You may be cooking pasta WRONG! Scientists Warn Adding Salt at the Wrong Time Could Endanger Your Health — But Here Are 4 Ways to Protect Yourself
The Italian word for pasta without salt – ‘sciocca’ – which also means ‘stupid’, as the ingredient enhances the flavor of the final dish – but adding it at the wrong time can be a health hazard.
Scientists at the University of South Carolina, Columbia analyzed chemicals in tap water and found small amounts of disinfectants that, when combined with salt, form harmful by-products.
Known as iodinated disinfection by-products (DBPs), these substances can lead to cancer, liver damage and reduced nervous system activity.
The team revealed four easy ways to reduce or avoid these unwanted substances in your pasta dish.
Adding salt to pasta water boosts the flavor of the popular Italian dish, but a study finds sprinkling the ingredient at the wrong time can cause harmful by-products linked to cancer and liver damage
Previous experiments showed that when wheat flour was heated in tap water containing residual chlorine and flavored with iodised table salt, potentially harmful iodinated disinfection by-products could be formed.
However, scientists have not tested this with real food or home cooking.
Lead researcher Susan Richardson and colleagues wanted to find out if this could happen in real-world situations and how home cooks could minimize the formation of disinfection byproducts.
After two experiments, the team formulated the scientifically safe steps to remove toxins from your pasta.
The steps include boiling the water without a lid.
Covering a pan with a lid is a quick way to bubble water, as it traps escaping water vapor and causes the temperature to rise more quickly.
However, this method also retains disinfectants that would otherwise be boiled out of the water.
And the second suggested straining all the water out of the pasta.
Most people drop salt into water before it boils, but scientists found that this reacts with disinfectants to create health-damaging by-products
The steps include boiling the water without a lid, straining all the water out of the pasta, adding salt after the pasta is cooked, and just sprinkling iodine-free salt options into the water
However, the third and fourth recommendations are the secret to protecting your health.
The team said iodized table salt should be added after the pasta is cooked, and iodine-free salt options should only be used if pasta is cooked in salted water.
As the team explains, ‘Cooking pasta without a lid allows evaporated chlorinated and iodinated compounds to escape, and straining noodles removes most contaminants.
“Adding iodized salt after cooking should reduce the risk of by-products forming, but non-iodized salts are recommended if the water is salted before boiling.”
The recommendations were determined after the team cooked elbow macaroni in tap water treated with chloramine and salt.
For the first part of the experiment, they followed the cooking instructions on the box – fill a pot with water, add salt, drop in oil and drop in the pasta.
The team measured the amounts of six iodinated trihalomethanes, potentially toxic compounds, in the cooked food and pasta water.
They detected all iodinated trihalomethanes in cooked macaroni and pasta water, but cooking conditions greatly affected the amounts.
The next test changed cooking conditions and salt type, which led them to find four ways to reduce contamination.