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Adding salt to the water you cook spaghetti in: does it really make any difference?

I've tried boiling spaghetti in boiling water both salted and unsalted. I can't really detect a difference in the quality or taste of the spaghetti I cook in it. Can you? Or maybe I'm not adding enough salt. Does it really make any difference?

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  1. I always add salt to the boiling water and I can definitely taste it in the pasta - but you have to use a pretty good amount of salt. I use Diamond Kosher for stuff like this and I give that big box a few really good shakes of salt into the water. I swear I remember reading somewhere recently that italians say that the water you boil pasta in should be "salted like the sea."

    11 Replies
    1. re: flourgirl

      I've read that too. The argument we have in our house is whether it matters whether you put the salt in after the water has come to a boil, or before.

      1. re: MMRuth

        The only thing I've noticed about adding the salt after the water has come to a boil is that the rapid boil immediately dies and then I have to cover the pot again and wait for the water to return to a boil. So i *try* to remember to add the salt right after I fill the pot.

        1. re: flourgirl

          for some pots, if you add the salt at the beginning, it will pit the pot. it's only cosmetic. I too always salt the water, but I try to add it after the water has come to a boil.

          1. re: cocktailhour

            All Clad has a warning on the product information and maintenance sheet that comes with their SS cookware advising not to add salt until the water is boiling because it can cause pitting. Besides, it takes longer for salted water to boil anyway, so I wait to add it.

            1. re: foodstorm

              You can get around the pitting using BarKeeper's Friend.

              1. re: foodstorm

                salted and unsalted water boil within micro-seconds of each other. that's an old wives' tale.

                for the pasta to taste different, the cooking water actually has to taste salty. it does make a big difference. same with potatoes.

                1. re: hotoynoodle

                  Not true (unless you are using a negligible amount of salt). This is evidenced by the fact that adding salt to boiling water causes the water to stop boiling. Depending on the concentration of salt, the amount of water, and the power of your stove, it can take up to 60 seconds to bring it back to a boil. It really shouldn't matter timewise if you add the water at the beginning or once it starts boiling or if you add it at the beginning. The water has to reach the elevated boiling point regardless. The time it takes to reach this point is fixed in relation to you salt adding strategy.

                  Oh, it DOES make a difference.

                2. re: foodstorm

                  what is piting??

                  1. re: Hungry Girl

                    Pits are holes, like acne scars, on the surface of your pot.

                  2. re: foodstorm

                    I'll verify that it can indeed cause pitting! But I disagree with All-Clad's recommendation. If I remember my college chemistry correctly (although I was at best a C student in chemistry) salt doesn't dissolve much more readily in hot than cold water, unlike sugar, so I don't see why I'd want to add it after the water boils. I either add it then stir really quickly, or put about a cup of water in measuring cup, add the salt, stir to dissolve, then pour it into the water in the All-Clad pot.

                  3. re: cocktailhour

                    I knew about the pitting issue with stainless steel cookware - but I use an enameled Le Creuset stock pot to cook pasta in and didn't even think about that. Is pitting something that can happen with enameled cookware as well?

            2. I always do: I have heard that the water boils at a higher temperature when it is salt water. It's just something I don't question for some reason.

              4 Replies
              1. re: coll

                Same here...I always add salt to the water...oh, and either butter or oil, just a little bit... but that's off the topic. And salt in the water DOES make a flavor difference to me, definitely.

                1. re: Val

                  i always add salt to the water...after it comes to the boil, because it raises the boiling temperature...as italians will say..."the water should have a slightly salty taste"...plus i add a T of olive oil, it helps stop the pasta from clinging to itself after draining

                  1. re: Val

                    Adding oil to the water is actually a bad idea. You dont gain anything but you will waste some oil. Here is a good explaination I pulled off the web:

                    You may have heard that you can avoid sticky pasta by adding oil to the pasta water. This can prevent sticking, but at a great price. Pasta that's cooked in oily water will become oily itself and, as a result, the sauce slides off, doesn't get absorbed, and you have flavorless pasta.

                    1. re: ddezso

                      I do like to add a pat of butter when making rice, though.

