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How to Season Pasta Water (And Why You Should)

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Believe it or not, pasta water is an integral part of any pasta dish. Seasoning (or not seasoning) can make a big difference.

We already know how much salt to use when cooking pasta, but do you know why you should be salting the water? As a former chef of a farm-to-table restaurant that specialized in homemade pasta, I learned a lot about how to season pasta water. No matter how good the noodle recipe was or how much flavor we infused into the pan sauce, the dish would taste flat if we didn’t salt the pasta water. Let’s take a peek into the science behind seasoning pasta to learn why (and how) it works.

 

 

Why Should You Salt Your Pasta Water?

It’s a common myth that salt makes your water boil faster—it doesn’t speed anything up, it just makes the water hotter. Exactly one degree hotter. So, unless you’re adding an inedible amount of salt, you’re not actually using enough to make a difference. The real reason to salt the pasta water is to season the noodle itself.

You see, when you drop pasta into boiling water, the starch molecules swell and expand. As the pasta leeches those starches into the water, room is created in the center of the noodle to take on liquid. If there’s salt in the water, the noodles will absorb that too and season the pasta from the inside out. That’s a good thing, because pasta is essentially just flour and water (and sometimes eggs). It doesn’t have a ton of flavor on its own, so unsalted pasta water creates bland-tasting noodles.

It’s not just about the noodle itself, either. Eaten side-by-side, a dish made with salted pasta water actually tastes better overall—not just with better tasting noodles—than unsalted pasta. You’d have to add salt at the end to the latter, and then it would just taste salty instead of seasoned.

 

 

Can You Season Pasta Water With Anything Else?

You can…but it won’t do much. Go ahead and add peppercorns, onions, fresh herbs or anything else you choose to your pasta water. The pasta likely won’t absorb enough water to make that seasoning worth it. The best way to create flavorful pasta is to add ingredients to the pasta dough itself or make one of these incredible sauces to toss it in after its cooked!

Perfect Homemade Pasta Sauces

Stamp-of-Approval Spaghetti Sauce

Broccoli Shrimp Alfredo

Mushroom Bolognese with Whole Wheat Pasta

Penne alla Vodka

Spaghetti Meatball Supper

Meat Sauce for Spaghetti

Basil and Parsley Pesto

Chunky Chicken Cacciatore

Creamy Sausage-Mushroom Rigatoni

Sage & Browned Butter Ravioli

Homemade Canned Spaghetti Sauce

Homemade Meatless Spaghetti Sauce

Red Clam Sauce

Pizza-Flavored Pasta Sauce

Light Linguine Carbonara

Super Spaghetti Sauce

Pesto

Savory Spaghetti Sauce

Turkey Portobello Bolognese

Authentic Pasta Carbonara

Artichoke & Lemon Pasta

Blushing Penne Pasta

Pepper Ricotta Primavera

Garlic, peppers and herbs top creamy ricotta cheese in this meatless skillet meal you can make in just 20 minutes. —Janet Boulger, Botwood, Newfoundland and Labrador
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Author
Lindsay D. Mattison
Lindsay D. Mattison is a professional chef and a food writer. After graduating from Cascade Culinary school, Lindsay became the Executive Chef at Jackson's Corner in Bend, OR, from 2013 to 2016. Her genuine passion for food and sustainable food practices led her to find the farmer in herself. She lives in Durango, CO, where she enjoys the trials and errors of small plot farming. Lindsay is currently working on a cookbook that teaches home cooks how to craft beautiful meals without a recipe, tentatively titled "The Art of Bricolage: Cultivating Confidence and Creativity in the Kitchen."