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Mar 31, 2007 04:07 PM

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.

                  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 italians will say..."the water should have a slightly salty taste" 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.