Persistent cooking myth: should you really only salt water when it’s hot?

Salt should always be added to the water before pasta, potatoes or other foods are cooked. Because this is how spaghetti & Co. get their taste. However, amateur cooks disagree about when to add salt.

Anyone who cooks regularly knows the advice to salt the cooking water for certain foods. This gives the ingredients their taste and does not become bland.

In addition, the timing is said to influence how quickly the water boils. Some already put the salt in the cold water, while others believe that they should add the salt to the boiling water first, otherwise the water will take longer to get hot. The Federal Center for Nutrition (BZfE) clears up.

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Before cooking or when it’s hot? At this point, you should salt cooking water

The time of salting changes the boiling point of the cooking water.
The time of salting changes the boiling point of the cooking water.

Bild: Getty Images

Depending on whether you salt the cooking water sooner or later, you will influence the boiling point. Usually this is 100 degrees Celsius. If you add salt to the water, however, the boiling point increases by a few degrees, for example with around 30 percent salt the boiling point is 108 degrees Celsius. The small amounts of salt that you add while cooking have only a marginal effect on the boiling point, so salting has no noticeable effect on the cooking time.


Even if the time of salting has only a marginal influence on the cooking time of food, we still recommend adding the salt to the boiling water first. Because in this way you protect your pots. If you already salt the cold water, the salt crystals will dissolve more poorly and sink. Because of the high salt concentration on the bottom, unsightly stains can then form on the bottom of the pot.

Why is cooking water salted at all?

If you add salt to the cooking water of pasta, potatoes or rice, this is what gives the food its flavor. This is because the salt content of the water and the ingredient is balanced in advance and remains in the food.

For example, if you were to cook pasta in unsalted water, the salt ions would only balance out during cooking. The noodles would then have a watery and less strong taste, as part of the inherent taste would be transferred to the cooking water.

Behind this is the molecular process “osmosis”. Here, two solutions, between which there is a concentration gradient, strive to compensate for this. The water from the solution with a higher concentration migrates into the solution with a lower concentration of dissolved substances.

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