Take the 2-minute tour ×
Seasoned Advice is a question and answer site for professional and amateur chefs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

What is the effect of adding salt to the water when cooking pasta?

share|improve this question
3  
Also notice that the pasta will only absorb so much salt. This is nice because it means you can never add too much. Any remaining salt will go out with the water. –  Thomas Ahle May 29 '11 at 0:46
    
Note that adding salt slightly raises the boiling point (though by a negligible amount at the concentrations used in cooking). Since it rases the boiling point, it means the water takes longer to come to the boil. –  Michel Ayres 2 days ago

9 Answers 9

up vote 88 down vote accepted

The salt adds flavor, but it also helps reduce the gelation of the starch in the pasta. The starch in food is the form of microscopic grains. When these grains come into contact with water, they will trap some of it (think cornstarch in cold water), but when the water is hot they swell up like balloons and merge with each other, and you have starch gelation.

Another thing you may want to add to the pasta water is some acid (lemon or cream of tartar). Tap water in most cities is made alkaline, which increases the starch loss from the pasta to the water, making the pasta stickier.

share|improve this answer
3  
Starch gelation is by far the primary reason, flavour is a side effect. –  Noldorin Aug 16 '10 at 10:33
1  
Personally, I don't salt. If you use copious amount of water and stir occasionally, you should be fine. –  Michael Mior Aug 16 '10 at 18:37
7  
@MichaelMior You don't salt the water? How does the pasta taste then? I can't imagine eating pasta that has not been salted. Sincerely, an Italian. :-) –  splattne Sep 11 '12 at 12:25
3  
@splattne If you have a well-seasoned sauce, it doesn't matter if the water is salted. –  Michael Mior Sep 11 '12 at 14:24
3  
@MichaelMior for the sake of the truth, a friend of mine, after some blood pressure problem, has switched to saltless food and he told me that after some time, you start to enjoy the food without salt because you feel all the flavors spectrum. So, in our future dinner, please do not salt the water :). –  systempuntoout Sep 12 '12 at 18:43

It means that the pasta is seasoned as it is cooked. To see if this matters to you, cook up some pasta in plain water and then some in salted water and see if you can taste the difference.

share|improve this answer

The addition of salt has at least 2 things going for it: 1). It DOES help keep the pasta from cooking into water, thus improving texture (less sticky/gummy). When less of the starch and protein is leached out of the pasta, it will foam less as well! (Perform the 2 batch test, side by side. The salted water will foam less, and it will be less murky when the cooking is done)

2). It DOES improve the flavor (at least for MOST of us). Just don't go CrAZy with the salt, and you'll be fine!

Yes, you can omit the salt, and you can acidify the water, but neither will produce a finished product that I'd care to eat.

share|improve this answer

As has been mentioned, whether you add salt or not it is for taste. Salt will decrease the amount of time to boil, but only if used in significant quantity. 80% water 20% salt will only increase the boiling point of the water 4 degrees. The same volume of straight water will take longer to boil for the simple fact there is more water.

Pasta sticking is in large part due to the water itself. Most tap water is leans to the alkaline side of the chart. Adding some vinegar or lemon juice to water to raise its acidity will keep the pasta from sticking. How much? You'll have to experiment.

share|improve this answer
    
If salt is added to decrease cooking time instead of taste, but must be added in quantities higher than anyone uses to have an effect, isn't it more likely that it's added for taste? –  sourd'oh Jan 21 at 23:36
1  
This is incorrect. Adding salt slightly raises the boiling point (though by a negligible amount at the concentrations used in cooking). Since it rases the boiling point, it means the water takes longer to come to the boil. –  David Richerby Oct 19 at 21:24

Personally, I add salt to water to reduce the bubbling while the water is boiling and allows me to walk away from the pot for a minute. I hate it when the pot bubbles over and some water falls over the sides of the pot. Something about the salt changes the waters ability to create bubbles. This is just my observation.

share|improve this answer
    
Salt does not have the effect described in this answer. –  David Richerby Oct 19 at 21:25

I guess it's like trying to sear a meat over a very high heat; the higher the temperature of the water the faster the pasta gets cook (so that it doesn't absorb too much which will expand the starch contain in the pasta) meanwhile leaving the center a a tiny white dot which creates a snap when bend. Besides that I too believe besides adding flavor to the pasta, by adding olive oil to the pasta is to avoid pasta from being stick together like a lump meanwhile stirring them to ensure equal heat is all over the pasta that is being cook. Olive oil to helps to coat the pasta which will reduce the water absorbtion and in the same time increase the water temperature even more higher.