                2. Mario Batali said the other day on his show that traditionally in Italy they salt the pasta water until it is equivalent to the saltiness of the sea. You have to be very generous with the salt, but it is the only opportunity to really flavor the pasta itself.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: ArikaDawn

                    Correct. And the reason most Americans don't notice is because we oversauce our pasta, treating the pasta as a vehicle for sauce rather than the sauce as a counterpoint to the pasta as focus of the dish.

                    1. re: ArikaDawn

                      Right. So a small amount of salt makes very little difference. To me, at least. So I either salt it a lot to flavor the pasta (when I want to do it right - I am an unbelievably lazy cook), or don't bother out of, um, laziness.

                      I tell myself I am treating it like Tuscan bread, "a vehicle for sauce",
                      although dried up old pasta is not really worth fussing over, is it.

                    2. It does raise the temperature - 1 ounce of salt per quart (= sea water) to raise it by 1 degree.

                      This is a lot of salt and actually not much higher temperature. So I think the main reason is for seasoning purposes.

                      For myself, I don't. Cooking for other people, yes.

                      1. I too add a good portion of salt when boiling pasta; it really "brings out" the flavour of the pasta.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: OCAnn

                          When you cook pasta it absorbs water, so if you salt the water, the salt will be incorporated into the pasta. Salt water also has slightly different properties in how it interacts with the starches in the pasta.

                        2. Adding salt to the water after it has boiled is the only way to get an authentic tasting pasta. Pasta cooked in plain unsalted water is blah and flat, and no amount of seasoning afterwards can change that.

                          To 5 - 6 quarts of water , add one heaping TBS Kosher Salt and 1 TBS Oil. The oil breaks the surface tension of the water as it boils, and prevents boil overs.

                          8 Replies
                          1. re: Fleur

                            Wheather you add salt to the water before or after it has boiled makes no difference. Any salt will do....does not have to be "kosher"...whatever that means...
                            Adding oil to the water will not "break surface tension" or prevent "boil overs"....oil is addeed in an attempt to coat pasta and may prevent clumpin...

                            I agree with what "Ruth Lafler" said that having salted water (let's say 3-5%) will affect how pasta absorbs water and also what particles come out of pasta....and will obviously add salt flavor to the final product...
                            It is also true that adding salt will reduce boiling point of water but you would have to add quite a bit to make a difference in cooking time....

                            1. re: Pollo

                              oil and water do not mix. you're wasting oil putting it in the pasta water. quality pasta, properly cooked, will not clump. all you need is a generous amount of salt in there.

                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                Agreed. It's a waste of oil and the oil stays at the top like a slick. If the pasta is sticking together, it is likely just overcooked.

                                1. re: shiro miso

                                  Or there's not enough water. I've seen people use really small pots.

                                  1. re: Aromatherapy

                                    This is important -- this is not the time to break out the saucepan. You should be boiling water in a huge pot -- a half pound of pasta needs a gallon plus of water in order to boil properly.

                                    If you don't believe me, by the way, try it -- cook equal amounts of pasta in a small pot and a large pot, with the same saltiness ratio (so 2 Tbsp. salt in the 2-quart saucepan and 1/2 cup in the 2-gallon pot, for example) -- see the difference. Don't add oil to either.

                              2. re: Pollo

                                Adding the salt to boiling water cuts down on the time it takes to bring to a boil. Salted water takes longer to come to a boil.

                                I respectfully disagree with your comments about adding oil to the water. I studied cooking at both La Varenne and le Cordon Bleu in Paris, and with various chefs in Italy. They all add oil for the reason I mentioned: it breaks the surface tension of the water and prevents it from boiling over. Do a simple test and see for yourself.

                                Your remark "Any salt will do....does not have to be "kosher"...whatever that means..." is pointless and offensive. Every cook worth his salt, knows exactly what Kosher Salt is, and for observant Jews, it is an important part of their dietary laws.

                                1. re: Fleur

                                  Almost all salt is kosher, including that iodised nonsense that we all grew up on.

