Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
May 4, 2009 04:56 AM

EMERGENCY: too much salt

My salt grinder just bust as I was seasoning my chili. A lot went in, and now it's really salty. Is there any way to remedy this?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Peel and cube (one inch) some taters and get them in there to absorb some of it.

    If the chili is still too salty, at least the taters will be good.

    9 Replies
    1. re: FoodFuser

      There aren't any chemicals (afaik) that can be used in cooking to chemically alter NaCl to some other molecules. Many people think adding potatoes is a myth - seem to work for me with potato flour.

      You can also add barley that seems to work well. (Chickpea flour seems to work well).

      You can also chuck in anything dried such as partially ground beans, split mung beans, lentils. You are trying to extract the salty water from your sauce. There is still the same amount of salt in the meal but some of will have crossed the cell walls and your taste buds won't get to most of it. Salt in solution has the most 'flavour'.

      1. re: Paulustrious

        I have no spuds atm - can I use rice?

        What I've done so far is spoon off the sauce, add water, spoon off, add water etc. So I have about 1.5 litres of salty liquid, and a new less salty chili. Of course then I had to top up all the powders, add vegetable stock etc. It was absolutely delicious before the salt, and now it's reasonable, but very unbalanced.

        I might write to the salt shaker manufacturer and complain. The least they could do is buy me lunch!

        1. re: Soop

          I edited my initial response - take another look. You are looking for something to absorb salty water with absorbing all the other flavours - not an easy task.

          1. re: Paulustrious

            I had another thought: I haven't added the kidney beans yet, and I have 2 cans. That might take some saltiness away.

            *edit* forgot to say, I went out to get a potato. I think it's working a bit. It's very hot though, so it's getting hard to tell.

      2. re: FoodFuser

        potatoes do work to a degree, good idea

        1. re: kchurchill5

          Tell us how potatoes have properties to draw out salt. Is it like magnetism, can i put a peeled potato near salt and will the salt be drawn to the potato? How close do the two objects need to be to make this work?

          1. re: KTinNYC

            Honestly no clue. I remember grandma did it when gramps made his chicken soup. Accordingly to grandma he always way too much salt. She added a potato cup in 4 pieces or so.

            Several Christmas ago a friend made a beef tenderloin and made au jus with WAY too much salt, I suggested to add a potato. We did and it did help, it didn't solve the problem but did help. I also have tried it and it seems to work somewhat.

            Also, I tried just a dash of balsamic vinegar in one soup I made once where the salt shaker top fell off. I was lucky and didn't get too much salt in but still a bit salty for my tastes. The vinegar helped a bit.

            Maybe we sub conciously just want it to. I'm not sure! I've read people swear it works, and others say it doesn't. Worth a try I guess

            1. re: kchurchill5

              Your grandmother added volume to the soup. She could have added potatoes, rice, carrots, or water and the soup would have been tasted less salty.

              1. re: KTinNYC

                No volume really, after 10 minutes she removed the potatoes. You don't keep them in and the starch really didn't add much. The same with my friends au jus, they were taken our and my soup as well.

                Tasted good as I remember and it was better than it was before the potatoes.

      3. The sure fix - which may not be possible a la minute - is to make another batch without salt and mix them together. Also fixes the result of a heavy hand with the cayenne.

        33 Replies
        1. re: FlyFish

          yeah, this is a good idea. It was so salty though, the next batch would probably have to be double the size (2kg)

          1. re: Soop

            Potatoes have no impact - that's a myth. Doubling the batch is a creative idea, especially if you love chili.

            For sauces, sometimes you can counteract salt with sweet/acid. I've had success with adding some honey, or lime juice and sugar. But if you have blown open the salinity doors here, that's probably not going to do enough..

            1. re: grant.cook

              well, the potatoes have definitely made the old sauce sweeter. It's very tomatoey now (there are no tomatoes in there - only chiles and paprika).

              Don't much like sweet chili though!

              1. re: grant.cook



                These two articles use science to debunk the myth of the potato absorbing salt.

                1. re: KTinNYC

                  I don't care how many articles or scientists tell me it doesn't work. After 52 years of experience, I KNOW for a fact it DOES WORK. It's not a myth, or it wouldn't have been used for generations.

