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Nov 20, 2012 05:04 PM

Seasoning Pasta Water

Im new to this site and excited to be here. i am a young chef going to school and work in the Bill Roberts Corp. In Bloomfield Hills MI. I was always curious if there was any chemical reaction with the salt that is a must in cooking pasta either freshly made or store bought. hope to hear what you guys have to say

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  1. more or less is there an importance with the starches of pasta and salinity of the water,

    1. I'm not a chemist, but I have an Italian grandma---which some may say is even better when it comes to pasta!
      I don't know if there is any chemical reaction per se, but the salty water does flavor the pasta in a way that salting after cooking does not.

      Welcome to CH!

      3 Replies
      1. re: iluvcookies

        I go along with iluvcookies. Now for "seasoning " other than salt, I use clam broth to cook my linguini in whan making clam sauce, shrimp broth make from the shells (not heads) when making scampi, etc. Richer flavor.

        1. re: mudcat

          Sounds interesting. Do you drain the broth or reserve if for serving? And do you have enough to cook the pasta so it doesn't stick?
          When I make lingine with clam sauce, I cook the linguini until about 2/3 done and finish it in the sauce.

          1. re: iluvcookies

            I add non chlorinated water as needed to the broth. I do not cook the pasta in the sauce, I add the sauce to the drained pasta before seerving.

      2. Don't know about any "chemical reaction", but I no longer salt my pasta water as it's just one little step towards lowering our salt intake. And the pasta always comes out great, so go figure.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Bacardi1

          Same here. I've read elsewhere on this forum that the pasta water should be like sea water but i'm sensitive to salt and never put much more than a little pinch in. Now I just leave the salt out. My husband doesn't notice so we're good lol

          1. re: Bacardi1

            Amen. And it also comes out great without being in vast amounts of boiling water, which is just one little step towards conserving energy and natural resources:

            1. re: greygarious

              Thanks for pointing to that discussion. I was skeptical but am thrilled that it worked well for the two times I tried that method. Great savings!

              However, it will be another long time before I am convinced that I do not need salt in my pasta water!

          2. I thought it was more of a technical reason: Salty water has a slightly higher boiling point that non-salty water. So the water will be slightly hotter.

            I also will add Olive oil for spaghetti and fettuccine to try and stop it sticking together. - although I've also been told that avoiding fulling draining the pasta - leaving a slight amount of water in the bottom stops it getting sticky.

            22 Replies
            1. re: echoclerk

              NO! Don't add the oil to the water.It does nothing to help the pasta from sticking to itself. Oil and water do not mix so the oil just floats at the top of the pot. It only makes the pasta oily and prevents any sauce from adhering properly.
              Use plenty of water and stir well--it won't stick.

              1. re: iluvcookies

                Yeah I almost feel off the couch the other day. None other than the famous Gordon Ramsey poured olive oil on the pasta water. Goes to show that not everything GR does is the best way of doing things. Traditionally pasta was made fresh and adding salt to the water helped keep the pasta firm when cooking. Know with dried pasta the 'add salt' isn't necessary. There's also a quality issue. Cheap dried pasta won't be as firm as better quality pasta. The [picture of someone with limited resources having to buy cheap dried pasta and then having to add a bunch of salt so it wo'n't fall about compared to someone who never needs to worry about money so they buy more expensive pasta which means they don't need so much salt thereby living a healthier life style is disturbing to be. Examples like this are found everywhere when comparing poor and the wealthy. Today is a day of giving thanks for our blessings.

                1. re: Puffin3

                  even "expensive" dried pasta is less than $2 a box.

                  my b/f used to not salt his pasta water -- the stuff was flat and lifeless. awful.

                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                    You need to get to the pasta selling stores more often LOL Try getting a box of say Del Verde for two bucks. There's a HUGE difference in dried pasta quality. The stuff they sell in 'bulk stores' is from a different culinary planet then high end pastas. Compare a plate of Del Verde along side a plate of 'bulk store' pasta.

                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                      You're obviously not up on "expensive" pasta - lol!!

                      I pay as much as $6+ a bag for 12-16 ounces of terrific dried artisinal flavored pasta. And while Barilla is our daily "go to", the good stuff is worth every penny. ("Rossi" is our favorite artisinal brand

                      1. re: Bacardi1

                        I shop in Italian markets in the NYC area and the best prices I can find are about $3 per 500 grm. or 1 pound bag of first-quality imported pasta. Night and day between these and most supermarket brands. For $2 I could find Barilla made in Italy, but that would not be in a normal supermarket, which would only carry Barilla made in the MidWest US.
                        The two are not alike.