                                  Kosher salt is called that because it's the most efficient salt for koshering meat. Meat can't be called kosher if it contains blood, thus all kosher meat is salted to draw out the blood. The meat is washed of the blood and salt and, assuming it has met all the other conditions (slaughter, lung examination, supervision, etc.), is given its hechsher.

                                  Kosher salt is simply the salt that delivers the best "blood-pulling" power relative to its cost.

                              3. re: Fleur

                                You can add salt to the water at any time and it makes no difference to the water. Never heard of the pitting issue, so no comment on that one. Never add oil to the water.

                                Salting the water will definitely change the flavor of the pasta and change it in a positive direction. It will slightly raise the boiling temperature of the water (or so my 11th grade science teacher taughtus). The oil is a horrible idea since it will reduce the adherence of the sauce to the pasta at the end, so not a good idea. If there is a concern about sticking, then slowly add the pasta to the rapidly boiling water and stir for a minute or two. then stir every couple of minutes during the cooking.

                              4. I once heard a chef say that pasta water should taste like a soup broth. I occasionally add a number of spices to the water and it really adds another level to the final dish.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: El Puerco

                                  I do this occaisionally as well. A couple of fresh bay leaves really adds a nice "color" to the pasta's flavor.

                                2. I don't salt the pasta water if I am cooking it for myself (blood pressure reasons) but it really does make a difference in the taste of the pasta if the water is salted correctly. You may not taste it in a pasta that has a highly seasoned sauce, but if you are having pasta with just some butter and cheese, or oil and vinegar, you will notice a difference. BTW, I have been told by several professional chefs that it is a waste to use kosher salt in the pasta water.....you need twice as much as regular old table salt.

                                  32 Replies
                                  1. re: mshpook

                                    Why would you need twice as much salt? Isn't kosher salt just as "salty" as table salt? Salt is salt. It's only the mineral content, crystal shape/texture etc. that make specialty salts taste different from each other. And kosher salt is just salt, nothing else.

                                    1. re: flourgirl

                                      I am told the iodized salt can leave a metallic taste - which is why sea salt or Kosher is recommended. To be honest, I use both (I can't detect a difference)

                                      1. re: shiro miso

                                        Table salt that has not been iodized can be purchased at any supermarket.....that is what I buy.

                                      2. re: flourgirl

                                        This should have posted as a reply to flourgirl above. Salt is salt is salt, but the amount you have to use does vary based on the size of the crystals.

                                        You can check this out on any food website. the following info comes from the Food Network.

                                        Table salt is mined from underground salt deposits, and includes a small portion of calcium silicate, an anti-caking agent added to prevent clumping. It possesses very fine crystals and a sharp taste. Because of its fine grain a single teaspoon of table salt contains more salt than a tablespoon of kosher or sea salt.

                                        Sea salt is harvested from evaporated seawater and receives little or no processing, leaving in tact the minerals from the water it came from. These minerals flavor and color the salt slightly. However, because these salts often come at a dear price, it is worth keeping in mind that they lose their unique flavor when cooked or dissolved.

                                        Kosher salt takes its name from its use in the koshering process. It contains no preservatives and can be derived from either seawater or underground sources. Aside from being a great salt to keep within arm's reach when you are cooking, it is particularly useful in preserving, because its large crystals draw moisture out of meats and other foods more effectively than other salts.

                                        1. re: mshpook

                                          I generally agree with this, but will make a couple of picky points. Underground deposits come from evaporated seawater as well - only the evaporation occurred millions of years ago, without any human intervention. For road use, this salt is just ground to the desired size. However, human consumption this salt could well be further processes, say be dissolving it in water, and re-evaporating.

                                          Actually there are several ways of mining underground deposits. One uses mechanical means, blasting and trucks etc. The other involves pumping water down to a cavity, dissolving the salt, and then evaporating the water at the surface.

                                          Sodium chloride is itself a mineral. So when talking about seasalt having minerals, we are talking about other ones, which depending on your perspective could be viewed as valuable components, or impurities.

                                          I wonder why purified table salt should be regarded as 'sharper' than low-processed seasalt. Do the additives, such as iodine and the anti-caking agent add this sharpness? Or the other mineral dilute the natural sharpness of sodium-chloride? Or is it just a matter of grain size, with fine grains dissolving faster, producing a stronger 'salt' taste?

