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I add salt to pasta water in order to reduce the stickiness caused by starch. However, I've never seen potatoes stick together. Why add salt?

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up vote 11 down vote accepted

Salting the water in which you cook starches (pasta, rice, potato) is an effective way of enhancing the flavour of the finished product - boiling starches absorb salt well (which is why adding chunks of potato to an overall salty stew will lessen the apparent saltiness of the dish.

But salt does other things. When I am making roasted potatoes, I parboil them for 5 minutes before drying and roasting them in oil. if you divide them into two batches and boil one half in unsalted water and the other half in well salted water (1tbsp/2 quarts water), the salted potatoes will brown and crisp much better than the unsalted ones. I'm not sure why this is, but I would encourage you to try it because it's amazing to see.

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FYI, adding potatoes to something that is overly salty is an old wives' tale. I've tested it repeatedly at home and work, and it simply has no validity whatsoever. Unless, of course, you add so much potato that your end result is more like potatoes with a little stew as garnish. –  daniel Apr 29 '11 at 22:48
    
Hi Sean. This is a demonstrable result. Many people, including Heston Blumenthal have shown this, not least in his In Search of Perfection show on BBC where he did a side-by-side test on the same batch of potatoes. He did say that different batches of potatoes varying in their 'crispability', so it could be that you're seeing this variability between batches. –  Paul L Nov 9 '11 at 10:39
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To add flavor. Add some butter and cream afterwards when mashing- delicious

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Ah -- I used to figure that the flavour was a mere side-effect. –  Tim N Feb 16 '11 at 19:34
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Salt is nature's MSG! –  Doug Feb 16 '11 at 19:59
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@Doug mmmmmm not really, MSG is like salt only in that its flavor only falls into one of the "tastes". MSG for the "Umami" (or savory) taste Salt the "Salty" taste. –  vwiggins Feb 17 '11 at 10:40
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MSG is nature's MSG. –  Bob Feb 18 '11 at 16:57
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If you reduce the amount of water you use and increase the amount of salt, the result will be salt crusted potatoes, with added flavor and sweetness.

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Actually folks, heavily salting the water allows it to boil to a hotter temperature. This in turn cooks the potato's starch more thoroughly, resulting in a more creamy texture. Google 'Syracuse salt potatoes' for more information.

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I suspect the temp raise is very small, and only academic. Care to share an exact figure? –  TFD Jul 3 '13 at 4:45
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It is minuscule at concentrations used for pasta, per wikipedia, less than 1/3 degree F. The ratio in the cited syracuse salt potatoes is 2 cups of table salt to 5 1/2 quarts of water, which is extraordinary. A saturated brine, carrying the maximum salt load possible, has a boiling point of only 108.7 C (228 F). –  SAJ14SAJ Jul 3 '13 at 5:37
    
And besides, starch cooking is somewhat of a binary process, with a sharp change at a certain temperature. This temperature is somewhere between 90 and 100 degrees celsius for different starches. Cooking the starch at a higher temperature will not let it "cook more thoroughly". –  rumtscho Jul 3 '13 at 11:55
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Salt also lowers the boiling temp of the water, so you can use less energy to cook.

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This is a myth. Salt does lower the boiling temp, but not by enough to matter. Using some back of the envelope calculations, 2 tablespoons of salt in one quart of water will lower the boiling point by about 1 degree F. –  KeithB Feb 17 '11 at 17:29
    
Isn't boiling the water all about the temp? –  Crazy Eddie Feb 17 '11 at 17:56
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On the contrary, salt slightly raises the boiling point of water. See wikipedia on Boiling-point elevation: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boiling-point_elevation –  timmyp Feb 17 '11 at 19:35
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Well, you learn something new every day. Thanks for the info, guys! –  tenpn Feb 17 '11 at 21:05
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@chris: 58g of salt consists of about 22g of sodium, which would put the water at about 2.3% salinity, which is actually below the salinity of sea water (~3.5%), which is often quoted as the proper salinity in which to cook many starches. –  ESultanik Apr 29 '11 at 19:09
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