Cooking Pasta: The Great Oil vs. Salt Water Debate

Reader Penelope brought up a great question on my Short Rib Pasta post.


Penelope writes: "Wow, the short ribs look fantastic and the leftover as a pasta dish is inspired! Do you find that boiling the pasta with oil rather than salt results in better taste, or texture? Just curious."

I answered: "Hi Penelope! While I used to salt the water, I prefer adding a tablespoon of good olive oil to the water to prevent the pasta pieces from sticking to one another. I've done it for so long that I honestly can't remember what it's like NOT to add the oil to the water. My husband has an interesting technique, too: he sprays the bottom of the pot with olive oil spray before adding the water. He finds is not only helps the pasta from sticking to itself, but also to the pot after drainage. He also believes it provides a more even distribution of oil."

I want to hear what you all think. What's your pasta-cooking method? Salt the water? Add oil to the water? Do you think it makes a difference?

I'd love to hear your thoughts!


  1. Hi Christie!

    I can't believe my question turned into it's own post! *blush* In reading your response, I see that we're really opposite -- I used to use oil in the pasta water, but switched to salt so long ago that I can hardly remember what it's like to not use salt! I married into an Italian family, and they use WAY more salt that I would have ever thought prudent in the pasta water, but to my surprise, I found that the extra taste that the pasta soaks up is really to my liking. (And, luckily, we aren't really watching our sodium intake over here!). So, it sounds really like a personal preference.

    As for the pasta sticking to the pot, I've had good luck with using LOTS of water in the pot, bringing it to a good boil before adding the pasta then giving it a few really good stirs at the beginning (and keeping the boil going) to keep the pasta moving. Not always perfect, somehow one piece of linguini still usually ends up stuck to the bottom, but pretty good luck otherwise.

    So, thanks for the response and the chance to discuss. Also, Bryan sounded GREAT on the podcast today! Must be all that good food he's getting! 8-) Keep it up!!

  2. IMO, use olive oil or not, you *always* salt the pasta water. seasoning the pasta is a must, otherwise it just tastes bland and no amount of sauce can change bland pasta...

    a lot of cooks/chefs recommend salting the water to the point of it tasting like seawater, i normally go for just *under* that.

  3. Thank you both for the comments! It's been so long since we used salt in the pasta that I'm inspired to try it again. We don't have a salt limitation in your household either, so hopefully we can try to without consequence, too!

    As far as the pasta sticking, I'm 100% with you Penelope. I'm a huge fan of bringing the water to a vigorous boil and then stirring the pasta a few times. It definitely prevents the pasta from clumping together and sticking to the bottom of the pot. If that one piece sticks to the bottom after draining, it wasn't meant to be in the dish anyway. :)

  4. I always use salt. It's the only way to get seasoning into the pasta. I also use oil, but I've never noticed it helping pasta sticking together. I use it because it breaks the surface tension of the water and totally eliminates the "boil-over" problem with cooking pasta. I agree to use a LOT of water when cooking pasta.

    The real secret though, is to use some of that starchy, salty water to season and thicken the sauce ... mmmm.

  5. Matt, you bring up an awesome point that I completely forgot about: using some of the leftover pasta water to thicken whatever sauce you're making. I do it every single time – like clockwork – and it's the best. I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn't tried it...just reserve a 1/2 cup or so of the hot water from your pasta and add it to your pasta sauce. Bring the pasta sauce to a simmer and the water will help thicken the sauce perfectly! :)

  6. I heard on one of those cooking shows that you never add oil to the water, because it keeps the sauce from sticking to the pasta.


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