                  No, it won't solve the problem, and it isn't meant for LOTS of salt, but it DOES HELP. The bland potato absorbs the seasoning of the salt. This is the whole reason we season food as we cook it, instead of just waiting until serving it. You just have to be reasonable in your expectations. A whole potato will only absorb maybe 1/4 to 1/2 a teaspoon of flavor, at best...If you dump a lot of salt by accident, a 10 pound bag wouldn't help you.

                  Also, for all those SO quick to pooh-pooh this VERY old and tested "Wive's tale," stop for a moment and think...What does she have to lose by trying it? Your desire for factual information aside, you are attempting to debunk a suggestion that has many, MANY people and years of validation, using "scientific" studies that are, at best, a bit too clinical for real-life emergencies...

                  There's certainly not much to be lost by attempting the potato solution. I would discourage potato starch, unless you want a thicker texture to something. The potato you REMOVE after letting it absorb some of the salty flavor. Starch doesn't remove...

                  1. re: Kizzle

                    Did you actually read the articles or are you just saying that you don't believe in science? The potato absorbs some of the salty liquid but the product is no less salty. You can achieve the same results by adding sponges into the chili.

                    1. re: KTinNYC

                      But if you remove the potato or sponges or whatever you used, the salt that it absorbed is then removed from the pot. So it in fact DOES work.

                      As far as I knew, you cook the raw potatoes in the broth. The broth gets into the potatoes, salt and all. When cooked, you remove them, talking some of the salt with you. Repeat as necessary.

                      SOOP, you may need to do this a few times and add back seasoning and liquid but over time, it should work.

                      It also may be faster and easier to scrap the batch and start all over again.

                      Before you ask, I did not read the article.


                      1. re: Davwud

                        "But if you remove the potato or sponges or whatever you used, the salt that it absorbed is then removed from the pot. So it in fact DOES work"

                        Not really. You've just taken some liquid out of the pot. If you have a cup of salty soup that and pour out half the soup, yes, there will half as much salt as before, as well as half as much liquid, but the concentration of salt in the remaining soup remains the same.

                        1. re: KTinNYC

                          Not if you return half a cup of unsalted soup. What people are leaving out of the equation is the returning of non salted liquid to replace what has been absorbed by the potato. Or sponge, or sock, or whatever.


                          1. re: Davwud

                            If you are going to add more liquid then why bother adding the potatoes in the first place? The potatoes do nothing. Save yourself some time and effort and just pour out some of the salty liquid and add the new unsalted liquid.

                            1. re: KTinNYC

                              Yes, you could do that but you'd also be removing some of the bits and pieces of food and spice that are too big for the potato to absorb. The potato is gonna pick up mostly just water and salt.


                              1. re: Davwud

                                Sorry but it seems a bit crazy to use a POTATO to soak up liquid when you could just use a measuring cup and a strainer to remove a cup of only the oversalted liquid.

                                You can always add more "food and spice" when you replace the salty liquid with its unsalted bretheren.

                                Even a kitchen sponge would work better.

                        2. re: Davwud

                          It's all done now, but it was nearly a kilo of steak :S No way I'm chucking that!

                          1. re: Soop

                            I wouldn't want to either.


                          2. re: Davwud

                            Why bother with the potatoes? Just scoop some of the liquid out with a measuring cup.

                            You'll get the same resutl.

                            1. re: C. Hamster

                              Sure, if that's what you want to do. But you'll have to adjust your spicing as well. You'll be removing bits of onion, meat, all the good stuff you've worked so hard to make your broth so good.

                              A potato will leave most of that stuff in.


                              1. re: Davwud

                                I agree, when my friend made the au jus too salty we added 2 large potatoes cut in large chunks, about 7 or so minutes we removed them. Much better, Not perfect, but much better. Same with gramps chicken soups, just remove the potato nothing else. It does somewhat work. It isn't a cure all but does help.

                                1. re: kchurchill5

                                  Read this article and try and refute the results of the author's findings.


                                2. re: Davwud

                                  You need not remove anything but the liquid. That's what strainers are for. The seasoning is easy to make up for.

                                  The potato will absorb all the flavors in the liquid, not just the salt. it's not a selective salt magnet, so you will have to adjust your seasoning even if you use a potato. Especially if you add more liquid.

                                  Using a potato will take time and the effort of peeling and cubing.

                                  Simply spooning out some liquid and adjusting the seasoning will take you seconds and you will have much better results.

                                  1. re: C. Hamster

                                    I'm not sure common sense is going to fly on this thread.

