Salt is easy to spot as part of the taste in processed soups. You can taste the salt in the soup and you would know instantly if the salt disappeared.
Short of a highly sophisticated palate, you can't pick up salt in bread. Yet if the salt were to disappear from bread, you would definitely know.
You don't give much reason to think about salt in bread until you get to Tuscany and find that the bread doesn't have salt. This is not an accident. Saltless bread in Tuscany has been part of the culinary landscape historically in that part of Italy.
I did my research before going to Italy, so I knew the bread would not have salt. But even when you know, eating a piece of saltless bread, well, you can't prepare for the moment. You are eating the bread but there is no taste.
The saltless bread isn't designed to be eaten by itself. The rich sauces are supposed to make up for the lack of salt. You don't get much confidence using the saltless bread when your taste buds realize that you previously used regular crusty bread to sop up rich sauces and enjoyed the experience.
I even tried starting with the crust of the bread since there is more taste (and fiber), but even eating the crust of saltless bread is not satisfying. You would need a lot of sauce to drown out the taste of the lack of salt in bread. I never found that level of sauce.
I certainly used bread to sop up sauce in my meals in Rome. The combination of those sauces with bread containing salt was beautiful. Without the salt in the bread, the taste couldn't catch up.
In a lot of restaurants in Italy, bread is a charged service so you don't have any guilt taking the bread home with you. In those restaurants with saltless bread, they weren't tasty enough to put in the backpack.
In a fancy restaurant in Florence, I did get the saltless bread with my meal, but I also got a puffy bread roll that tasted extra salty. Perhaps by comparison, the puffy bread tasted extra salty but there did seem to be more salt than normal.
I dipped that bread into the sauce. Wonderful! I saved the rest of the puffy bread for a ideal late-summer picnic in Lucca that included boar prosciutto and a very intense cheese from Siena.
Tripe is a big deal in Tuscany. Chitlins are a part of soul food in the southern United States. These dishes stay around, similar to saltless bread in Tuscany, because of the impact of food history. Celebrating food history is about keeping those choices alive, even if we don't choose to order them.
Some people enjoy tripe and chitlins but their staying power is history. The parts of the pig that people wouldn't think to eat became part of the diet due to circumstances in that era. The history of saltless bread in Tuscany goes very far back.
We applaud the idea of food history as a way of tying ourselves to our past. Food history allows us to see the different emphasis on food: more likely to eat organ meat, such as liver; more likely to be canning and pickling vegetables to make them last for months.
Sometimes, food history has some anomalies along the way, adding a historical perspective even if you never try the dish.
We are featuring a few articles related to salt toward the end of 2016. This is by design as we are taking a new look at some of the habits involving salt. Stay tuned for more articles in the next few weeks.
photos credit: me