How many times have you heard it uttered by chefs, food experts and on cooking TV shows to salt the water in your pot of boiling pasta water so that it’s salty “like the sea”? That’s one edict that everyone seems to agree on. But I beg to differ, in some cases (more on that below). Therefore, when an editor from the New York Times‘ new Room for Debate blog contacted me and asked me if I had a food myth that I’d like to debunk, I first offered a little diatribe on that. In the end, we realized that this wasn’t actually a “myth” at all — it was more common advice, not something you could really “debunk.”
I encourage you to check out the (much more interesting) quips from food experts and writers in the round-up of food myths that was ultimately posted on Reason for Debate last week. You might notice that veteran food writer and The Feedbag blogger Josh Ozersky made a somewhat controversial opine about his preference for corn-fed beef over grass-fed (which I’ll refrain from commenting on for now). I do appreciate a good food argument, though, which all the contributors justly put up. Emboldened by his brashness, I thought I’d share the original “myth” I’d come up with here, too. Chime in with your own food myth — or mere peeve — if you’ve got one.
So, why not pour salt in the pasta water straight from the canister spout, ’til it’s salty “like the sea”? If you’re making homemade pasta sauce from fresh vegetables, your favorite herbs, olive oil and your own discretionary pinches of salt (sea salt is nice, indeed), then the point is null. But if you’re going to eat your pasta with jarred sauce, you might want to reconsider how much salt you add to that water.
Most jarred pasta sauces contain high amounts of sodium for preservation and flavor. For example, the popular Ragu Old World Style Traditional sauce has 580mg of sodium, 24% of your recommended daily intake. Even canned tomatoes, peeled or diced, are packed with sodium, unless labeled “Low Sodium” or “Heart Healthy.”
As an alternative, try flavoring your pasta noodles by removing it from the water a little early and cooking it in the sauce while it heats up. The pasta will absorb some of the salt from the sauce, instead.