                                          paulj

                                          1. re: paulj

                                            I don't understand why, but I have tasted mine and the "regular" salt definitely *tastes* saltier to me than the larger grained salts.

                                            1. re: Adrienne

                                              Everybody is saying very similar things- I just wanted to put empahsis on a certain point:
                                              Table salt and coarse (Kosher) salt are both made of the same chemical stuff: NaCl. The difference is in the size of the crystals. A pound weight) of Table salt has the same amount of saltiness as a pound of Kosher salt, but the kosher salt will take up twice the volume.
                                              You're right Adrienne, table salt tastes saltier because a pinch contains (Making up anumber here) 500 grains of salt, while a similar pinch of kosher salt would only contain about 250. The smaller crystals spread out more quickly and disolve more quickly. The larger kosher crystals both scatter more widely, and disolve more slowly.
                                              For the record, and to answer the original question, I too was taught to season the water like the sea. For one pound of pasta, I've been told to boil it in a gallon of water with a pound of salt. That's a bit much for me, but certainly a decent sized handful per gallon sounds about right. Boiling pasta in enough water is also useful for keeping the pasta from sticking together- I dilutes the starch coming off the pasta enough. If I do add oil to the pasta, it ususlaly comes when I have to store it- adding oil just prevents the sauce from sticking to the noodles!

                                              1. re: Adrienne

                                                I think it is, as paulj suggests, all about surface area—the tiny salt crystals have a better chance of contacting lots of salt receptor taste buds all at once, giving you a very salty sensation. The larger crystals dissolve more slowly and start out big and "flat" so don't coat the tongue quite so completely... The fact that they dissolve more slowly makes them an ideal coating on things, where they can stay intact longer in contact with moisture from the food, and where they will give you a salty sensation without being overpowering.

                                                I suppose the larger crystals also don't pack as compactly when you measure them out, leaving a lot more air between the grains. (Or maybe there is some other reason why it is less dense inside the crystals, meaning you need relatively more by volume?)

                                            2. re: mshpook

                                              Diamond Kosher isn't so expensive that I care one bit about the fact that I may have to use more salt than I would if I was using table salt. I don't buy table salt, I use the kosher for all my day to day seasoning needs. I use other salts for finishing when I'm in the mood.

                                            3. re: flourgirl

                                              "Salt is salt." -- Well, it's not that easy.

                                              Karl has written about this on several Chowhound posts:

                                              "They are quite different in terms of salinity and solubility. Kosher salt is usually 1/3-1/2 less saline than table salt (I think Morton's kosher is about 1/3 less, and Diamond kosher is 1/2 less). So you cannot simply substitute equal quantities in baking or pickling recipes. And kosher salt might dissolve a little more easily into brine, hence its use in pickling.
                                              Some unrefined sea salts have considerably less sodium per unit of weight than table salt as well." http://www.chowhound.com/topics/28774...

                                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                                "Salinity" is just another word for how much salt is in something. Salt -- as the term is commonly used -- is sodium chloride. If it's less saline, then there's something else in it besides sodium chloride. In other words, it's salt blended with something else. Saying kosher salt is one-third less saline means that it's only two-thirds salt and one third something(s) else, which doesn't sound plausible to me. Among other things, whatever makes up the one-third would have to be listed on the label.

                                                Sounds like either you've misunderstood Karl, or Karl knows nothing about basic chemistry. Actually, it appears you (or he) has misunderstood the difference between volume and composition. Kosher salt is coarser -- there's more air space between the grains, so there's less salt per volume (which no one is disagreeing with). Water with a tablespoon of kosher salt will be less saline than water with a tablespoon of a finer grained salt, but the salinity of the salt itself is the same.

                                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                  The way it is stated in the wiki article 'Salinity is the saltiness or dissolved salt content of a body of water.' So the post that talks about the salinity of table salt and kosher salt is using the term in a sloppy manner. It shouldn't be applied to dry salt.

