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Salting water - A poll - why or why not?

Do you salt your water for boiling pasta, taters, rice, couscous etc...? Why or why not? And, I'm not talking about no salt for dietary restrictions.

It seems to me, that if you don't salt the water the pasta is just flavorless, no matter what sauce I use and how flavorful the sauce is. And, if you salt the dish afterward (meaning it's already plated and served) it just doesn't seem the same.

Please, someone explain to me salt vs. no salt in the water.

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  1. I can't explain it scientifically, but there is some kind of absorption that takes place during the cooking process where the salt enters into the pasta, potato, etc. in such a way that it cannot after cooking. Beyond that, I'll just go with my stock answer for everything beyond my understanding...magic. :)

    1. No salt (for pasta) - you have ample opportunities to salt when you make the pasta, when you make the sauce, when you serve the dish. If you get used to oversalting, you miss it, but not for long. If you salt the water, you can't save it to water plants. The myth persists that salting makes it cook faster- it doesn't unless you're adding it in the cups per quart range, and what's the rush, anyway. However, if you feel it improves the taste, by all means do it- it's your dinner.

      1. I prefer salting pasta water, the water in which vegetables are cooked, and to a lesser degree, rice (for chinese recipes, I dont salt the rice for these) . Its clear that once the food softens, the absorbation of some amount of salt occurs and the flavor is enhanced. However, this doesn not seem to happen until later in the cooking process. So for example veg that are cooked to a crisp texture do not absorb the flavoring as well as those which are cooked a bit longer.

        1 Reply
        1. I have been doing it about since I started watching Food Network. The only "why not" is when I forget. I think the pasta tastes better but Ive never done a comparison.
          However, I tried salting my food in fistfills the way Anne Burrell does, to see if perhaps I was misjudging, but, no, everything I've salted to that degree has been enedible.

          1. Salt the water, it makes the food taste better.

            1. I salt the water - but too heavily. the food absorbs some of it and it does bring out the flavors. Just careful how much salt you then put in the sauce...

              Great poll!

              1. I salt the water. I've started making less pasta each time I cook it, so it's hard to get used to not oversalting, but I do salt it, yes.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Jay F

                  Yes, salt pasta and vegetable water. No on rice.

                2. I salt the water quite liberally - until the water tastes "like the sea". I do it for flavour (and I usually add less salt to the sauce, so my noodles help bring the saltiness out), and for the starches. I've read (and been told) that salt concentrations in boiling water decrease starch gelatinization on the surface of the noodles, which makes the noodles not stick together as much. Scientifically, I believe it, but in practice, I'm not sure it makes a huge difference if you're one to mix your noodles and sauce right away, and serve from that. Perhaps if you are the kind of person that does spaghetti with a dollop of sauce on top, then you might consider salting the water more...

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Chipp

                    This is the way I learned it too: that pasta (veg or potato water too) needs to be "like the sea." I've done this for years and never had a problem related to sodium intake (e.g., high cholesterol, blood pressure, etc.). To me, food that isn't properly salted (and otherwise seasoned where necessary) tastes really bland.

                  2. Yes, because it makes the food taste better. No, you can't salt it afterward to get the same effect

                    1. I do salt my pasta water very heavily...maybe 2-3 handfulls of salt. It adds flavor to the pasta as it's absorbed and also adds a little extra flavor and seasons the sauce when I put some of the same pasta water into the pan when finishing off.

                      Riso...not so much.

                      1. A large number of South Asians do not salt rice because of the way it is eaten - each mouthful is combined with other dishes that provide salt and other seasoning.

                        1. I always salt the water for pasta, and pretty heavily - "like the sea," as was mentioned above. Less so for rice but still some. Also for cooking vegetables like potatoes and corn.

                          Scanning this thread so far it looks like 14 to 1 in favor of salting. And if you consult cookbooks you'll probably find 100% recommend it.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: BobB

                            You wouldn't, but close to it. What you wouldn't find is many who had done significant side by side tests.

                            1. re: oldunc

                              I had pasta out last week, fresh angel hair with a creamy tomato and crab sauce. It was perfectly obvious on first bite that the pasta water had hardly any salt in it.

                              1. re: Jay F

                                And did you confirm this in some way?

                                1. re: oldunc

                                  Yes. I spoke to the manager about it. He confirmed that they don't put much salt in the water, "but we put salt on the table so you can put it *on* your pasta."

