Why add salt to the water when cooking pasta?
What is the effect of adding salt to the water when cooking pasta?
Also notice that the pasta will only absorb so much salt. This is nice because it means you can never add too much. Any remaining salt will go out with the water.
Note that adding salt *slightly* **raises** the boiling point (though by a negligible amount at the concentrations used in cooking). Since it rases the boiling point, it means the water takes longer to come to the boil.
Note that adding most anything to water raises its boiling point. So I'd expect adding the pasta itself does the same thing. Which leaves me adding the salt only "because that's how we've always done it" :)
@ThomasAhle That may be true, but in my experience the point where pasta becomes inedibly salty is far below it's saturation point.
The salt adds flavor, but it also helps reduce the gelation of the starch in the pasta. The starch in food is the form of microscopic grains. When these grains come into contact with water, they will trap some of it (think cornstarch in cold water), but when the water is hot they swell up like balloons and merge with each other, and you have starch gelation.
Another thing you may want to add to the pasta water is some acid (lemon or cream of tartar). Tap water in most cities is made alkaline, which increases the starch loss from the pasta to the water, making the pasta stickier.
Personally, I don't salt. If you use copious amount of water and stir occasionally, you should be fine.
@MichaelMior You don't salt the water? How does the pasta taste then? I can't imagine eating pasta that has not been salted. Sincerely, an Italian. :-)
@splattne If you have a well-seasoned sauce, it doesn't matter if the water is salted.
@MichaelMior of course it does matter; salt is mandatory! Using a sauce could help but the taste is different and the final result in a trained mouth is just an insipid pasta with a salty sauce.
@systempuntoout Well, I guess I have an untrained mouth and I cook insipid food then. Tastes good to me, but I'll salt the water if you ever come over for dinner :)
@MichaelMior for the sake of the truth, a friend of mine, after some blood pressure problem, has switched to saltless food and he told me that after some time, you start to enjoy the food without salt because you feel all the flavors spectrum. So, in our future dinner, please do not salt the water :).
A side note on my sauce comment. If you take out the pasta a bit earlier than normal and toss it in with your sauce with a bit of pasta water to finish cooking, the pasta absorbs some of the sauce quite nicely.
As far as the water is concerned: Whether or not the water is alkaline heavily depends on where you live. Here, the water is neutral (as neutral as it gets for tap water). So adding acid may or may not be a smart idea.
Are there any references for the anti-gelation? In my experience salt effect is negligible compared to using more water, occasional stirring and washing the pasta in the end.
As with many things, salt to taste. Doing it because that's how your mother did it isn't cooking. That's just tradition. Good food should be more than just memories.