When you’re preparing to boil pasta, chances are good that before you even set the pan of water to boil, you add a pinch of salt. Now, stop and think of why you are doing this. Is it to flavor the pasta? To ward off evil spirits?
Most of us are salting boiling water because at some point in our lives, someone taught us that salted water will boil faster than non-salted water. And who doesn’t want to save some extra time in the kitchen? But according to the Lehmann Lab Group at the University of Virginia, salted water will boil at a slightly faster rate than non-salted water. Therefore, the difference is so miniscule that even if water was salted to sea water levels, the decrease in cooking time will be negligible.
Why Does Salt Affect the Boiling Temperature of Water?
A little knowledge of chemistry and how it affects food science can help you understand why salt affects boiling temperature. This phenomenon is known as boiling point elevation. It occurs because water is a solvent, and salt is a non-volatile solute. Adding a non-volatile solute like salt to water creates a impure solvent, which raises the boiling point. However, this effect of salt on boiling temperature is very small. Often the rise is as small as a few degrees Fahrenheit, which will save a basically negligible amount of time.
So Why Salt Boiling Water?
Even when cooks learn that the affect of salt on boiling temperature is overstated, many continue to salt their boiling water. Chances are, you will too. So is there any reason to continue salting water? Yes, and it may even be a better reason than making cooking faster: it makes food taste better! Salt is a basic, delicious flavor, and adding it into boiling water for pasta or potatoes gives the food a nice subtle sheen of delicate salt essence.
So if you have been salting your boiling water for too long to break the habit, don’t worry about it. This myth a great example of how common cooking techniques serve many different purposes.
- “Bad Chemistry”, The Lehmann Lab Group at the University of Virginia
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