                                    1. re: C. Hamster

                                      Well I did it a bit at a time, and I ended up losing about a litre of fluid. Say what you will about "simply adjusting seasoning", but adding a bunch of spices didn't make up for the missing ingrdients, mostly the beef stock.

                            2. re: Kizzle

                              "What does she have to lose by trying it?"

                              Time, energy, wasted potato.

                              KTinNYC is right.

                              1. re: Kizzle

                                Well, for someone who pooh-poohs science to use the phrase "I KNOW for a FACT", that's a bit of chutzpah. Did you measure a before and after with a salinity meter? The "generations" thing as evidence is a load of garbage - I still hear people talk about "searing to lock in the juices" and that was debunked years ago. Very old? Oh yes, that's a real clear cut piece of proof.. "Hi Ms. Johnson - you'll be excited to know that we are using some Really Old medical procedures to operate on you today! We've even got the Civil War-era instruments, so its just right!"

                                But perhaps you could explain why your potato "salt absorber" would be any different than, lets say, a sponge. Do potatoes have some weird salinity attraction property that lets them suck up the salt but keeps them from absorbing a whole mess of other things, e.g. flavor.

                                And what is to be lost? Well, a chili recipe full of potatoes or at least thickened by their presence. There may be some variety in the chili world between a "Bowl of Red" and Cincinnati chili, but I am pretty sure potatoes don't make their way into many versions. I look forward to trying potatoes to fix my too-salty raspberry coulis.

                                Or maybe you, "Ms. Know for a Fact" - find us one study, a legit link, a corroboration by somebody - one valid source - other than a cookbook published by a Native American medicine woman living in Western Kentucky in 1872 that backs up the potato claim.

                                1. re: grant.cook

                                  I also have to disagree - but unfortunately with both of you. In my experience it does work. I am not saying the salinity is less - but it tastes less. That's my experience. So unless your scientific test was measuring the currents from the nerve cells of the salt receptors then it means very little in terms of taste.

                                  cf: Capsiacum firing heat receptor on the tongue making hot food taste hotter (temperature wise) even though a scientific test with an exceediingly accurate thermometer will show no change in temperature.

                                  In answer to your question about potatoes having a preference for absorbing salt. I believe it does in terms of ionic transfers and osmotic pressures across cell membranes. It's a long, long time since I did any of this stuff, but most 'flavours' are highly complex molecules and would not pass the membranes of eukaryotic cells.

                                  Reference: any basic year university such Biology as (Raven & Johnson) ISBN 0-8016-4041-5, Chapter 6 (Membranes), Sections "The passage of molecules into and out of cells" and "Selective transport of molecules"

                                  Incidentally that first article - calling itself scientific - is as full of holes as the aforementioned sponge. The article even says that the potato absorbed salty water. If we then add that amount of water to approach the original 'consistency' there would be lessening of salinity. In fact we always end up adding additional water when we add a thickening agent such as potato starch.

                                  The second link did not add any credibility of this being a scientific approach with references ;->

                                  There are probably a couple of biologists out there in the chowsphere that could (and should) gainsay both of us. I invite their input.

                                  Anyway, Soop's probably eaten or discarded his sauce by now.

                                    1. re: Paulustrious

                                      You could perhaps argue that something in the potato starch masks it, but it doesn't affect salinity. Referencing what you kind of remember from Freshman chem and using the "well, it must be osmosis" argument isn't enough.. the guy who wrote the first article is a chemistry professor from Univ of Pittsburgh - I'll give him some credence here. And your comment dealing with his experiment adds in a second step - diluting the remaining liquid with water. He concurs, in his book "What Einstein told his cook" that the only true method of reducing salinity is to dilute.

                                      In the end, to pull out a half-teaspoon of salt you are butchering a recipe.. I assume most of us would send a restaurant dish back if it got this sort of treatment.. lets give the potato idea the same treatment.

                                      1. re: Paulustrious

                                        Edited to say

                                        Oh never mind...late to the party, and it's all been said. Why can't I delete posts on this forum?

                                        1. re: Shrinkrap

                                          I know, no convincing science or results other than people and cooks who say IT DOES. You just have to try it and see, nothing more. I wish I could back it up with evidence, but sometimes you just can explain it. It doesn't solve the problem but it does somewhat help.