                                                  When people write that kosher salt is 1/2 or 1/3 less saline than table salt, they really should be saying that they are less dense, and hence, on a per volume basis, have that much less salt mass. (the 'one third something else' is air). There is less salt (the sodium chloride mineral) in a tsp of kosher salt than there is in a tsp of fine grain table salt.

                                                  It would though be accurate to say that if 1 tsp of kosher salt was disolved in pure water, the solution would have a lower salinity than if 1 tsp of table salt was disovled in the same quatity of water.

                                                  In practice I generally substitute kosher salt one for one volume wise for table salt in recipes. If it makes the recipe slightly under salted it is no big deal - in fact if I still like the taste, so much the better. I rarely prepare recipes where the salt content is critical.

                                                  paulj

                                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                    Yes, you're right, Ruth, Karl's post was not as clear as it might have been, nor
                                                    was I the brightest for referring to it. Yes, also, I understand about volume
                                                    and composition. Karl does bring up salinity (not the right word) but that does make me wonder about salt potency. Let's say you have two equivalent amounts of salt,
                                                    taking into account volume differences due to crystal size -- is there a chance
                                                    one will have greater POTENCY than the other? One will be saltier than the other?

                                                    Also, 15 years ago in cooking classes in SF, there was much
                                                    talk about iodized salt gaining 20-30% potency over 24 hours, like in a stew refrigerated overnight would be saltier the next day. Have you heard this as well? Does it pass the scientific test?

                                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                                      All salt used in cooking is NaCl (some salts have trace elements of whatever else that gives it its "niche" -- red clay from Hawaii, iodine from the New Jersey Turnpike, flamingo poop from the Camargue, whatever), so it is all chemically the same. (Yes, I know MSG is a salt... but we're talking about "salt" salt here.)

                                                      Which is not to say all salts are NaCl, since "salt" is the name for any neutral (non-charged) ionic compound... in point of fact, chemically speaking, lead diacetate [Pb(C2H3O2)2, which will kill you in two seconds] is a salt which actually tastes sweet.

                                                      An equivalent mass of regular NaCl salt (say, 100 grams of kosher and regular table salt) will cause water to have the same salinity regardless of the shape of the salt, but the salt will have vastly different volumes.

                                                      An equivalent volume of salt (say, 100 cubic centimetres of kosher and regular table salt) will cause the water to have different salinities, and the salt will have vastly different masses.

                                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                                        The salt content of a dish as measured by chemical means probably does not change with storage or temperature. But how salty it tastes could change, since that involves migration of the salt ions into/from the stew meat and other ingredients, and perhaps more importantly, how your tongue detects the salt.

                                                        paulj

                                                        1. re: paulj

                                                          Are you suggesting that salt migrates?

                                                          Not at all. It could be carried.

                                                          1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                            What...a swallow carry salt?

                                                            1. re: QueenB

                                                              QueenB-- it depends. Is it a European or African swallow?

                                                              1. re: JGrey

                                                                Well, of course, African swallows are non-migratory. But suppose two European swallows were to carry it together...

                                                                Ubergeek...see what you started?

                                                            2. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                              Diffusion might be a better word than migration. What I had in mind was the kind of diffusion across cell walls that occurs when brining or applying a salt rub to raw meat. I suspect something along that line also occurs in cooked meat.

                                                              paulj

                                                          2. re: maria lorraine

                                                            It really depends on what you mean by potency. Salt is salt. Yeah, various salts have small amounts of different additives and impurities, but not enough to make a significant difference in their essential saltiness. However, depending on how they are used, different salts can be perceived as being "saltier" than others. For example, if you're sprinkling salt on a finished dish, a coarse-grained salt is going to dissolve and disperse less readily than a fine-grained salt, which means that you'll get bursts of salt when you eat the food, leading to a heightened awareness of the salt in the dish. For salt that's added during cooking and has time to dissolve and become equally distributed through the food, there shouldn't be any difference in potency on a gram-to-gram basis.

