Lots of recipes tell you to cook noodles in salty water. Does it really make a difference? Use your noodle to find out the answer in this experiment.
Make a prediction: Do you think pasta cooked in salty water will taste the same as pasta cooked in plain water, or do you think it will taste different? Why?
Make 2 more masking tape labels. Use marker to write “No Salt” on 1 label and “Salt” on second label. Stick 1 label on each serving bowl. Set serving bowls aside.
Set colander in sink. Add 2 quarts water to each large saucepan. Bring water to boil over high heat.
Carefully add 8 ounces pasta to each saucepan of boiling water. Add 1½ teaspoons salt to saucepan labeled “Salt.” Cook, stirring pasta and water in each saucepan often with wooden spoon, until pasta is tender, about 10 to 12 minutes. Turn off heat.
Ask an adult to drain pasta from saucepan labeled “No Salt” in colander. Transfer drained pasta from colander to serving bowl labeled “No Salt.”
Ask an adult to drain pasta from saucepan labeled “Salt” in colander. Transfer drained pasta from colander to serving bowl labeled “Salt.”
Observe your results: Invite your family and friends to join you for a taste test—don’t tell them the difference between the 2 batches of pasta until after step 9. (Turn the serving bowls so tasters can’t see the labels!) Give each taster a plate and a fork. Have tasters eat a few pieces of pasta from each batch. (Ask tasters to keep their thoughts to themselves until the end of step 9.)
Add half of sauce to each serving bowl of pasta and use wooden spoon to stir to combine. Have tasters eat a few pieces of sauced pasta from each batch. Ask tasters:
(Don’t read until you’ve completed the experiment!)
In the Recipe Lab, all our tasters thought that the pasta cooked in salty water tasted saltier than the pasta cooked in plain water (in a good way!). Tasters also said that the pasta cooked in salty water tasted evenly seasoned. Each piece of pasta was equally salty rather than any one piece of pasta tasting very salty or not salty enough. And our tasters could detect a difference even when the pasta was coated in flavorful pesto sauce. Let’s unpack this salty science!
Let’s talk about salt: When you add salt to boiling water, the salt dissolves and the water itself becomes salty. As the noodles cook, they absorb that salty water. The results? Noodles that are evenly salted, inside and out!
You might be wondering why you wouldn’t just sprinkle the noodles with salt after you cook them. Great question! If you sprinkle salt on cooked noodles, they’ll just taste salty on the outside—they won’t be evenly seasoned throughout, because the noodles didn’t absorb any salt. Plus, it’s impossible to sprinkle the salt evenly over every single noodle!
One final note: Even with all that salt in their cooking water, your noodles won’t taste salty like the ocean. Even though you added 1½ teaspoons of salt to the boiling water, 8 ounces of pasta only absorbs about ⅛ teaspoon of salt.