Whether you are a home cook or professional chef, we’ve all run into the dilemma of over-salted food. There is nothing worse than pouring hard work into crafting a meal from scratch for it to turn out inedible from too much salt in the end.
I graduated at the top of my class in culinary school and have worked alongside trained chefs in a variety of settings. Along the way, I picked up a few simple tricks to deal with salt in a dish that is simply…too salty.
Fortunately, you don’t need culinary school to dampen the salt in your soup. And you don’t need experience on the line to squelch the sodium in your salad.
In this article, I’ll pass along some of my favorite tips and tricks for the salty problem you’re probably dealing with right now. For each tip, I’ve tried to contextualize when you should use it and why it works based on the fundamental principles of flavor.
7 Ways to Counteract Too Much Salt
Scale Up The Recipe
One of the easiest ways to save over-salted food is to scale up the recipe. This method works whether your dish is mostly liquids or solids.
Double the recipe and omit additional salt until tasting the outcome. Then, you can either meal prep or transform the leftovers into another dish altogether!
Dilution Method for Liquid-Based Dishes
In the case of soups, stews, broths, or sauces, consider adding water or low-sodium broth to dilute the salty flavor.
Start with small additions of liquid, and taste as you go. If the consistency becomes too loose, you can opt for a cornstarch slurry or roux to thicken it up again!
Pro Tip: My favorite way to quickly thicken a soup or stew is to add some dehydrated potato flakes at the end of cooking. I keep a couple of packages of instant mashed potatoes in my cabinet for quick fixes!
Bulk It Up
If you have already diluted your meal, or if the addition of liquid does not apply to the dish you’re making, consider bulking up your meal with veggies, grains, or herbs. Adding these ingredients will alleviate the too-salty taste of the food.
If you’ve made mashed potatoes, adding too much liquid can turn the consistency too soupy to enjoy. Instead, opt for bulking up the dish with solids. Cheesy broccoli mashed potatoes, anyone?
Add a Splash of Acid
A bit of acid is all it takes to dial back the saltiness of a meal. Consider sour citruses like lemon or lime or a dash of vinegar to brighten the taste and counteract the salt.
Balsamic vinegar pairs well with red meat, root vegetables, and cruciferous vegetables. I like to add some mustard to my sauces to counteract saltiness since there is vinegar in mustard. A squeeze of citrus juice on your rice or fried fish will make a world of difference when trying to combat salt levels.
Incorporate Absorbent Starches
Starch will absorb sodium (and liquid) and can hold up to a more salty flavor.
If your dish is of the soupy kind, you can add starches to the food and cook them together. However, if your meal is primarily solid, prepare the starches separately then incorporate them into the dish.
Potatoes, grains like rice, pasta, or couscous, and unsalted beans are all exceptional options to transform your salt-bomb dish into something with balanced flavor and enough bulk to fill your guests!
Introduce Some Sweet to Your Salt
Every kind of salty dish can benefit from a hint of sweetness.
Salt is a flavor enhancer that engages a different part of our taste buds than sweet does. So when we introduce both of these flavors to our taste buds simultaneously, our flavor receptors begin firing on all cylinders, which results in a delicious and mouth-watering experience.
Naturally, a perfect companion to an over-salted dish would be the addition of something sweet like sugar, honey, dates, monk fruit, or agave!
Pro Tip: Brown sugar adds depth of flavor when paired with darker sauces, broths, or stews.
Add a Dollop of Dairy
Dairy products have a way of coating the tongue that will dull a salty flavor profile. If your dish is of a looser variety, consider milk or cream for dilution. You could add sour cream or plain yogurt for something with a thicker consistency.
In a moment of distraction, I have accidentally dumped a heaping palmful of kosher salt into what was going to be fajita steak. Instead, I decided to sauteè some mushrooms with the steak strips, add some low-sodium beef broth, herbs, and a spoonful of sour cream. My dish may have gone from fajitas to beef stroganoff, but the meal was saved and delicious in the end!
How To Avoid Over-Salting Your Next Dish
“Taste as you go” is the ultimate takeaway that I have from culinary school.
You should frequently be tasting your dish to see how things are melding together. Tasting as you go will give you time to tweak the food as you go intuitively.
Don’t measure salt over the pot or pan you’re cooking in. One mishap and then the meal requires a rescue!
Keep an eye on sodium levels in the ingredients you’re using (especially pre-packaged ingredients). Broth, butter, seasoning packets, and pre-packaged meats can all have hidden quantities of sodium that can throw off your seasoning.
Now, if you find yourself in a pinch, you’ll have the know-how to transform your oversalted roasted potatoes into salt-and-vinegar crispy potato crispers with a honey-dijon dipping sauce. With the addition of acid and sugar to counteract the saltiness of the potatoes, your family or guests will be none-the-wiser, and you’ve expanded your repertoire of meal options!
Pro Tip: Salt intensifies as liquids reduce, so in the case of a liquidy dish like soups, stews, or sauces, add your salt upon completing the meal.
Frequently Asked Questions
What if my food still tastes too salty?
Don’t be afraid to combine a couple of tricks from above. Perhaps opt for adding a liquid and choose heavy cream, so you’re checking off two fail-safe options.
Raid your pantry, see what you have on-hand, and begin trialing from there.
If the meal is already too salty to enjoy, you cannot ruin it further by attempting to save it!
What salt should I be using?
Chefs prefer using Kosher Salt when cooking instead of regular Iodized Table Salt. This is because kosher salt doesn’t taste as salty as table salt and, therefore, can be more easily controlled when being added to recipes.