                                          1. re: Shrinkrap

                                            Robert Wolke is one of the most distinguished food scientists in the United States.

                                            Alton Brown isn't.

                                            1. re: C. Hamster

                                              C. Hamster; Good to know, .. I read on, and saw those links, and read his Amazon book book preview ( I was thinking of getting that book!). That's why I decided to edit my post. It's all been said, and better than I could. I guess your response is an example of why I shouldn't/can't completely delete mine,

                                              1. re: Shrinkrap

                                                His books are great, esp. the first one :-)

                                        1. re: Kizzle

                                          "...It's not a myth, or it wouldn't have been used for generations."

                                          w/out getting into the potato thing - this is a silly statement. people did many things for years that had no affect.

                                2. I always love all the tricks that people suggest. They don't work.

                                  The only REAL way to alter the salt level is to add more stuff. Kitchen Basics stock makes a no salt added in their chicken and beef stock line. You can add some beans in there but only do so knowing that you're increasing the volume of ingredients. Don't use them thinking that they will magically absorb the excess salt, especially with the amount of salt you're describing. If it's so salty that doubling/making another batch won't help, cut your losses and start over. Don't spend more cash only to realize that doubling the volume won't work.

                                  It sounds like you're going for a more traditional-style chili with just sauce and meat. That's great, and I love that kind, but if you think you can save it, now is the time to bulk it up with non-traditional stuff. Add some sauteed bell peppers and onions, add in some corn meal and water/stock (remember adding volume is your best friend, the water will add volume and the corn meal will keep it from making it too watery) add in some beans. Good luck!

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: SQHD

                                    Thanks for this, and to everyone else.
                                    I usually add kidney beans, and reduce it down a lot, but I add them about 30 minutes from the end. Unfortunately, I also reduce the sauce down to almost nothing, so it's nice and tick, but it is still a bit salty. Fortunately, it's nowhere near the level it was.

                                    So it's gone from a total disaster to a shame. I can live with that.

                                    1. re: Soop

                                      Add some sugar, or even molasses.

                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                        That also works. It may be something to do with overloading the nerves, in much the same way you rub a bump on the head to "make it feel better". (That is entirely supposition, though.)

                                        1. re: Paulustrious

                                          Alternative solution: Serve chili over macaroni, rice, or yes, potatoes cooked in salt-free water.

                                  2. I've made a complaint to the manufacturer of the broken salt grinder. The way I see it, they owe me dinner.

                                    1. POTATOES DO NOT WORK. This is a scientifically proven (over and over) fact.

                                      Potatoes do not selectively just absorb salt. They act like a sponge and soak up liquid. So you would have the same result if you merely spooned out some of the liquid or dropped in a kitchen sponge. You have less liquid but it is NOT less salty.

                                      Smae for rice. It just soaks up liquid. It does not make the liquid less salty.

                                      The only thing you can do is to make up a batch of chili without salt and combine the two. Anything else will just mask the saltiness and that's hard to do.

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: C. Hamster

                                        Thanks man, it's ok now. I've emailed the maker of the salt grinder, and their customer services seem to be taking it sufficiently seriously

                                        1. re: C. Hamster

                                          Maybe it's the masking I'm interested in. Whatever the salinity it does make a difference to MY taste. Maybe it is the fact that the broth is thicker and the salt is less able to fire the receptors. We all know that depending on the sauce and its constituents we have to add more salt to get the same taste effect. I put way more salt in a leak and potato soup than a bouillon.

                                          I have to disagree about acting as a sponge - cellular uptake doesn't work like that. Cell membranes are selective.

                                          1. re: Paulustrious

                                            Maybe it masks it but who wants to eat chili with all that dissolved potato in it?

                                            And food scientists disagree with you about potatos NOT acting like a sponge. They do.

                                            Here's Wolke on the subject:


                                            1. re: C. Hamster

                                              In answer to your questions...

                                              I do - I'm not prepared to throw away the sauce.

                                              A sponge will pick up all dissolved ions - a cell will not.

                                              And as he says - the potato did pick up salt and water. When you replace that water it lowers the concentration of salt.

                                              There are a couple of odd things in his experiment. He used slices instead of cubes to increase the surface area. Well 1/4 inch cubes will have 2-3 times the surface area of 1/4 inch slices.

                                              Still, thanks for pointing me at the book - I will read some more of it. A lot of what I read makes sense. (At least the bits I agree with ;)