                                                            I'm not sure about the refrigeration issue. Just off the top of my head, I'd say no. But, salt does affect the way moisture moves into and out of the cells of foodstuffs -- which is the whole principle behind brining. It's possible that as food sits and cools, the ingredients might "sweat" some of the salty fluids they absorbed, making the surface saltier and thus affecting the perception of salt on the tongue.

                                                          3. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                            By the way, Karl holds forth about salinity by volume on the New CH Salt Thread begun by paulj of this thread at http://www.chowhound.com/topics/386992

                                                            See what you think...haven't had time to read the whole thing yet.

                                                          4. re: maria lorraine

                                                            I guess what I meant was that because I only use Kosher salt for all my seasoning needs (as opposed to finishing salts that i also keep on hand) I just know how much salt to use from experience. I never measure it - i just add what I know is the right amount.

                                                            I also bake a great deal and have a huge baking library & almost none of the recipes specify whether the salt is kosher or table salt. (Although sometimes this specification appears in a separate section of the book.)

                                                        2. re: mshpook

                                                          to flourgirl:

                                                          i've worked in many restaurants over the years and have only ever seen kosher salt, not table salt, used for cooking. table salt has a metallic bitter aftertaste. and salt is so cheap it is not factored into food costs.

                                                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                            hotoynoodle - if you read through the thread I think you'd see that I said right from the beginning that I only use kosher salt for stuff like this. I don't even BUY table salt.

                                                            1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                              I believe it is only iodized table salt that has a metallic aftertaste. I buy and use both table and kosher. They both have their uses.

                                                              Salting really does make a difference, if you put in the right amount of salt. Salty as the sea...

                                                              Oil prevents the sauce from coating the pasta, it is not a good idea. Rinsing pasta that is to be served hot is also a bad idea, because it removes the starch that helps the sauce cling to the pasta. It is occasionally useful for cold salads.

                                                              -Becca
                                                              www.porterhouse.typepad.com

                                                              1. re: Becca Porter

                                                                There are a number of conflicting opinions about oil
                                                                - it floats on top, so doesn't coat the pasta and keep it from sticking
                                                                - it coats the pasta and keeps the sauce from sticking
                                                                - it doesn't prevent boilover
                                                                - it reduces the chance of boilover

                                                                Didn't Alton look into this, by collecting the pasta water and letting the remaining oil rise to the top? My recollection is that most of the oil remained in the pasta water, but there was some evidence that it did reduce foaming. Was that Alton or America's Test Kitchen?

                                                                paulj

                                                                1. re: paulj

                                                                  I *believe* it was Alton, but I could be wrong. I do remember the conclusion being, while it might slightly reduce foaming, it is not worth it because of the slickness on the pasta.

                                                                  1. re: Becca Porter

                                                                    Adding a teaspoon or two to 6 quarts of water for 1 lb of pasta leaves no slick or residue.

                                                                    1. re: Fleur

                                                                      It's funny though, I never have pasta foam or boil over. I make sure I have a large enough pot (8 qt.), and plenty of water (at least 4 qt.). Then after I add the pasta I turn the burner down to med-high. No problems, and no chance of an oil barrier between my pasta and the sauce.

                                                                    2. re: Becca Porter

                                                                      It was Alton- it was pretty interesting.

                                                                    3. re: paulj

                                                                      Mario Batali says oil in pasta water is a wasted, that it doesn't do anything. I wish I'd seen that AB show.

                                                              2. I have never found salting my water to make *that* much of a difference to the flavor of the pasta.

                                                                However, as other people here have complained, salt does increased the boiling temperature of water. I do NOT consider this a disadvantage. When I make homemade pasta, I am always worried that the rolling bubbles will break it. Using salt lets me get the water hot enough to cook the pasta without the water boiling so hard that it may mess up my pasta. I learned this from a book and have definitely found it to work well -- once I'm at a rolling boil, I salt until the bubbles stop, then add my pasta. I know for sure it's hot enough, but I stop those bubbles from messing up my hard work.

                                                                1. If you're not tasting a difference between pasta cooked in salted and pasta cooked in unsalted water, then you aren't using enough salt. Americans typically underestimate the proper amount of salt by a large margin.

