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Potato salad is a summer staple for barbecues, picnics, and block parties. So, what should you do when you’ve added too much salt to your famous potato salad recipe?
If potato salad is too salty, put in a cooking acid like citrus juice or vinegar, as it can override the saltiness. Adding more dairy or potatoes can also dilute the salt. Potato salad can become too salty as a result of over-salting or using a stronger salt than the recipe calls for.
Your contribution to the neighborhood potluck can be saved! Here are a few tried and true options to fix that salty potato salad and wow everybody!
What Causes Saltiness in Potato Salad?
The obvious answer to what makes a potato salad salty is, salt! That’s true, but there’s a little bit more to it than that. There are actually different kinds of salt, and the type of salt you use can greatly affect how your dish turns out. Some of these salts are actually “saltier” than other types because they aren’t diluted with other minerals, are dried differently, or are processed differently.
Table salt is some of the purest and most processed salt there is, and the one used most commonly in baking. Table salt is usually iodized, meaning iodine has been added to keep the salt from clumping and provide consumers with the much-needed mineral of iodine, which keeps the thyroid healthy and prevents goiters.
Sea salt is taken from the oceans and not processed as much as table salt, making it flakier and more delicate than table salt. It is usually prettier than table salt, being thin and flaky and sometimes colored by trace minerals from the ocean waters it comes from. It doesn’t provide iodine, however, which is why it isn’t recommended that consumers switch entirely to sea salt.
Kosher salt is a popular salt among chefs because it isn’t processed as much as table salt, so it has bigger, coarser grains that are easier to measure. Kosher salt and table salt have lots in common, but they are not equally interchangeable. If a recipe calls for kosher salt, and you just have sea or table salt, you can still use them, but you should be using less than the recipe calls for.
In fact, anytime you use a different salt than a recipe requires, you shouldn’t add the entire salt amount at once. Add about a quarter of the salt amount and then gradually add more to taste to avoid making your food too salty. Some recipes will also use salt instead of spices to flavor food, giving it a too strong salt flavor.
Once the salt is in, however, it can’t be taken away, so you’ll have to save your salt knowledge for another day! Here are some add-ins that will cut back on that saltiness. It’s your potato salad, though, so change it however you’d like, and take my advice with a grain of salt.
One of the easiest ways to fix that saltiness in your potato salad is to add a cooking acid of some kind. Acids have sharp, strong flavors and can override the saltiness of the potato salad.
They can also give your salad a much-needed flavor boost! Acids can often replace salt and make a dishes flavor brighter and stronger without saltiness.
When they combine with a base, like baking soda or dairy, they can cause a chemical reaction that will develop more flavor in all your food, not just potato salad.
There are lots of acids used in cooking, like vinegar, wine, and citrus juices. For potato salad that needs something to override the saltiness, you’ll probably want a citrus juice, which isn’t too sour or bitter and will keep the salad tasting fresh.
You can use a splash of lemon or orange juice in your salad to give it a little pep. Now, the acid isn’t going to take away the saltiness or dilute the salt, but it will cover it up with another, brighter flavor. Citrus juice, like salt, is a very strong and sharp flavor, so add it sparingly! You shouldn’t need more than a teaspoon or two, depending on the potato salad.
If you don’t have or just don’t want to use citrus in your salad, another acid option is vinegar. Vinegar has a stronger flavor and is much sourer than most citrus juices, so it will give your salad a different flavor. Paired with other ingredients, like in a potato salad, that sour vinegar can give you just the right amount of kick to knock out that saltiness.
There are different kinds of vinegar, which have different flavors and different levels of acidity, so that may affect how much you add or if the vinegar improves the salad or not.
White vinegar is a very sharp, more neutral flavor, for example, while apple cider vinegar is slightly sweeter and has a bit more flavor. Most cooks prefer apple cider vinegar for that slight sweetness, but it’s really up to you.
This works best in potato salad meant to have a strong and bright flavor, so if you have a milder potato salad with a high dairy concentration, choose another option, as the citrus can curdle the dairy in the salad, making it taste worse. Don’t worry, though! There are lots of ways to cut that saltiness and spice up a potato salad, so citrus isn’t your only option.
If you have a potato salad with a higher dairy content and has ingredients like mayonnaise, use dairy to cut that saltiness. Most dairy products have a neutral, slightly sweet flavor that can mask or dilute the salt. Some, but not all, potato salad recipes use dairy ingredients like mayonnaise or miracle whip.
