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Monday, March 16, 2009

Kitchen Tips: Oil in Pasta Water…Just Do It! (But for the right reasons.)

I may be opening a can of worms with this Kitchen Tip. So I need to explain myself fully.

When Nate’s mom, Pat, was in town, we were cooking pasta and my pot kept foaming up and boiling over. She said, “If you put a little oil in the water, it won’t do that.”  So, this past weekend, I gave that little tip a try and it worked like a CHARM.

Now, you may be thinking to yourself, I remember someone telling me you shouldn’t put oil in the water, that it doesn’t do anything, that the pasta will get slimy, etc, etc.  Here’s the deal.

Many think putting oil in the water will keep the pasta from sticking together.  This, in fact, is NOT true.  Oil in the water has no impact on the stickiness of the pasta.  The best thing to do for that problem is to stir the vigorously-boiling pasta a few times, especially near the start of cooking.  And throw a dab of butter or olive oil on the pasta after it is drained.  Although, the experts may say that your sauce will not adhere to the pasta as well.  Whatever.  Doesn’t seem to matter to me.

Which brings me to my next point. Putting oil in the water will not make your pasta slimy.  I put about 1/2 teaspoon of oil in the water.  It kept the water from foaming and overflowing…and my pasta was not slimy in the least.  The oil all goes to the surface of the water, so it really doesn’t have much interaction with the pasta.

Bottom line…I love this new trick.  I’m going to add a bit of olive oil to my pasta water from now on. Thanks, Pat!


  1. Great tip with the oil. I’ve been wondering why my pasta has been so sticky recently, and now I know why! I never stir it!

  2. 2

    What a great tip! Gone will be the days of a burnt ceramic stovetop!! Thanks….love your blog!

  3. I will have to try this trick- sounds great! I do have a couple tried and true tips as well.
    1. PLENTY of water prevents pasta from sticking
    2. Don’t boil at too high a heat to prevent from boiling over. It doesn’t need to be on the highest temp to boil.

    Thank you!

  4. 4
    Jane Maynard

    good tips, candice! plenty of water is definitely key…the more the merrier.

    I have read that boiling at a very rapid boil helps keep the pasta from sticking together b/c it’s moving a lot…but you’re right, you’ve gotta watch closely with that technique or it might boil over. enter olive oil. 🙂 even when I boil it rapidly, however, I still never have it all the way on high. things get a little crazy up there. 😉

    thanks for your comments everyone! 🙂

  5. I always forget to stir my pasta! Sometimes it ends up in clumps! And I did know that about the oil, but I forget this too and my pasta water goes up and over the pot! Thanks for the great reminders!!!

  6. I overflow pasta a lot… I’ll have to try it 🙂

    • Bill oreland

      Get a bigger pot and your water won’t boil over


    • Bill – as pasta needs a lot of water when it cooks, if you’re cooking a lot of pasta and using a large pot, sometimes you can’t get a bigger pot because you’re already in a big pot. the tiny bit of oil is simply a handy trick.

  7. 7

    salting the pasta water heavily is a cheaper and equally effective method.

    • as I use barely a drop of oil (it really hardly needs any), don’t think money is an issue 😉 but salted water is great for cooking pasta for sure!

  8. 8

    I have always done this and have never had any adverse e4ffects from doing so. A friend and Sous Chef at the Hotel Muehlebach first told me about this trick back in the eighties.

  9. 9
    Jane Maynard

    I just noticed this comment on stumbleupon: “how about turning down the heat a tad when it foams over? did that even occur to you?”

    I would like to officially respond. yes, of course I thought of turning the heat down. and lifting the pan off the burner. and blowing on the foam to make it go down. not only did I think of it, I’ve done all those things. but I must say, this is just much EASIER. I don’t even have to think about it, and I can boil the pasta at a more rapid boil, which is good for keeping the pasta from sticking together (although, don’t go too rapid with stuffed pastas)

  10. 10

    My mom taught me that trick years ago, and ever since then, I have done it! Myfriend kept telling me you didn’t need oil, the sticky pasta is an old wives tale…I tried to explain the reason for the oil…she didn’t understand…thanks for this, now I can show her I am not crazy! 🙂

  11. Yep, Yep! One of my favorite tips! 🙂

  12. 12

    I always do this. I don’t measure it out, I just dribble a bit in after I add the pasta.

  13. 13
    Barb B

    I learned the other day that this is what my husband does when I was using my “keep the pot from boiling over” tip of leaving a wooden spoon in the boiling pot. I don’t know why it works but I haven’t boiled over pasta in over a year since I started.

  14. 14

    I MUST AGREE, and the EXPERTS be damned. I learned this from my mother 50 years ago. The pasta does need to be stirred when first added to the water to keep it from sticking together. Once boiling I never have to stir again.
    Adding salt enhances the flavor of the pasta AND raises the boiling point of the water. A simple scientific explanation to this can be found here –

  15. 15

    You should cook pasta to your taste, but please don’t turn it into mush. Just keep in mind there should be some give when chewing pasta.

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