The water doesn't need to be salty like totally salty but by just adding enough salt just enough for tasting will be good enough.

share|improve this answer
1  
The amount of salt you would have to add to the water to make its boiling point significantly hotter would be enormous. For sugar, you start with a 3:2 water:sugar solution, which still has a boiling point of 100°C, and it only gets higher after lots of evaporation. Similar for salt. –  rumtscho Jul 30 '12 at 18:09
    
Oil will de-foam the water and reduce the amount pasta sticking together, it will also stop the pasta sauce from sticking to it when serving :-( A quick stir two or three time during the first two minutes of cooking will stop the pasta sticking together :-) –  TFD Jul 30 '12 at 23:49

Aside from the flavor implications of adding salt, salty water has a higher boiling point than pure water, so you can cook whatever you are boiling at a higher temperature. The more salt, the higher the boiling point, up to the limit of a fully saturated solution.

share|improve this answer
8  
This is a myth: adding salt changes the boiling point by a fraction of a degree at best. –  Marti Nov 7 '10 at 2:52
2  
It needs to be quite salty to make a significant move, but the effect can be measurable. It's roughly 3 tablespoons per quart to move the boiling point one full degree Fahrenheit. Which is somewhere in the same ballpark of boiling point change as 1/8 of a mile. –  wrosecrans Nov 7 '10 at 20:43
1  
2  
Three tablespoons per quart is a ton - more than 1.5x as salty as seawater. And a difference of 1°F in water temperature makes basically no difference to the pasta cooking - you can even cook pasta in 200°F water (not even boiling!) and you won't be able to tell the difference. What you will notice from adding that much salt, however, is that your pasta ends up unbearably salty. –  Jefromi Apr 26 '13 at 23:12
    
@wrosecrans "the same ballpark of boiling point change as 1/8 of a mile" That doesn't even make sense. –  David Richerby Oct 19 at 21:28

I am really surprised that there was no answer above relating to the simple fact that adding even half a teaspoon salt to the boiling water serves this purpose:

  1. the sodium helps fill water molecules, which...
  2. reduces the transfer of vitamins, especially B-vitamins from noodles into the cooking water...
  3. which then gets thrown out as one drains the boiled noodles along with all those vitamins in that water.

That's also why I have stopped rinsing the boiled noodles, which washes off and leaches out more vitamins down the sink-drain.

If you drain noodles after boiling and don't want them to stick together, just run a Stick of butter very fast through the whole batch, which immediately improves the flavor, or put your thumb almost totally over the top of a bottle of first-pressed olive oil, and sprinkle a teaspoon or so over that batch of noodles and stir fast.

I have thereby never had any problems of sticky lumps, when stored in the refrigerator, and I have preserved a better level of nutrition.

share|improve this answer
3  
How do you mean, the sodium helps fill water molecules? Do you have a source for this? –  vincebowdren Jun 27 '13 at 8:59
2  
Even assuming that your theory is right, which I doubt very much, it doesn't matter. Noodles are typically made from refined semolina, and will therefore have a negligible amount of Vit B (and other vitamins) to start with. One would have to eat whole grain noodles to get any vitamins from them, and these are in my experience a niche product. –  rumtscho Jun 27 '13 at 10:49

it is actually to help the pasta absorb water.. it's done with meat chicken fish also..

share|improve this answer
3  
Hi Jim - can you give us some more detail about how that works, with references if possible? This site is after a bit more than one-sentence answers. –  vincebowdren Jul 24 '13 at 9:06

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.