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Cooking Tips

How Salty Should Your Pasta Water Be? 

The amount may surprise you.
By Published July 8, 2022

From a simple Salerno-Style Spaghetti with Fried Eggs and Bread Crumbs to a Pasta All'Amatriciana, every bit of seasoning counts, right down to the noodles themselves. And salting your pasta water is the best way to ensure those noodles are seasoned from the inside out.

You've may have heard the recommendation that your pasta water should be “salty like the sea.” But what does that actually mean? Should you use a sprinkle? A spoonful? Just pour until you feel like it's right?

If you’re tossing in an undetermined amount of salt into a pot of any size, you may be over or (under!) seasoning your pasta water. We've got the salty truth about how to make sure your pasta is consistently flavorful.

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When should you add salt to pasta water?

Salting the water before you add the pasta is the best way to get evenly seasoned noodles. And you should wait until the water is actually boiling. This not only helps the salt dissolve faster, but it also protects your pot. If added when the water is cold, the salt crystals can sink to the bottom and leave small, unsightly scratches and scuffs.

How much salt should you add to pasta water?

We recommend 1 tablespoon of table salt to 4 quarts (1 gallon) of water per roughly 1 pound of pasta, no matter what size or shape the pasta is. 

What types of salt should you use to salt pasta water?

You can use sea, coarse, or table salt for your pasta water. No need to waste the good stuff for this. Note that our recipes typically call for table salt, but if you’re using kosher salt you'll want to add a little more than the recipe calls for because kosher salt has larger granules than table salt.

Can you oversalt the pasta water?

If you plan to use your pasta water for further cooking (thickening and emulsifying sauces, for example), too much salt in the water will make a saltier final dish. "Salting the water is all about seasoning the otherwise bland pasta," says Cook's Illustrated Senior Editor Steve Dunn. "More than [1 tablespoon of salt] and the pasta can taste salty, especially when served with a well-seasoned sauce; less than that and it comes across as bland."

If you follow the basic 1 tablespoon of salt per 4 quarts of water, your pasta will only absorb a small amount of the sodium dissolved in the water (about ¼ tsp per pound). This is true no matter which type of pasta you use.