                          2. I was always told by my mother that salt in the water will decrease the loss of vitamins/nutrients from the veg boiled, relevant for us as we always had boiled carrots, brussel sprouts and what not and never used the left over water for soup. I should probably follow this recommendation but I usually steam my veg anyway.

                            I don't salt the water for boiling grains etc most of the time but then I'm extremely sensitive to salt so I prefer it this way for taste. I will salt the water for rice as it is otherwise quite bland, at least the cheap stuff from the supermarket. I do put olive oil in the pasta water which I believe is mainly to decrease stickiness?? I don't remember why I was brought up to do it...

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Xantha

                              That's a separate issue. I was also brought up to add oil to pasta water but learned from the experts later that it's not only unnecessary and a waste of oil, it's actually counterproductive to the extent that it keeps the sauce from sticking to the pasta.


                            2. I always add salt to water when making pasta or rice. I thought I salted heavily (a tbsp or two) but apparently that is quite light by some standards. Good to know.

                              The reason I do it for pasta is that I was taught it prevented the pasta from boiling over. I think that is a crock but it is why I first started doing it. I like the flavor it adds to grains.

                              1. The reason people do many things in cooking- because their mother or someone else did it. The extent to which adding oil to pasta water will stop the sauce from sticking is none- water sticking (which the oil would tend to prevent, if it had any such effect at all) is more significant. There are no experts- I reiterate- IT'S YOUR DINNER. If it makes you happy, by all means do it. Grains and vegetables are a different case, as the water isn't thrown out; at least not by me- if you're boiling and draining this stuff, you have more to worry about than salt. Oh yeah, and most cooks prefer to finish cooking the pasta in the sauce.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: oldunc

                                  I'm not sure what you're talking about here, in terms of cooking vegetables. I tend to roast them or steam them, so there's little to no water to throw out. What do you do with your vegetable cooking water?

                                  1. re: Jay F

                                    Don't use more than I can either cook off or use to sauce the dish- potatoes boiled in their jackets are ok, though I usually steam them. As for peeling and cutting up potatoes, then boiling them, faugh.

                                  2. re: oldunc

                                    I do that - finish the pasta in the sauce. I find that after I drain it, if I finish it in the sauce you don't get "watery" stuff on the plate. The sauce seems to just suck that up.

                                  3. I salt. Goes back generations in my family.

                                    1. Pasta Italian style - salt the water generously
                                      Japanese style noodles - unsalted, but then serve in a well salted soup or dipping sauce
                                      Rice, Japanese style - un(or lightly)salted, but then dressing with salt after is common (sushi rice, rice balls)
                                      Rice, American, Spanish, Latino - salt at the start; undersalting a bit is ok, since more can be added after cooking. Rice should be well flavored on its own.

                                      1. When I took a class with the executive chef of The Pasta Shop in Berkeley, he said that salting the pasta water was the only chance you get to season the pasta from the inside. The way pasta cooks is by absorbing its surrounding water. If that water was properly seasoned with salt, the pasta will come out properly seasoned. If you don't, it will end up tasting watery and bland.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. I salt the water when I cook pasta, but not vegetables or rice. Sometimes, when I cook potatoes.

                                          1. Always, always salt the water. Salting after it's cooked requires a higher salt content to get approximately the same flavor, though you never really can, because fresh salt has its own flavor. It's now been amply demonstrated that even what we'd been told NOT to salt, like dried legumes, are really better off in salted water; in fact, they're saying that salting the soaking water for dried beans is the best way of all.

                                            1. Now if you will all go back and consult the various mothers, tv personalities and cookbook authors who persuaded you of this, you will find that they salt every (ex.del.) thing they do, often repeatedly. I'm not myself a cynical person, but if I were I would have to ask myself if this was a long series of considered decisions, or merely a habit. It is of course fairly easy to detect presence or lack of salt, even in a fairly complex dish, as it has it's own location on the palate. Whether it's absence represents a fault is largely a matter of choice, if you allow yourself to make the choice.

                                              1. I don't use a lot of salt in my cooking, but I do salt pasta cooking water and the water used to blanch vegetables, on the relatively rare occasions that I blanch vegetables. I didn't add salt to pasta cooking water until some years ago, but then tried it and found it makes a real difference in the flavor of the pasta. I don't add as great an amount of salt as some apparently do, and my pasta definitely does not taste salty, but it also doesn't taste nearly as bland as it does when I don't salt the water.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. Salt the water for pasta, only thing. Not vegetables, not rice and never meat before putting on grill. For me, pasta without the salt does not work.

