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So, I have always been salting the water first when cooking pasta. Another amateur cook friend insists on salt after boil because it raises boil temperature elsewise. I keep telling him I don't care since it only raises it about one Fahrenheit for an ounce (damn imperial system...) so not a big deal. Just now I heard Gordon Ramsay say "What's the number one rule when cooking pasta? Salt in first" to his son and I wanna know if I can substantiate my claim to salt in first. Does anyone have a clue why he might have said this? Is there some chemistry going on there that can help? Edit: Not why but when. Stop flagging duplicate please.

  • This seems like pretty much a duplicate of cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/2574/… - all the reasons why we add salt at all pretty much require it to be in there the whole time with the pasta, but it doesn't matter whether it's in there while the water's cold or only when it reaches a boil. – Cascabel Oct 17 '17 at 23:56
  • Possible duplicate of Why add salt to the water when cooking pasta? – Jan Doggen Oct 18 '17 at 7:34
  • It's close, but not a duplicate to me @Jefromi as it's asking when the salt is added, which is not addressed in that question. – GdD Oct 18 '17 at 10:35
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    If a saline solution boils at a higher temperature than water, making the water a saline solution after it boils will still raise the boiling point. There's no magic about the boiling water that will alter that. – PoloHoleSet Oct 18 '17 at 16:30
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    @Paparazzi - I don't believe the question is about before or after adding pasta, it's about at the start, before heating the water or after it boils, but both before adding pasta. – PoloHoleSet Oct 18 '17 at 18:01
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From a chemistry perspective there's no difference between the approaches, either way you're ending up with the same amount of water and salt with the same boiling point.

Ramsey is saying salt in first because he's adding the salt to the water before the pasta, not before heating the water. It makes sense to add the salt to the water before heating it because:

  • It's one less thing to do later: by the time you're ready to add the pasta to the water you might be busy, adding the salt to the water first saves you the step later
  • You're less likely to forget to add it: again, if you're busy later you might skip the step
  • In your first bullet point did you mean 'adding salt to the water first...'? – Cindy Oct 18 '17 at 13:36
  • Yes I did, thanks for catching that @Cindy – GdD Oct 18 '17 at 13:38
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    I think @GdD has the main points, get in it early and it will not be forgotten, but I would contend there is a chemistry difference, though minor. Salt does lower the Specific heat of the water, so it does take less energy to heat the water and it will transfer to the pasta easier. The second part does not matter on timing, but putting salt in earlier will allow the water to heat faster and with less total energy. The amount though it trivial and I doubt if more cooks would even notice. – dlb Oct 19 '17 at 17:47
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Actually really does not matter. Yes, salted water boils at 101°C, but it does not matter if you put in in first (say 20°C) and heat it up to 101°C or if you are adding it to the boiling water (100°C) and need to bring it up to 101°C to keep it boiling.

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There's only one reason that I can think of where it matters -- when cooking in stainless steel.

As I understand it, the problem is when you have both oxygen and dissolved salt in the water, as there will be a chemical reaction that will pit the metal. If you heat the water first, it can't hold oxygen (which is why factories pumping hot water into streams causes fish kills), and you won't have the problems.

So, for stainless -- heat first, then salt.

(This came up a few years back, when it was revealed that Olive Garden didn't salt their pasta so they could get a longer warranty on their pots)

  • This is such an important point that it should be the accepted answer. It makes a big difference for the lifetime of pots. – Konrad Rudolph Apr 27 '18 at 11:12
  • @KonradRudolph it’s a common thing, unfortunately. Someone gives a ‘no’ answer, then someone else answers with examples where it’s true, but ithe first one was already accepted as the answer. And then most people don’t look at all the answers, so the wrong answer keeps getting voted up. Once in a while, the ‘correct’ answer will get voted past ‘accepted’ but it’ll still show up second – Joe Apr 27 '18 at 21:54
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Salting your water before you heat it appears to be an old wives tale.

Rusting

From what I have read, using a stainless steel pot can result in some pitting over time. This is basically a form of rust, caused by the chloride in salt, oxygen in water, and chromium in stainless steel. Salting your pot after the water boils is better for these pans.

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    I'm sorry, what portion of salting water is "an old wives tale?" I'm not seeing any kind of claim, other than making the water salty with the side effect of a slightly higher boiling temperature. Also it appears that salting when cold resulting in pitting is, actually, a bit of an "old wives tale." - cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/30253/… – PoloHoleSet Oct 18 '17 at 16:34
  • Pulled the information from below. " Is there a scientific reason we should be salting our water? No. There's an old wives' tale that says salted water will make the pasta cook faster, and while it's not entirely untrue, it doesn't make enough of a difference to matter. An ounce of salt only raises the boiling point of water by 1 degree Fahrenheit, so you'd need a whole lot of salt to make a significant difference in the cooking time -- a whole disgusting lot. " huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/… – Jason Nov 13 '17 at 14:08
  • okay, then, as said before, it's an old wives tale that you must hear more than me. I didn't see that claim being made in this question or with the answers, which is why I was asking. Thanks for clarifying for me. – PoloHoleSet Nov 13 '17 at 17:36
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When your pan is very clean, and you add the salt around boiling point, it may be that your water is overheated somewhat and you get some explosive bubling. The bubbles will subside quickly to regular boiling.

I used to do this sometimes with a stainless steel pan for my own amusement, but its safer not to and add the salt earlier.

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