Should Pizza Dough Have Sugar, Oil And Salt?


With some pizza dough recipes adding extra ingredients such as sugar and oil, and some leaving them out – what is the reason for this? This article looks at the effects that these ingredients have so that you can decide for yourself.

Should pizza dough have sugar?

Sugar is not an essential ingredient for pizza dough. It is mainly added to help brown the crust when an oven can’t achieve it naturally. Secondly it adds a slight sweetness to dough which is preferable to some.

Should pizza dough have oil?

Oil is not a necessary ingredient but it does help prevent the dough drying out when cooked for a longer period in a cooler oven. It also tenderizes the texture of dough that hasn’t had a long fermentation.

Should pizza dough have salt?

Salt is an essential ingredient that primarily makes the dough taste better from seasoning. Without it, the dough tastes very bland. It also helps slow yeast fermentation.

Why Sugar Is Sometimes Added To Dough

Let’s get one myth out the way – extra sugar isn’t needed for the yeast to eat and start rising. The starch in the flour provides the food that yeast needs just fine. Think of a normal white bread dough – you wouldn’t add sugar to this.

The first reason for adding sugar is browning the crust via caramelization. This can be a problem when ovens aren’t hot enough or the flour you are using happens to give you a particularly bland looking dough. Personally I have never had this problem cooking in a home oven with a pizza stone. So while I have played around with sugar in my dough, I don’t normally use it.

If you do add sugar for browning then consider the impact of longer fermentation. The yeast will actually consume the sugar over time and by the time you get to baking, there may be little left to impact any caramelization. Adding sugar may only be relevant for dough that has been rested for a short period of time.

Ovens which are particularly hot, such as a wood fired oven, will have a negative effect from sugar. It may cause excessive browning where the heat and sugar caramelize too much, leaving a burnt crust that might be undercooked inside.

Finally, taste wise, sugar will obviously add a sweetness to the dough. Whether you like this is down to personal preference. Some people like sugary foods and add sugar to pizza sauces too. For me, I prefer the raw savoury taste so leave out the sugar to avoid the unnecessary calories too.

Why Oil Is Sometimes Added To Dough

I don’t tend to use sugar, but for oil, I do see some uses in dough.

When I was trialling ingredients and techniques for my dough recipe, I blind tested different recipes together. One thing I noticed was how oil could improve a dough that was put together quite quickly with little fermentation. By quick I mean about an hour rising, a degass of the dough, balling and giving another hour rise before cooking. 

Verses the same dough without oil, the dough with oil was noticeably more tender, with a satisfying slightly chewy bite. I also had two pizzas in the test made from 24 hour fermented dough. The inclusion of oil was much less obvious with this dough – the fermentation had seemingly done the tenderizing. And the 2 hour dough with oil had a similar texture to the 24 dough without oil.

Something to note was the method of cooking too. Using a pizza stone and placing in the oven for 5-10 minutes dries the crust out quite a bit. While the other method I use of cooking in a frying pan then the broiler cooks faster and keeps the crust moist. Using oil in the dough significantly helps the pizza cooked straight in the oven. The frying pan method didn’t have much noticeable difference. The dough puffs up really quick in this method and I actually think the dough with oil puffed up less. It is probably a similar reason why you won’t see oil in a dough cooked in a classic Neapolitan wood fired pizza – with the extra heat it’s just not needed.

What Happens If I Don’t Add Sugar Or Oil?

The pizza that you make should turn out just fine. You are unlikely to notice the addition of sugar in the dough as most ovens can brown a pizza well – just make sure you cook it long enough until it is brown.

As for the oil, the crust without oil is slightly more cracker like and crunchy. With the oil the crust has a bit more chew and bend. Your pizza will be great with or without oil, especially if you give it a good fermentation time which boosts flavor and texture.

What Does Salt Do?

Salt is a key ingredient and your pizza will be pretty much inedible without it. The flavor it gives to the pizza turns it from a floury bland taste, to the classic crust taste we like.

How much salt in pizza dough?

A typical amount of salt is 2-3% weight of the flour weight. It comes down to personal preference. Personally I like the taste it gives so aim for 2.5-3% but I understand this isn’t for everyone and salt also has negative health impacts. Try 2% salt as a standard and then push it higher. I have seen up to 3.5% salt but for me this is crazy! Large amounts of salt like this are used to slow down fermentation so that dough can last longer at room temperature without over fermentation.

Types Of Pizza Dough

The two most common pizza doughs highlight the use of sugar and oil and where it can be useful.

Neapolitan pizza dough

This dough is a simple dough with flour, water, yeast and salt. It is cooked in a wood fired oven, usually in 60-90 seconds. Because of this fast cooking, the crust puffs up fast and stays moist on the inside. The cooking process does all the work to make a fantastic taste and texture. That is why this dough never takes on other ingredients as they actually make things worse – oil affecting the texture, and sugar causing the crust to brown too much in the extreme heat.

New York pizza dough/Home oven dough

This kind of dough is an adaption of the Neapolitan dough but is designed to suit a gas oven rather than a wood fired. Whether that be a commercial oven or a home oven the oven is cooler, and the pizza cooks for longer. This means more moisture is lost. It can make a dry, hard crust and that’s why oil is added – it makes it tender and chewy. The cooler oven also means that some pizza makers don’t get the browning they want. The added sugar helps this, but it’s not a practice done by all.

Recommended Dough Recipe

The pizza recipe that I wrote for this blog has no sugar but it does have an optional amount of olive oil. The testing showed me that the oil was sometimes useful, and sometimes not needed depending on the style. Check out my recipe here.

Conclusion

Now you know all about the effects of oil and sugar, you can make your own decisions for your perfect dough. Start with my dough from this website and then you can experiment to see how you like it.

For me, I never needed to add sugar so have always left it out. I sometimes use oil where its needed and like the effects it has.

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