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Tuscan Bread

Many legends have plenty of truth in the telling and historical facts to support them. Tuscan Bread is one of these foods. There are a few different tales told about why Tuscan Bread or Pane Toscano tastes the way it does. 

Tuscan Bread has been made salt-free for centuries. No one is completely certain of the reason but, in true Italian form, there are a few legends surrounding the creation of this staff of life that is still made without salt. Here are the more prevailing theories.

How to Balance the Flavors

So the first theory for the absence of salt in the bread proposes that the rich flavors and somewhat salty nature of many of the traditional Tuscan foods required the bread to be salt-free so the flavors were more balanced.

Many of the cured meats popular in the region tend toward a salty flavor profile. The same can be said of the cheeses. Although the saltiness of Tuscan foods is never truly overpowering the absence of salt in the bread does balance the flavors. But is this the reason?

Or could it be, as one take on this theory points to, the rich and salty flavors of the Tuscan foods are such in order to make up for the bread’s blandness. Either way, a bit of cheese and some Prosciutto or Salame Toscano on a nice crusty piece of Tuscan Bread is delicious.

Spring Water vs Salt Water

Centuries ago making bread was a community affair. And utilizing local products was essential to the craft. Tuscany is a long walk from the sea and so the people within the community used spring water. Spring water, as you know, doesn’t naturally contain salt. This is a plausible theory but not nearly as interesting or believable as the other tales that are told.

Money and Trade

As salt was a precious commodity and useful for preserving meats and cheeses most of the early Tuscan villagers used it sparingly, reserving it for the preserved staples. Plus, salt was heavily taxed so it was in the best interest for families to forego adding salt to their bread in order to tighten up their purse strings. This is a much more believable theory as it makes practical sense.

But, by far the most colorful tale concerns those magnificent Medici and their ongoing feud between Florence and Pisa. Both Florence and Pisa sit along the Arno River which was used to transport goods from the coast in Pisa. In Medieval times the feud between the two cities escalated and a trade dispute grew. The leaders of Pisa decided to block the trade route to Florence on the Arno River which prevented salt from getting to Florence. In a show of resistance, the Florentine bakers opted to make their bread sans salt.

What to Believe and Does it Matter?

In the end these legends may all harbor a bit of truth. And we may never know how the tradition of salt-free bread began in Tuscany. Maybe it was something as straightforward as a multi-tasked baker simply forgetting to add the salt and the taste caught on. But suffice it to say it’s been a Tuscan tradition for centuries and there is even a reference to the no-salt bread in Dante’s Divine Comedy which was written more than 200 years before that particular feud between Pisa and Florence.

We think whatever the reason behind the absence of salt the people of Tuscany are onto something! And there are many ways to use this notable bread. Grilled, brushed with oil and topped with a combination of tomatoes and basil it's a bite of summer in your mouth. And day-old Tuscan Bread makes for a delicious ingredient in Panzanella, a light and garden fresh salad made from tomatoes, basil and cubes of Tuscan Bread, tossed with an excellent olive oil and some red wine vinegar.

In Tuscany the bread is also used in two of their more iconic soups. Pappa al Pomodoro is a Tuscan tomato soup made hearty with the addition of the bread. Ribollito, another classic soup in the region, uses different vegetables, especially kale, beans and some stale Tuscan Bread.

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