Adding some extra of these dairy products will definitely lower than salt to salad ratio, diluting the salt, and fixing the flavor of the salad. If you do add more dairy products, you may cut the saltiness by also the flavor of any other spices used in the recipe, so you’ll want to taste it and see if it needs any more spices added for flavor.
Dairy products will be added in higher volumes than other ingredients like citrus, around a quarter to half a cup. This may change the texture of the potato salad, so adding dairy means you might have to adjust for that as well.
Dairy is a good solution if you want to cut the saltiness without adding something that overpowers or changes the flavor of the salad itself. You want to fix the overabundance of salt without altering the integrity of the potato salad. Dairy can make your salad creamy and provide a great platform for other spices and flavors that you are adding to your salad.
Don’t combine the acid with the dairy! While both are viable options, they don’t work well together. The acid will curdle the dairy, and make the whole salad taste spoiled. Dairy is also used for milder tasting, creamy potato salads, while acid is better suited for dryer potato salads with bolder flavors.
If you want dairy and bold flavor, you can have both! You can use spices like black pepper, cayenne, or paprika to give your potato salad some kick! The fun thing about spices is they only affect the flavor of the food, not the texture or cooking, so you can add as little or as much as you want until you get that ideal flavor combo.
Like with the acid, you’ll want to add dairy sparingly and taste in between adds to make sure you get something you like. You have the opportunity to really make your potato salad stand out! Trust me, no one will be able to tell you messed up.
Adding potatoes to your potato salad has several pros and cons as a way to cut that saltiness! On the one hand, it will definitely dilute the salt flavor without changing the flavor of the overall salad.
It can also be used for any potato salad, unlike dairy or acid. Every potato salad has potatoes in it! If it doesn’t, you’re probably not making that potato salad, right.
The con of using potatoes is that it can make the salad dryer, so you will have to add more oils, dairy, or other ingredients to return it to its original taste and texture.
Unless you planned you might mess up your salad, you probably don’t have prepared potatoes. If you want to add more potatoes, you might have to cook more, which can be highly time-consuming.
This will work, however, as they built the potatoes to absorb flavor and it shouldn’t take too many to fix that saltiness, depending on how salty the salad is. Potatoes themselves don’t have a strong flavor and are used in cooking as a sort of vessel to carry other flavors like butter, spices, and salt. So, the potatoes should suck up that salt.
You can also try to cut the potatoes into smaller pieces to give the salad more potato surface area. That surface area will suck up the salt and other spices added to the mix.
If you want the potatoes to cook faster, you can try boiling water with the lid over the pot to keep it from escaping, and cutting up the potatoes into smaller pieces so that they cook faster.
You will only need about 1 to 3 potatoes, depending on the saltiness and what potatoes you’re using. The difference between different potatoes lies mostly in texture rather than flavor. Different potatoes may be softer or creamer than others.
It’s up to you what kind of potato you want, but most cooks want creamy textured potatoes in their salads and use smaller potatoes like new potatoes in their potato salads. You’ll be cutting the potato up into uniform pieces regardless, so use whatever you have on hand or just like to use.
Avoiding Saltiness in Potato Salad
How can you avoid over-salting your potato salad to begin with? Every recipe requires at least a pinch of salt, but try tasting the salad before adding any to see if it needs it.
Add salt in small increments. You won’t need a lot to get a strong flavor. Try to match the type of salt listed in the recipe, but if you can’t, then cut back on the salt amount because different salt types have different strengths.
If you want to avoid using salt as much as possible, flavor your potato salad! Salt doesn’t add flavor, it just amplifies what’s already there. Use spices like pepper, cayenne, and paprika to give that potato salad a sodium-free kick. Citrus and other acids also give it some brightness without salt.
Season before the salt, so you only use the minimum amount of salt needed. You can also try boiling the potatoes in water with a teaspoon or two of salt to make sure the potatoes absorb that flavor early on.
If you do this, your goal isn’t to make the potatoes taste salty, so don’t add salt until that point. Just add enough that the potatoes have a slight flavor to them. If you add too much salt in this step, you can try soaking the over-salted potatoes in some unsalted water to leach out some of the saltiness. This way, you have more control over the amount of salt going into your salad!
Don’t be afraid to add a pinch or two of salt to your potato salad, however. Salt is a great ingredient when used sparingly that can bring out all of those wonderful flavors you spent so long putting together! Cooking can be tricky and takes a lot of practice, so don’t give up.
Remember to taste often through making the salad to get an idea of what it should taste like and what adding certain ingredients makes it taste like. Your potato salad is going to taste great and live up to its potential as one of the most iconic summer side dishes in America. Enjoy!