Abstract Seed priming has been successfully demonstrated to be an efficient method to improve crop productivity under stressful conditions. As a first step toward better understanding of the mechanisms underlying the priming-induced salt stress tolerance in durum wheat, and to overcome the limitations of the gel-based approach, a comparative gel-free proteomic analysis was conducted with durum wheat seed samples of varying vigor as generated by hydro- and ascorbate-priming treatments. Results indicate that hydro-priming was accompanied by significant changes of 72 proteins, most of which are involved in proteolysis, protein synthesis, metabolism and disease/defense response. Ascorbate-priming was, however, accompanied by significant changes of 83 proteins, which are mainly involved in protein metabolism, antioxidant protection, repair processes and, interestingly, in methionine-related metabolism. The present study provides new information for understanding how ‘priming-memory’ invokes seed stress tolerance. Biological significance The current work describes the first study in which gel-free shotgun proteomics were used to investigate the metabolic seed protein fraction in durum wheat. A combined approach of protein fractionation, hydrogel nanoparticle enrichment technique, and gel-free shotgun proteomic analysis allowed us to identify over 380 proteins exhibiting greater molecular weight diversity (ranging from 7 to 258kDa). Accordingly, we propose that this approach could be useful to acquire a wider perspective and a better understanding of the seed proteome. In the present work, we employed this method to investigate the potential biomarkers of priming-induced salt tolerance in durum wheat. In this way, we identified several previously unrecognized proteins which were never been reported before, particularly for the ascorbate-priming treatment. These findings could provide new avenues for improving crop productivity, particularly under unfavorable environmental conditions.