                                                                  This has already been written several times in this thread, but it bears repeating: pasta water should typically be as salty as sea water. It takes a lot of salt to get to that point. The best way to gauge the saltiness is to stick your finger in the water. This should probably come with a legal disclaimer, but if you stick your finger in quickly you won't get burned. If your finger doesn't taste like sea water, you have to add more salt.

                                                                  There is a huge difference when pasta is cooked in appropriately salted water. Many of the best pastas dishes are ridiculously simply but only work when the noodle has been cooked in the right amount of salt. When pasta is properly seasoned the flavor comes alive and it is fit to be properly dressed, rather than drowned, by sauce or condiment.

                                                                  5 Replies
                                                                  1. re: zEli173

                                                                    The Japanese, on the other hand, cook their pasta (soba, somen, undon) without any salt, rinse it after cooking, and eat it with a salty soup, dipping sauce or condiments.

                                                                    paulj

                                                                    1. re: paulj

                                                                      As I lived in Tokyo for a while, I can tell you that it's because the Memmi sauce used for dipping is extremely salty (so is soy which is usually in the mix).
                                                                      In Italy (I am from Roma) we boil about 5 quarts of water, once it boils we add about 2 walnut-size amount of (coarse) sea salt, which is very salty compared to kosher salt (we pull a handful from the jar). It makes for salty water but the pasta absorbs only a small amout od sodium and it truly brings out the flavor of the durum wheat. If the pasta really tastes too salty, you can quickly rinse it once in the drainer for 15 seconds with hot water. We often (but not always) barely salt plain tomato sauces or plain aglio e olio (olive and garlic) as there is often quite a bit of sodium in canned goods; combined with the salt from the pasta water it's usually enough.
                                                                      Marco Flavio
                                                                      ---------------------------------------
                                                                      Cook Here and Now
                                                                      http://www.cookhereandnow.com/.

                                                                    2. re: zEli173

                                                                      You're so right about most people not using enough salt. I realized this when I accidentally dumped a large amount of salt from the canister into my pasta water. The resulting pasta was a little too salty for my taste, but also had a better texture. It made me realize I'd been chronically undersalting things (all those "salt is bad" messages from the health police). Since then I've been using a lot more salt in my pasta, and in other dishes as well.

                                                                      Just to chime in on the kosher salt vs, table salt issue -- I think one reason restaurant kitchens use it is that it's so much easier to grab a handful. It's a matter of convenience, not taste. I've been using fine-grained bulk sea salt as my cooking salt, with other salts for finishing.

                                                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                        Ok, y'all convinced me to give it another shot. I just boiled some pasta with a little more than twice the salt I usually use and it definitely made a big difference to the flavor -- after draining the pasta it didn't need any more salt at all - just a knob of butter and it was perfect.

                                                                        I'm officially converted. Thanks, chowhounds.

                                                                        1. re: Adrienne

                                                                          I started using more sea salt in the cooking water lately, and it does make a tremendous difference, you are right. Also, if you are making sauce at the same time, stir a little sauce into the pasta water while it's cooking. This also helps with the flavoring somehow - not sure of the physics of it, but I've read this tip before and it seems to work.

                                                                    3. I put a lot of salt in my pasta water and I think it help flavor the pasta. Or rather it helps bring out the flavour in what I mix with the pasta.

                                                                      1. For some reason, I've always believed that salting the water keeps the pasta from sticking together. I also do it for the flavor. I use the cheapest table salt for salting the water, since I use it liberally and don't think there would be any noticeable difference in flavor once the pasta is drained and sauced. I'd never add oil to the water. That just creates a greasy mess.

                                                                        1. Exactly how much salt is absorbed into the pasta cooked in salted water? Does anyone know ?

                                                                          How much does the salt raise the sodium level of the pasta?

                                                                          TIA

                                                                          4 Replies
                                                                          1. re: Fleur

                                                                            Well, Marcella Hazan says to add 1.5 tablespoons of salt for 4 quarts of water for 1 pound of dry pasta. Presumably, that's table salt, so it would be 3 tablespoons of Diamond Crystal kosher salt if you used that. That's roughly 30 grams (30K milligrams)or 1 ounce. If you were to go for sea-water salinity, you'd quadruple that, it seems.