                        Pasta cooked in non-salted water tastes flat to me. This goes for both freshly made pasta, and dried. I add about a quarter cup of kosher salt to my pot of boiling water. Do not measure, just pour it in. I forgot to add salt a few months ago; had to throw out the pasta and begin again. Now I keep the jar of kosher salt near the stove when I begin boiling the water.

                        I also save a cup or so of water from the pot on the infrequent occasions that I have leftover pasta--I use this for reheating the pasta. Much different than using regular tap water.

                        NEVER add oil to the boiling pasta water, as noted above, it will prevent the sauce from adhering.

                      2. re: hotoynoodle

                        Really? I live in Canada and my small city has a sizeable Italian population. There are many types of dried pasta shapes available, both Canadian made and imported from Italy. Prices range from $.99 to upwards of $7 or 8 for some imported brands. I've bought both and while both produce perfectly decent pasta, some of the pricier brands are more toothsome. They're worth a comparison test for any cook that doesn't mind the occasional splurge.

                      3. re: Puffin3

                        >>None other than the famous Gordon Ramsey poured olive oil on the pasta water. <<

                        I saw Ina do it once, too, on an ep of Barefoot.

                        1. re: Jay F

                          I can just picture what my grandma would say to them... "What are do doing? Are you an idiot? Get out of my kitchen until you learn to cook. How do these people get on TV anyway, they aren't anything like that nice tall French lady".
                          And by "nice tall French lady", she means Julia, who I know is not actually French.

                      4. re: iluvcookies

                        D'accordo (I agree)! I think the myth of adding olive oil came about as a suggestion that it prevented the water from boiling over the top of the pot. I may have learned of this in my 20s, and I'm in my 70's now. We never waste olive oil by adding it to water.

                        Buona appetito! Buona festa di ringraziamento!

                        1. re: iluvcookies

                          Oil on the pasta water doesn't do anything to keep the pasta from sticking, ut it does retard the chance of the boil over. It keeps the bubbles from forming.

                          1. re: John E.

                            I've never had a problem with boil over... I just reduce the heat a little.

                            1. re: iluvcookies

                              Haven't you ever walked away from the stove with the burner still on high after adding and stirring the pasta? I don't do it often, but I have done it. (And I don't add oil to the water).

                                1. re: John E.

                                  I turn the burner down to medium after I have added and stirred the pasta to prevent it from boiling over. It is still plenty hot to keep a rolling boil but it wont boil over if I am not watching it.

                                  I use 1-2 tsps of salt per gallon of water, but the best pasta is cooked in lightly salted veggie stock. Chicken stock is great, if you're not serving vegetarians.

                                  1. re: Kelli2006

                                    I use a good handful of salt per gallon of water.

                            2. re: iluvcookies

                              You're exactly right. No oil.

                              And yes to salt.

                              1. re: iluvcookies

                                And make sure the water is at a nice full boil. No oil or butter, and use at least a gallon of water per pound of pasta. Those are my mantras and they work for me.

                              2. re: echoclerk

                                The boiling point of water is raised only very slightly by adding the amount of salt you would use for pasta. A couple degrees C at most, and often less than 1 degree. The difference in how pasta cooks is trivial, and dwarfed by other factors that aren't really considered very important either (your stove, the pot you use, the exact ratio of water to pasta, etc). This is easy to test yourself - boil water and check the temp with a good thermometer. Add salt, stir, let it come up to a rolling boil again (if it stopped boiling in the first place) and then recheck the temp. Very little difference.

                                1. re: cowboyardee

                                  I usually add salt -- a LOT of salt -- as soon as I put the pot of water on the burner. If I hold the open container of Diamond Kosher Salt directly over a pot of boiling water, a portion of what stays in the container clumps. I'm never in such a rush that the minute or two I would otherwise save is much of a matter.

                                  1. re: Jay F

                                    I'm not opposed to adding salt - I do it myself. I was just pointing out that you do it for flavor, not to raise the boiling point.

                                    1. re: cowboyardee

                                      Yes. I was basically agreeing with you. The boiling point isn't important to me--just the flavor.

                              3. You salt the water to season your pasta, the same as you would salt anything you are preparing. As the pasta cooks it pulls the salt from the water into itself. Generally any time you are cooking a dish in water it should be seasoned with salt. The one exception would be stock, because the salt levels could throw off the finished dish.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Zalbar

                                  Agreed, it is solely so the Pasta absorbs some Salt. There is no Chemical reaction and the amount that it changes the boiling point of the Water is insignificant.

                                  1. re: Zalbar

                                    The best reason I can think of for salting the water is the same one that applies to bean-soaking water: it actually reduces the amount of salt necessary to enhance the flavor. After I started adding salt to my bean-soaking water (thanks, Harold McGee!) I found that the cooked beans needed little or none added. Pasta is the same way. Even Mrs. O the Salt Queen rarely if ever adds any to her plate.