8

When cooking pasta (from dried), I currently need to add a significant amount of salt to the water to add flavour.

As the pasta itself is extremely cheap, and the water is completely free - it can at times feel like throwing money down the drain as the majority of the salty water is discarded.

Are there any effective ways to reduce the amount of salt wasted during cooking, without simply undersalting the pasta? (e.g. adding salt after the pasta has been mostly drained)


Additional notes:

  • I'm open to making fresh pasta by hand, if salt can be added at this stage rather than in the water

  • The cost of salt should be considered a constant, that is - suggesting a cheaper salt is not valid.

  • Taste/texture quality should be maintained as best as possible.

  • Reusing the salted water is not acceptable, due to space constraints.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Many, many comments here were variations of "salt is cheap, there are better ways to save money" – Jolenealaska Nov 29 '18 at 4:51
59

It's perfectly possible to cook pasta with no salt at all, so you may be able to wean yourself onto a lower salt level, reducing it gradually.

I don't know what, if anything, you're eating with your pasta, so getting that to have more flavour might be an option.

If you're actually eating plain pasta and want it salty but as cheap as possible, the first thing you should do is cook it in as little water as possible, and with a lid. This will also reduce your fuel bills (you can reduce them still further by turning off the heat for a few minutes in the middle of cooking). If you use half as much water as before, you could start by adding half as much salt, so the concentration in the water remains the same. To a first approximation, it's the concentration that matters here.

Even if you're eating absolutely at cheaply as possible already, I'd be very surprised if you could save significant amounts of money by using less salt, and if you can, you need to consider the health implications (I won't go into more detail). Think about how much in total you spend on it, because you can't possibly save more than that.

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    If the OP has a microwave, the amount of water (and thus salt) can be reduced even further--with careful experimentation, you may be able to reduce it so that almost nothing is drained at the end. (Just watch it carefully during experimentation, as the pasta can catch on fire if too much water boils off.) This would probably also save money on heating. – 1006a Nov 27 '18 at 23:58
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    @1006a, that's also possible, if you can keep the water level down, but don't you need to make sure the pasta stays covered if it's too cool evenly? I cook on gas, so using a small flame that brings the pan back to the boil slowly, and not much water, is probably cheaper than the microwave (gas costs about 1/3 of electricity per kWh here). Plus I often reheat or start to reheat a sauce in the microwave at the same time. – Chris H Nov 28 '18 at 6:57
  • @1006a - You can set pasta on fire in a microwave?! Experiment time! – AndyT Nov 28 '18 at 11:08
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    I was assuming the OP isn't using sauce, as salting the sauce would otherwise seem to be the obvious answer to their dilemma. I'm not sure what you mean about covering the pasta--some microwave methods involve covering the bowl, others don't. In my experience microwaving works well for smaller amounts, not so much for large (it's great when one kid wants noodles, but I use the stovetop if I'm feeding the whole crowd); there again, I'm guessing OP is mostly just cooking for themself. You're right that cost considerations will depend on energy prices, and the particular appliances. @ChrisH – 1006a Nov 28 '18 at 13:58
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If you can't get cheaper salt, or reduce the ratio of salt/water, and you don't want to compromise the finished result, then the only option I see is to use less water.

Cooks generally gauge the correct amount of salt in pasta water by taste-- they say the pasta water should taste like the ocean. So, if you use less water to cook your pasta, you should likewise need less salt to appropriately flavor the water (and thus the pasta). This answer indicates that using less water should still yield the same quality pasta.

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    I agree, using less water seems like the way to go for the OP's constraints, and will not have a negative affect - another resource on this seriouseats.com/2010/05/… indicates that cooking in less water has few drawbacks. – Nat Bowman Nov 26 '18 at 18:56
  • As a note, this advice typically applies to cooking Italian pasta dishes. When I brought the "like the ocean" to other cuisines' pasta, I got some pretty funky looks from my instructor. – Anoplexian Nov 27 '18 at 15:31
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    "pasta water should taste like the ocean" clearly the best option is to move near the ocean and just use seawater to cook your pasta. – MikeTheLiar Nov 27 '18 at 20:06
  • @MikeTheLiar Living in the (US) Midwest and having never been to the ocean, I have absolutely no idea what the ocean is supposed to taste like. But I have one pot that I usually use to make pasta, and I know roughly how much salt to add to it for my finished noodles to come out with good flavor. If I use a smaller pot, I add less salt. So the principal holds true no matter what. Though If I lived near the ocean I would definitely give seawater a try for the novelty factor if nothing else. – senschen Nov 27 '18 at 20:12
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    @senschen The ocean is salty enough to be disgusting, which I assume is what that advice is meant to evoke- a level of salinity that tastes horrible, rather than the level you might find in an exceptionally salty, but still edible, broth, or something similar. – Blue Caboose Nov 28 '18 at 0:03
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If your purpose is truly to save money, you can soak the dried pasta overnight, and it will cook much more quickly, as it will have rehydrated. This will lead to a similar cooking time to fresh pasta. Hence you will save on energy costs. To address the salt issue itself, just gradually add a little less each time you cook pasta, and you will soon find your taste adapting to a lower salt diet.

