Kitchen Myths

Facts and fiction about food and cooking, by Peter Aitken

Add oil to pasta cooking water to keep the pasta from sticking

In theory, this will work–oil is slippery, after all! In realty, almost all the oil goes down the drain when you drain the pasta and the septic tank beasties will enjoy your good olive oil. Tossing the pasta with a little oil just after draining works much better. But, most sticking problems can be avoided by buying high quality pasta (which sticks less than the cheap stuff), by not overcooking the pasta, and by making sure you are boiling it in enough water. Also, stirring the pasta for 10-20 seconds right after adding it to the boiling water makes stickiness less of a problem.

7 responses to “Add oil to pasta cooking water to keep the pasta from sticking

  1. Paul Baerman April 21, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    OK, but what’s the difference between “high-quality” and “low-quality” pasta? There are cheap and expensive versions in the store with the same ingredient list–“Durum semolina” or “semolina flour.”

    • kitchenmyths April 22, 2011 at 5:34 pm

      Sort of like how the greatest French vintage wines and the foulest plonk have the same ingredients – grape juice, yeast! I don’t know why pastas differ, but my experience is that the low quality ones tend to stick together and are impossible to cook to the perfect al dente consistency. Higher price usually, but not always, means better quality.

  2. Jamie June 24, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    You are correct about the oil not preventing the pasta from sticking, but I do believe there is another good reason to add the oil. The oil will break the surface tension of the water and this in turn will reduce or eliminate boil-overs.

  3. kitchenmyths June 24, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    I believe you are right about the boil-overs. For me, it seems easier to use a large pan with enough “head room.” I have also heard some people say that adding oil to the pasta, either while cooking or after draining, makes it harder for a tomato sauce to adhere to the pasta.

  4. skepticalvegan June 24, 2011 at 10:32 pm

    How bout a tiny bit of vinegar in the water to prevent sticking? Ive heard this works.

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