                                                                            Pasta would absorb a fraction of that, it would seem, but enough where its absence is noticeable (as is so true of salt in sooooo many things). Dry pasta generally absorbs its weight in water, doubling in weight in cooking. So a pound of pasta absorbs a pound of water, which is about a pint of water (or 1/8 of the volume of the water in the pot). That would mean on average about 470 grams of salt per 4 ounces of cooked (2 ounces dry) pasta, if I am extrapolating this correctly.

                                                                            Anyone else is free to correct my math and assumptions.

                                                                            1. re: Karl S

                                                                              I think you mean 470 milligrams -- 470 grams is about a pound! Salt is about half sodium by weight, so that would be 235 mg of sodium.

                                                                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                Thanks for the corrections.

                                                                              2. re: Karl S

                                                                                In Marcella's cooking classes she always used Kosher Salt.

                                                                            2. OMG yes it makes a difference ... I add my salt when I put the water on to boil. If I taste the pasta for doneness (sometimes I just look) and it's not done & not salted enough, I add more salt at that point.

                                                                              I was once helping out in someone else's kitchen--they were using a commercial pasta sauce--and I think they grabbed my wrist, screamed, or something as I was salting the water. Apparently one family member was on a reduced sodium diet. The sodium in the Prego was no problem, but they were sure I was gonna kill him by salting the pasta water ...

                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                              1. re: foiegras

                                                                                I think as a rule you're suppossed to salt the water, mainly because pasta does not contain salt and it's the only way to season it before you add a sauce. I think that if you're not tasting the salt in the noodle after you boil it, it could be becuase it was made with a plastic die (how the pasta is made) instead of copper. Copper will make it rough and it absorbs more salt and helps your sauce stick. Any pasta made in Italy will be made with copper--it's the law there!

                                                                              2. Great long thread, and much education about the properties of salt. Love that info
                                                                                about migration/diffusion and ions/cells. Deserves further investigation. Also thanks
                                                                                for the additional info about the differences when measuring Kosher vs. table salt.
                                                                                I wish more recipes would specify which kind of salt when listing it as an ingredient.
                                                                                OK....

                                                                                [putting on fireproof suit]

                                                                                ...I don't salt the water. It's because the pasta sauces I prepare are usually robust, something like Amatriciana (made with bacon or ham) or puttanesca (made with olives). If I add a grating of Reggiano to the sauce itself at the end of cooking and also use it as a garnish (I always do this unless the sauce is seafood), I have salt coming from two sources. If I use salted canned or boxed tomatoes that's three sources of salt. (I usually use unsalted for this reason.) Adding salt to the water makes the dish overly salty for my preferences.

                                                                                So salting the water (for me) depends on how many other ingredients in the pasta dish
                                                                                also contain salt. With a less robust sauce, I probably would salt the water to add flavor to the dish.

                                                                                By the way, I always finish the pasta cooking (removing it from the pasta water before the al dente stage) by combining it with the sauce on the stove and adding a ladle of the pasta water to make the sauce adhere to the pasta.

                                                                                2 Replies
                                                                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                  Awwww... The flamethrowers seem to have petered out!
                                                                                  Just to lob a bit of heat, though- You say you DON'T season your past water because youre seasoning the other ingredients... Isn't pasta an important ingredient?
                                                                                  Actually, I justify my salty water to my skeptical family (like the OP above, who use about a tablespoon of salt per gallon) because I want them to taste the pasta through the other ingredients and because, like you, I toss my pasta in the sauce on the stove with a ladle of the starchy water- I like everything I add to a dish to have some flavor!

                                                                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                    I agree, too much salt is a problem for me also. For years I prepared my pasta water with a wedge of lemon peel, having been told that would properly flavor the pasta, sans salt, and my pasta has always been very flavorful. Lately i have been adding salt, trying to ascertain any difference, and found none...but next time i am going to add MORE salt and see if I CAN taste the difference. Perhaps I was not adding enough. The volume of salt suggested here is quite a bit more than I have been using, thanks Ciaohounds!