                                                  1. Salt added to water increases it's boiling temperature and reduces it's freezing temperature.

                                                    Where I live, 3600 feet (1097 meters) water boils at 206 degrees F (96.6 C). Taste aside, I add salt to get a higher boiling temperature.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: rosetown

                                                      How much of gain do you get?


                                                      says 58g/l of water raises boiling point by .5C. I think that translates into 1/2F rise for sea water.

                                                      1. re: paulj

                                                        Whoops, it appears to be not a lot - your research is a lot better than mine!!!

                                                        Edit: I should have said - your knowledge is a lot better than mine!!!

                                                    2. Pasta -- sometimes, depending on how and what sauce I'm going to dress the pasta with

                                                      Rice -- never

                                                      Potatoes -- always.

                                                      Eggs -- never :-)

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                                        I wonder how many of those who don't salt their rice come from an Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Korean?) background?

                                                      2. How about oatmeal, cornmeal, cream of wheat?

                                                        There's a Flanders and Swan song about 'the English are best', that disparages the Scotsman for eating 'salty porridge'. Clearly there are cultural, and individual, preferences.

                                                        I don't like the breakfast cereals to be heavily salted, but they don't taste right without at some salt.

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: paulj

                                                          Agree, always add a pinch of salt to the hot cereals. BTW, just made some peanut brittle, and I add a pinch of salt to that mixture, too (especially since I use roasted, unsalted peanuts).

                                                          1. re: pine time

                                                            Years ago I had a meal prepared by someone who had some time living in east Africa. It consisted of a stiff cornmeal mush that we were supposed to form into little scoops to eat the peanut stew. The mush was cooked without salt, and just did not taste right, even though the stew itself was well flavored.

                                                        2. Always, and I can always notice the difference with pasta. My husband doesn't and I can tell when he didn't. Rice too should have a little salt, not as much as pasta. Potatoes, just garlic in the water, then season afterward with butter, mayo, milk, salt and pepper. As far as making sauce I season the sauce while I make it. It bugs me if my husbands salts his food at the table, and my only comment is that he should taste it first.

                                                          6 Replies
                                                          1. re: chef chicklet

                                                            Thank you everyone for your replies. I'm a "salt the water" girl. What I noticed in Europe is they don't do that as much for pasta. For example, my sister-in-law, who is a great cook, doesn't salt the water as she watches her salt intake for health reasons (she even uses unsalted butter - blech.... but to each his own - I have to remember when she visits to get her "special butter" LOL)

                                                            1. re: cbauer

                                                              Unsalted, or "sweet", butter's actually better for things like baking, jsyk...

                                                              1. re: berrybabe

                                                                Sweet Butter can be salted as well. It refers to butter that's made from cream that hasn't been soured. Read the label carefully.

                                                                I always keep both Salted and Unsalted in the house, and the Salted butter says "Salted Sweet Cream Butter" on the front.

                                                                1. re: acgold7

                                                                  Unsalted butter is commonly referred to as "sweet butter" not "sweet cream butter"; sweet cream is just the ingredient name, not the butter type. The "sweet cream butter" labeling refers to the fact that's it's made from fresh pasteurized cream, as opposed to cultured butter (European style) or raw cream butter. Most butter in the US butter starts out with sweet cream, and is either salted or not during processing. To further confuse the issue, sweet cream butter is sometimes another term for lightly salted butter. To be sure, I look for salted or unsalted on the label.

                                                                  Since salt is a preservative, salted butter lasts 2-3 months longer than sweet butter, and salted butter is sometimes made from less than fresh cream as well; the salt covers up any slightly off flavors. The quantity of salt in a stick or lb of salted butter is difficult to know, again it depends on the processor, and since the butter may not be as fresh either, it's best to use sweet butter in baking; I actually use it in all my cooking now.

                                                                  What do I salt? Everything, except white rice for Asian. How much? To my taste, and whatever makes me happy.

                                                                  1. re: bushwickgirl

                                                                    That is a far more thorough reply.

