Why does spaghetti break into three pieces when you’re trying to snap it in half? It’s annoying having to clean up the many teeny-tiny spaghetti shards that end up in the sink, the counter, and the floors. What’s even worse is accidentally stepping on one of them with bare feet — ouch! Fortunately for us, scientists have undertaken the important task of figuring how to break your spaghetti so it evenly splits in half.
In a 2018 study published in the journal PNAS, a team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) tested whether it was possible to snap a piece of dry spaghetti (side note: Did you know a single strand of spaghetti is called a spaghetto?) without it shattering into a million pieces. They found that by twisting the dry noodle almost 360 degrees and then trying to break it was the best method for a clean split.
To understand why this method works, you first need to know why just trying to break your noodles without twisting doesn’t work. The reason spaghetti breaks in three places (or more) is because of physics. When you snap the spaghetti in half, the brittle pasta flexes back with enough force to break again. So, in addition to the main fracture, you have dozens of tiny segments breaking, too. By twisting the spaghetti, you prevent the strands from flexing back as forcefully, thus averting a potential second, or even third or fourth, break.
Of course, this is all a moot point for Italians, who believe you should never break your spaghetti. Why? Because the sauce needs something to stick to. Ideally, your spaghetti should be long enough to twirl on your fork. That said, breaking your pasta doesn’t alter its chemical makeup. As long as it’s al dente (don’t worry, you can still achieve al dente with leftover pasta if you reheat it properly), your noodles should still taste fine. However, it may be a bit messier because you’ll have more smaller strands that can easily fall off your fork and splatter on the plate. No matter how you have it, we’ll sure it’ll be delicious!