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Note to mods: this is not a duplicate. I am not concerned about pasta sticking.

Note to anyone who wants to stand on their heritage and say only their way is best: I am Italian, I am 45, I have been cooking for my family for my entire adult life, as well as various jobs in food service.


A point of contention between myself and my wife is how we cook pasta. The main differences are: she adds a little oil to the water, I drizzle it in the colander after rinsing; she adds the salt to cold water, I add the salt after the water has boiled.

She prepared the pasta the other night. She had me finish to al dente. It was obvious to the eye that there was a bit of oil swirling in the water.

She hadn't prepared pasta in quite some time (I am a Fascist about some food prep). And since I haven't tasted it prepared her way in some time, I have to say: it was really good. The pasta (cavatappi) seemed softer somehow. I even had some the next day, after having sat in the fridge overnight. It was still very soft and flavorful.

I only rinsed the pasta (didn't also drizzle oil post-rinse). Putting the leftovers away after dinner, the pasta was not sticking terribly.

So, again, I know this is not the traditional way of preparing a pot of pasta. But I have to say, it was delicious.

I guess what I'm looking to find out is whether anyone has some science to back up why adding oil to the boil would improve taste and texture.

Thanks.

  • So the pasta was added at the same time in both preps? I can't find an explanation for the oil making a difference in this case. – Luciano Apr 21 '17 at 15:48
  • I am not seeing science this does improve taste and texture. This is a single subjective measure by you. If it was softer then you did not cook to al dente. Cooking time would be the biggest factor in softness. – paparazzo Apr 21 '17 at 18:01
  • Luciano, the water was boiling in each case. Two pots were not cooked simultaneously. I'm referring to pasta cooked many times in the past. – Jason P Sallinger Apr 21 '17 at 18:49
  • You have a point Paparazzi. I will give you that cooking time may be the factor. I contend there was something else though. The taste and surface texture were different. – Jason P Sallinger Apr 21 '17 at 18:50
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    Your result is contrary to what every single online source I can find, which used scientific testing, says. For example: seriouseats.com/2015/09/tips-for-better-easier-pasta.html CooksIllustrated also tested oil vs. salt vs. soda vs. nothing, and found no difference from adding oil to the water. So I don't think you're going to find anyone who can back up your apparent results with science. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that you should re-test with a blind tasting if you really care, since my first assessment would be that it's some undocumented factor and not the oil. – FuzzyChef Apr 26 '17 at 18:13
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It's very unlikely that adding oil is improving the taste or texture of the pasta, the amount people added is incidental to the process. Olive oil is mildly acidic, and if your water alkaline that acidity may neutralize it somewhat, however a tablespoon or two of oil in gallons of water is simply not enough to make a noticeable difference

What is likely to make a difference is salt, as seen in this answer:

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.

When you add the salt is immaterial as long as it dissolves in the water before you add the pasta.

  • I'm sorry. This does not help. Please understand that I have made pasta with all other variables the same. The difference here is the oil in the boil. I am not asking about the science of the salt. That variable did not change. – Jason P Sallinger Apr 21 '17 at 14:45
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    The oil was immaterial, that's the point I'm making. You asked how the oil made a difference and the answer is it didn't, there's another factor involved. – GdD Apr 21 '17 at 14:47
  • Obviously it is not immaterial, since it is the only thing changed, and a very notable difference was made. Thank you for letting me know it's something else. You have no evidence to that. – Jason P Sallinger Apr 21 '17 at 15:11
  • It sounds like many things changed from your post, in any case there are many factors that can change our perceptions of food from day to day. – GdD Apr 21 '17 at 15:13
  • @JasonPSallinger n your question you say "she adds the salt to cold water, I add the salt after the water has boiled." so adding oil is not the only difference – user151019 Apr 21 '17 at 19:13
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It may depend on the sauce you used. Oil in the boil encapsulates the starches to a degree and prevents sauces from sticking to the pasta, and inhibits starches entering the water clinging to the pasta which will normally effect both the texture and the flavor of the sauce. If the ingredients of the sauce are of a type to change the texture of the pasta - either highly acidic or saline, preventing the sauce from cling to or entering the pasta might change its texture

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Salt your water heavily - probably more heavily than you've been doing. Don't rinse your pasta. Don't salt your sauces too heavily, because the pasta itself will be saltier. Don't put oil in the water - it doesn't do anything. But salt your water a bunch.

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