                                                                    Still, my only point is that the word "sweet" does not guarantee the butter will be unsalted; I've been fooled when I didn't look carefully enough. Look for the word "Unsalted" and double-check the ingredient list to be sure. Unsalted butter will have one ingredient: Cream.

                                                                    To add to what bushwickgirl wrote, I've heard that less-than-fresh Unsalted butter that has been sitting around the warehouse in bulk has been known to be re-mixed with salt, packaged as salted and and sent out, as the salt masks the off-flavors of butter about to go over the edge of freshness. Could be a myth.

                                                                    If I can actually find some salted butter labeled as "Sweet" again, I'll try to post a pic.

                                                                    1. re: acgold7

                                                                      "known to be re-mixed with salt, packaged as salted and and sent out, as the salt masks the off-flavors of butter about to go over the edge of freshness."

                                                                      Maybe not a myth, but I doubt whether processors take unsalted butter that has been hanging out in the what, warehouse, and add salt to re-market it. The probable scenario is less than fresh cream becomes salted butter from the get go. Whether it occurs with processors or not, it can certainly happen in your own frig, and is the a best reason for freezing unsalted butter.

                                                          2. I don't like the taste of salt so keep it to a minimum and never cook with it. Unsalted food tastes better than salted to me. If folk want to add it to their food afterwards, then they can.

                                                            6 Replies
                                                            1. re: Harters

                                                              I've rarely salted my pasta water, and after watching Ann Burrell do it, I tried it, and found out that it made my pasta taste like salt. (go figure)
                                                              The thing is, I don't like a salty flavor, and I do like the taste of pasta, so I will continue cooking it sans salt. I understand completely how a salt lover would feel that the pasta is bland without it. The pasta flavor is so mild that it must taste like it's missing something when it's unsalted.

                                                              1. re: jmcarthur8

                                                                How much salt did you add? I don't add as much as some people here, but my pasta's never tasted salty. And I grew up in a family that's never used much salt at all! o.O

                                                                1. re: berrybabe

                                                                  Oh, I don't know how much I put in - I've heard people say to make it like 'sea water', but I don't think I went that far with it!
                                                                  I do admit I am hypersensitive to salt flavor, though.

                                                                  1. re: jmcarthur8

                                                                    Haha, I definitely don't go quite that far. More like... Hm. I don't think I've ever really measured, though it really depends on how much I'm making. If I'm making a single portion, I tend to toss in what my Italian friend calls a "blah"; it's like a large pinch. I don't think it's enough to make it taste like seawater, which I can see maybe being too much.

                                                                    I understand being hypersensitive to salt. When I was younger I couldn't eat at many of my friends' places because their parents would salt the food so much. I was actually in Japan with a group of other students in high school and, while everyone thought the udon - I think it was udon, anyway - we were having was awesome, I was nearly throwing up with how salty it was.

                                                              2. re: Harters

                                                                Same here. I don't care for the flavor of salt. In general, I feel like I am more sensitive to flavors, so I quite enjoy the natural taste of foods just as they are (with a few exceptions). I rarely even use condiments. The only time I salt or sauce up food is when it's junk food, because it all tastes like crap lol.

                                                                1. re: Harters

                                                                  I usually do with pasta if I'm going to be eating it b/c I do prefer the taste. But if I'm making pasta for my kids or if I'm making potatoes or veggies, I don't salt b/c I like to use the cooking water for my deck farm (plants - mainly herbs and veggies).

                                                                2. salting also changes the temperature the water boils at - increases it by a couple of degrees.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: piwakawaka

                                                                    A month ago I dug around and concluded that the boiling point of sea water may be up half a degree (F).

                                                                  2. I see no mention of grits here, you Darn Yankees. Cooking grits in heavily salted water is your last chance to get those little rascals salted. After they're fully cooked you can dump salt on by the bucket to no avail.

                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                    1. re: mandycat

                                                                      Yep. Same goes for them Italian grits too.

                                                                      1. re: mandycat

                                                                        I'm a Yankee and always, always salt my grits.

                                                                        1. re: bushwickgirl

                                                                          Water, salt, pepper, pat of butter, shot of Tabasco. Boil, add grits. Took me about ten minutes to figure that out, and I was pushing forty before I even tasted grits.

                                                                      2. This can be quite a family issue. My wife refuses to salt pasta water. I use the taste like the sea method. I try to sneak salt into the water when she is doing pasta. To me, pasta is not worth eating if the water was not salted well.