In my on-going attempt to teach myself the basics of cooking a great meal (and reduce the amount of frozen ones I consume), I’ve spent a lot of time focused on pasta. It’s easy to underestimate the starchy foundation for so many recipes, but there really is more to making it taste amazing than meets the eye.
After watching countless Netflix cooking shows, YouTube videos, and reading up on recipes, I realized that I’ve really never used the right amount of salt when boiling my pasta — nowhere near enough, actually. The professional chefs I watch usually advise to make the water “taste like the ocean.”
I’ve always been afraid of going overboard and ruining a perfectly good dish before I get the chance to dig in. Plus, no one likes the feeling of being puffed up by a ton of sodium in their system. Despite my apprehensions, I decided it was time to finally see just how much of a difference adding more salt to my pasta water could make.
I used the exact same spaghetti noodles and oil-based sauce for each of the servings shown below, but added about a couple tablespoons of salt to one. I use Diamond Crystal kosher salt ($9.21, Amazon), which is a milder option, so that meant dumping in a pretty significant handful. There was plenty of time to taste it and make sure it was suitably ocean-like before it really started to boil.
For the one on the left, I just sprinkled in the much smaller amount that I always did in the past.
Once I was satisfied by their level of al dente, I tasted a plain noodle from each batch before adding the sauce. There was definitely a noticeably salty difference between them, but it wasn’t overwhelming in the one cooked with more salt in the water. The one with less salt actually had hardly any flavor to it at all, something I never thought about when plopping a sauce on them before trying this experiment. The noodles with more salt in the water were also easier to manage on the plate — the ones with less salt clung to each other in starchy, sticky globs.
When I tasted each one again after adding a sauce, it was clear the one with more salt had a much more flavorful bite. The garlic, chili, and onion felt elevated by the extra helping of salt rather than being masked by it. The other noodles tasted fine, but they didn’t have quite the same level of deliciousness.
According to Bon Appétit, this is because the noodles were able to absorb the salt and enhance the carb from the inside out. Just adding salt to the surface of pasta after its been cooked won’t have the same enriching affect. I can also confirm that I didn’t feel any puffier from the added sodium — most of that stayed in the water instead of the noodles, which soaked up just the right amount.
Be careful when testing this out yourself, though. There is still the possibility of over-salting your pasta, especially if you are adding more salty elements to the final result like, Parmesan cheese or bacon. You also probably won’t want to use iodized or regular table salt, as it has a more metallic flavor is incredibly easy to overdo with just a few pinches. A mild kosher salt like Diamond Crystal is the most recommended type I've come across, but it depends on your own preference and taste testing.
We all deserve to whip up and eat the best food possible, especially when it’s something as easy as adding more salt. Now go get cooking!