Do I need to salt the water when cooking pasta? My years of watching cooking shows on TV would tell me “yes.” But this hefty debate between chefs, dietitians, and the like has gone on for years. As a dietitian, my obvious answer is “no!” but it’s not quite as simple as that.
There are two main reasons why some are adamant about salting pasta water.
First, salt is used as a flavor enhancer. When salt is added to the pot of water, the pasta will absorb both the salt and the water, and begin to swell. To the taste buds of many, this makes for a tastier pasta. However, more often than not, the sauce that is paired with the pasta also has salt in it, leading to overkill of salty taste.
Of course, the addition of salt also means more sodium in our diet. Too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure, and risk of heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. Knowing that the average American consumes 3,400 milligrams of sodium each day when the recommended amount for more than half of the population is less than 1,500 milligrams per day leads me to suggest that we should cut corners wherever we can! And, yes, that means omitting the salt when cooking pasta.
The second reason given for adding salt to cook pasta, is that it makes the water come to a boil faster. This is actually not true; in fact, it’s the opposite. Salt increases the boiling temperature of water so it takes a bit longer to get your water boiling, but once the pasta’s in, it may cook faster… a tiny bit faster.
In reality, the little salt that is added only raises the temperature about 1 degree. You would need a mountain of salt to actually make much difference, and I don’t think anyone would appreciate your salty, salty meal!
Salt is not just used for flavor; it may be a necessary ingredient in some foods. For instance, it acts as a preservative in pickles, allows the yeast to activate and have a fine texture in yeast breads, controls the speed of fermentation in cheese, and helps hold ingredients together in processed meats. However, while salt certainly has its place in the kitchen, I would consider it unnecessary for boiling dried pasta.