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Pasta, noodles and such foods are often labeled "cook for n minutes". Are the ingredients for these foods purposefully balanced such that the average optimal cooking time is integer?

Of course the optimal time varies with personal taste, but that window is often narrow.

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3 Answers 3

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No. Pasta certainly can be varied by 1-2 minutes depending on the degree of bite desired (assuming the commercial, dried variety). Furthermore, height above sealevel determines air pressure and the boiling temperature of water, which further complicates things.

For microwaving, a similar problem occurs with power: not all microwaves have the same effective power, which means that you can't have an integer number of minutes of cooking time. In fact, if you see 600 W : 8 minutes, 1000 W : 5 minutes, you already know that they're rounded numbers (600*8 = 4800; 1000*5 = 5000, ignoring the larger heat loss in the first case)

[edit] A bit of math on the back of a napkin suggests that even at a fixed altitude, the difference between high and low air pressure is significant enough. No, they're not adjusting the ingredients to come up with an integer number. Besides, it'd be far easier to vary the thickness a bit.

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+1 what I was going to say –  Mark Schultheiss Mar 8 '11 at 13:44
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In other words, cooking times are the exact opposite of optimized - they are approximate. –  Aaronut Mar 8 '11 at 15:46
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Even further, I usually find that cooking times on pasta are straight up wrong, potentially requiring more than twice the recommended time before even being al dente. There's a lot of underestimating going on to make sure you don't over cook the food, imo. –  yossarian Mar 8 '11 at 16:25
    
@yossarian: Seriously? I usually add about 1 minute to the package time but doubling it seems extreme. –  Aaronut Mar 8 '11 at 22:51
    
@aaronut, maybe it's the brand? At least 3 people seem to agree with me. And it's not that I start with doubling, it's that I test and continue cooking till it's done. That just seems to be how long it takes. –  yossarian Mar 9 '11 at 1:22

The person writing the words on the pack is a marketing person. They probably don't know what an integer is, let alone how to cook the intended contents

Check the ingredient list, feel the dryness of the product, and work it out from your own experiences

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Do you think that some marketing person guesses the cooking time? –  Tim N Mar 8 '11 at 21:50
    
Based on a random selection from my store, YES. I assume the product manager tells them a time, but that will either be very approximate or they might get a formulae requiring the customer to know the power output of their cooking device, ambient room temperature, initial water temperature (height above sea level :-) ) etc which gets a little complex for the back of a packet –  TFD Mar 8 '11 at 22:39
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The initial temperature should be 100°, aka boiling. That's why you cook with boiling water: So you have a nearly constant experience. –  user unknown Mar 10 '11 at 4:25
    
Some people cook from cold. No idea why. Seems to work for them? –  TFD Mar 10 '11 at 9:38

As mentioned, the number of other variables involved would make any more accurate timing guidelines irrelevant. In fact, to within a minute is a fairly pointless. If you don't have one, try getting an oven thermometer and see just how accurate your oven thermostat is. It's a fun game!

@Yossarian really? I nearly always find pasta cooking times to be overestimated. Not as bad as most meat/fish times from supermarket produce, but normally about a minute or two too long. Are you saying you cooke penne (for example) for over 22-26 minutes? You don't live up a mountain do you?

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Your product talks about 11-13 minutes? My pasta always needs 6-8 Minutes, if you believe the pack. –  user unknown Mar 10 '11 at 4:28

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