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Why Add Salt to Pasta Water (and How Much)?

 Someone told me that the salt used in pasta water isn't there to flavor the pasta, but to make the water boil faster. I think that's b.s. What do you think?

 You are doubly right. Rather than making the water boil faster, adding salt actually raises the boiling temperature of water (slightly), so it takes a bit longer to get to the boil. You're also right that the reason salt is added to the water is to keep the cooked pasta from being bland.

Because the salt increases the temperature of the water, it also boosts the speed of the cooking (again, slightly). Harold McGee, author of On Food and Cooking, says it takes an ounce of salt per quart of water to raise the boiling point "a negligible 1°F."

The Italian authors of the Italian cookbooks we use want you to add the salt after the water boils, and add the pasta after the water returns to the boil. Marcella Hazan says the correct amount is at least 1-1/2 tablespoons (about an ounce) for every pound of pasta you're cooking – more if the intended sauce "is very mild and undersalted."

And for the life of us, we can't figure out what you mean by b.s. It's clearly an abbreviation that those of us at a family-oriented cooking site are unfamiliar with. It's probably from the famous Italian expression (we just made up) "basta sale," or "enough salt."

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