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How salty should pasta water be

By: Antoine

23 July 2019

“Pasta” is a staple food of traditional Italian cuisine. It is a type of noodle that's traditionally made from wheat, water or eggs. It is shaped into different forms of noodles and then cooked in boiling water.

There are various kinds of pasta:

  • Refined: shedding the wheat kernel of the bran and germ. Fewer nutrients.
  • Enriched: adding nutrients, e.g., iron and B-vitamins after refining.
  • Whole grain: contains all parts of the wheat kernel. High in fiber, selenium, manganese, copper, and phosphorus.

The most commonly found are Refined, enriched, and whole-grain pasta. However, Refined Pasta is most commonly consumed.

Most commonly consumed types of pasta are:

  • Macaroni
  • Ravioli
  • Lasagna
  • Tagliatelle
  • Penne
  • Spaghetti
  • Rigatoni
  • Tortellini
  • Fettuccine
  • Orzo

First step towards taste

The first ingredient we all use to give our pasta some taste is the salt. Now you must have realized the importance of salt because nobody likes tasteless pasta. But when making pasta most people especially who are new to cooking pasta struggle at the first step and that is how salty should pasta water be to make pasta perfectly salted (not too much, not to less, just the right amount).

You might be surprised to know that even the experienced cooks sometimes make the cardinal mistake of under-seasoning their pasta water as they don’t consider this step to be bothered about. But most people do consider it important and want to know how much salt is absorbed by the pasta. So here are the most common questions whose answer you want to know.

Why Salt Your Pasta Water?

Do you really have to salt your pasta water? Why? What’s the right time to add the salt? And what is the ideal salt-to-water ratio?

The answer is you must salt your pasta water. Even when you are going to add sauce and seasoning later if you don’t put salt in your pasta water, the entire dish will taste under-seasoned. The seasoning of pasta water is the only step where you can add flavor to the pasta itself, and you should not skip it because who does not want to eat the perfect pasta dish. So, add the salt when the water comes to a boil. You can also put oil in pasta water at this moment and wait until the water returns to a full, rolling boil and then put in the pasta. Also, if you don’t add any oil or forget to add the oil there is no issue as long as you are stirring, you don’t have to worry about your noodles sticking.

The Solution

Now the most important answer towards how much salt should be added to the water. But before answering this question I want you to know that when it comes to salting pasta water, there's no hard-and-fast answer. Because every brand of pasta has added some salt to it, and it varies from brand to brand. It also depends if upon the sauce you will use whether it is more, mild or under-salted and other toppings like meat, cheese, vegetables, and herbs. Now you would definitely be pondering that how you are going to get the answer to this. But let’s consider what not to do.

So, most of you might have heard about a rule of thumb for salting pasta water which says to make the water as salty as the sea. Now you might want to know about this case, so let’s dig deep into it. Let’s consider how salty the sea water is? Study says on average it’s about 3.5% by weight, which, in easy and understandable words is about 35 grams of salt in 1 liter of water. But, don’t ever try it because you will end up ruining your pasta as it is indelibly salt.

Now how much salt to add? Well, it’s still difficult to answer as some of you like to eat less salty while some of you want saltier so to make it easy for you lets classify it using fine sea salt as, it is mostly recommended while making pasta in Italian cuisine. You can also use the same ratios with table salt as well.

Light3/4-1 teaspoon or 5 grams per literVery lightly seasoned but not tasteless
Medium1 ½ teaspoon or 10 grams per literSeasoned without a strong salt flavour
Heavy1 tablespoon or 20 grams per literVery well-seasoned and noticeably salted

Thus, it all depends on your salt tolerance. But if you will add less than 5 grams, it will be under-seasoned.

Remember one of the issue you may face about salt is that there are different types (kosher, fine sea, coarse sea, and table) and they vary in terms of density, which means that a tea spoon of one type of salt would be less salty than a tea spoon of other types of salt. Even the two different brands of the same type of salt will not be the same. So, try and figure out what suits you best.

Proper way to cook pasta

  • Take a large pot.
  • Boil the water till it starts making bubbles over medium-high heat.
  • Stir in the salt.
  • Add the pasta and cook it according to the directions at the back of the package.
  • Stir occasionally and wait until the pasta is done.
  • Drain off the excess water.
  • Serve using your favorite pasta recipe.

In a Nutshell

So, to sum all this, I would again say there is not any hard and fast rule as this all depends upon your salt tolerance, from 5 grams to 20 grams any quantity could work for a liter of water according to your taste. Just, don’t go towards salty as sea water. Also keep in mind the level of salt in sauce and cheese you are going to use, and whether you are going to use the pasta-cooking water in the dish later.


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