The principle properties of salt enable cooks and food makers to use salt for many purposes beyond taste enhancement:
Preservative: Salt preserves foods by creating a hostile environment for certain microorganisms. Within foods, salt brine dehydrates bacterial cells, alters osmotic pressure and inhibits bacterial growth and subsequent spoilage.
Texture Aid: Salt strengthens gluten in bread dough, providing uniform grain, texture and dough strength. With salt present, gluten holds more water and carbon dioxide, allowing the dough to expand without tearing. Salt improves the tenderness in cured meats such as ham by promoting the binding of water by protein. It also gives a smooth, firm texture to processed meats. Salt develops the characteristic rind hardness in cheese and helps produce the desirable, even consistency in cheese and other foods such as sauerkraut.
Binder: Salt helps extract the proteins in processed and formed meats, providing binding strength between adjacent pieces of meat. Water binding properties are increased and, as a result, cooking losses are reduced. Salt increases the solubility of muscle proteins in water. In sausage making, stable emulsions are formed when the salt-soluble protein solutions coat the finely-formed globules of fat, providing a binding gel consisting of meat, fat and moisture.
Fermentation Control: In baked products, salt controls fermentation by retarding and controlling the rate of fermentation, important in making a uniform product. During pickle making, salt brine is gradually increased in concentration, reducing the fermentation rate as the process proceeds to completion. Salt is also used to control fermentation in making cheese, sauerkraut and summer sausage.
Color Developer: Salt promotes the development of color in ham, bacon, hotdogs and sauerkraut. Used with sugar and nitrate or nitrite, salt produces a color in processed meats which consumers find appealing. Salt enhances the golden color in bread crust by reducing sugar destruction in the dough and increasing carmelization.