For as long as I can remember, I’ve added salt to any pot of water I’m boiling. It doesn’t matter if I’m making pasta, potatoes, or pierogies — step one has always been tossing in salt. I saw my mom do it, she probably saw her mom do the same, and it became so ingrained in me that I never even questioned it. Well, until now, that is.
According to the old wives’ tale, adding salt makes water boil faster. As anyone who’s waited on those bubbles to appear knows, it can feel like forever. It’s even worse than waiting on your oven to preheat. At least that meal prep doesn’t require you to keep an eye on it. (Yeah, yeah, we’ve all heard that a watched pot never boils, but let’s be real, everyone breaks that rule.) After sprinkling salt in a pot of water for about the millionth time in my life, I finally started to wonder if it actually made any difference.
A helpful video from AstroCamp explains how adding salt to water changes its physical properties in two ways: raising the boiling point and lowering the specific heat. This means it needs more time to reach a boil, but also takes less energy to heat it. After testing two pots of water at the same time, they found that even adding a significant amount of salt didn’t make much of a difference in how fast the water rose to a boil.
However, before you start skipping the salt in your water, you should know that it does help in two other important ways. First, a small pinch can bring out more flavor in whatever you’re cooking. Plus, it will also boil at a higher temperature, meaning your food will cook faster once it’s actually in the water.
You can watch the whole experiment in the video below:
Long story short: Go ahead and add salt to water you’re boiling, but don’t expect it to speed up the agonizing wait for bubbles to appear.