterial cells, which makes it difficult for them to multiply. In addition, salt creates an inhospitable environment for bacteria, as they are unable to thrive in high-salt conditions.
Is using salt preservation safe?
While salt is an effective way to prevent bacterial growth, it is important to use it sparingly. Too much salt can make food unpalatable and can also cause medical problems. When using salt to preserve food, it is important to follow food safety guidelines to ensure that food is properly preserved and safe to eat.