  • I have never heard this one before (pre-soaking dried pasta). What does doing this do to the texture and flavour of the pasta? – Scribblemacher Nov 28 '18 at 14:32
  • I haven't done it for a long time (due to never planning that far ahead), but I don't remember it having much effect at all, other than reducing the cooking time. Essentially, when you boil dried pasta, most of the cooking time is taken up with rehydrating it. – Phil M Jones Nov 28 '18 at 15:01
  • From my own experience, this works well for some types of pasta/noodles, and very poorly for others. It has worked very well for me for traditional Italian pasta, but I've gotten generally poor results trying it with soba noodles, with other types falling somewhere in between. – Austin Hemmelgarn Nov 28 '18 at 15:34
  • @AustinHemmelgarn I was only thinking of Italian pasta, to be honest. – Phil M Jones Nov 28 '18 at 16:52
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It can be a conundrum, either you need more salt or less water. You don't want to reduce the water as this can prevent proper cooking and cause it to stick.

Luckily salt will diffuse quite rapidly into cooked pasta, a fact I discovered when I once forgot to salt my pasta at all. You can drain almost all the water, leaving just enough to barely suspend and cover the pasta, before you add the salt. The salt will diffuse into the cooked pasta. Of course this doesn't happen instantly, and the pasta will continue to cook as long as it's in the hot water, so time it for when you are about a minute from completion (adjusting for the thickness of the pasta).

This will reduce the overall amount of salt needed, since you don't need to salt the full amount of water you cook with. It may also reduce the total salt intake, as the outer layers of the pasta will take up the salt more rapidly than the inner, giving some salt flavour but reducing the amount actually consumed. Mastication will eventually homogenize the salt content, but by this time the perception of saltiness has already been encountered.

6

Cook without any salt at all, and salt to taste at the table. Less will be used and none will be wasted.

  • Best answer. Not necessarily at the table, but salt the pasta and toss, just after draining. – Douglas Held Nov 27 '18 at 9:49
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    This is bad advice. Salting the pasta water rather than the pasta later will lead to less salt being ingested to achieve the same flavour (because salted water gets absorbed by the pasta). This means that with your method you will either compromise the flavour noticeably, or end up using too much salt, which is detrimental for your health. (This isn’t just true for pasta: seasoning early on in cooking is an advice that most/all? professional chefs adhere to.) – Konrad Rudolph Nov 27 '18 at 11:02
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    Good advice. Salting early makes the pasta salty to its core. That means most of the salt is eaten, not tasted. Yet you add salt for its taste, and definitely not for its nutrient value. Sure, if you use the same weight of salt, salting early is healthier. But for the same taste, salting late is both cheaper and healthier as you can use less. – MSalters Nov 27 '18 at 15:03
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    @KonradRudolph I'm not even going to talk about whether salt applied at the table results in more or less flavor than salt in the water, but, how does your idea help the OP use less salt? Throwing it down the drain doesn't conserve it. OP is concerned about reducing how much salt leaves their pantry, not reducing how much salt enters their mouth. – Beanluc Nov 27 '18 at 20:14
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    @Beanluc And, as explained in comments under OP’s question, OP’s goal is simply completely misguided. Whatever reason they think they have for reducing salt use doesn’t hold up. Pandering to their misconception doesn’t help. – Konrad Rudolph Nov 28 '18 at 10:35
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Maybe a stupid answer, but what about buying more salt? Salt is really cheap in most places, so maybe you just feel like you're throwing money down the drain because you're using up your salt so quickly.

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    Don't get the down votes here, this is solid advice. I have done this with champagne when I felt it was too expensive to drink and don't wanted to waste my only bottle on just any occasion and wait for a more celebratory worthy event which never came. Solved by buying more bottles, so I still have a few once I drank one. Goes without saying that champagne and salt are in quite different price ranges. But I don't think there is a difference in psychology. – Viktor Mellgren Nov 28 '18 at 9:52
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After removing the pasta, keep the pot of water on the heat until all of the water evaporates. Then harvest the salt. This will most likely not save you much money, though.

Alternatively, if you have enough time, and are in the correct climate, you could also set the pot out in the sun and let the water evaporate that way. I read somewhere it will take ~61 days to evaporate a 1-meter cubed amount of water in the Sahara Desert.

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The salt increases the osmotic pressure of the water as well as flavoring the pasta. If you reduce the salt the pasta will not cook properly. Since the pasta water is typically used in finishing the sauce use the amount of salt called for in the recipe, typically 1 to 4 tablespoons for the gallon of water used for a pound of pasta. As noted in the comments above salt is literally dirt cheap. And do not add oil to the water. Just don't.

edit: ocean water has an osmotic pressure of about 27 atmospheres-- this effects the texture of the pasta

the pasta water that has a combination of starch and salt, when added to the sauce this helps the sauce to stick to the pasta (the salt controls the gelatinization of the starch)

and... you need a lot of water so that the temperature does not drop too much when you add the pasta

  • 1 to 4 tablespoons? I sprinkle about half a teaspoon in and I get good results.. 300g of pasta, lots of water. – insidesin Nov 27 '18 at 1:38
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    "If you reduce the salt the pasta will not cook properly." Define properly? What will go "wrong" in your opinion or experience if you don't salt the water? – Beanluc Nov 27 '18 at 4:37
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    Gallon, quart. I just realised we're talking in strange, huge amounts of water. No worries. – insidesin Nov 27 '18 at 7:34
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    @JanIvan The increase in cooking temperature is real but completely negligible. It has no effect on the final product. The only reason for salting the water is that it drastically improves taste. – Konrad Rudolph Nov 28 '18 at 10:40
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    I never add any salt to pasta water and no-one I have cooked it for has ever complained. – Vicky Nov 28 '18 at 12:26

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