They say that you should salt the water in the pot so it boils faster. But how much truth is there in this advice?
When I was growing up watching my grandmother and mother cook together in the kitchen, my grandmother always told my mother to salt the water first to bring it to a boil.
She, in turn, had learned this from my great-grandmother, who had probably learned it from someone else. One day when I was cooking pasta, I took a pinch of salt in my hand to put in the water and thought to myself… is this a fact, or is this another one of those old wives’ tales from the kitchen?
Since you’re here and you’re reading this, I take it you’re asking yourself the same question. So let’s not waste any more time and get straight to the point.
To give you the long answer short, it doesn’t.
Salting water doesn’t necessarily make it boil faster. The salt lowers the water’s heat capacity, so the water heats up faster. But it also increases its boiling point, so it takes slightly longer for the water to reach a boil, and the two even out.
This means that you can add salt to your water before or after you bring it to a boil; it won’t make much of a difference for you, the cook (and even if it does, the difference will be negligible).
If you’re curious to know why that is, read on below.
Why Salting Water Doesn’t Make It Boil Faster
When you put salt in a pot of water, two things happen: First, the heat capacity of the water is reduced. Second, its boiling point is increased.
“Heat capacity” is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of the water. A higher heat capacity means that more heat is needed, so the water boils more slowly. A lower heat capacity means less heat is needed, so it takes less time to bring the water to a boil.
The “boiling point” of water is, as the name suggests, the temperature at which water boils. At sea level, water boils at 212°F (100°C). The higher you live, the lower the boiling point—at 2,000 feet above sea level, for example, the water’s boiling point is 208°F (98°C).
So adding salt to a pot of water reduces its heat capacity, causing it to heat up faster, but it also increases its boiling point, causing it to boil more slowly; in a way, the two even out and you, the cook, don’t notice much of a difference.
Cooking-wise, the three factors that do affect the speed at which water boils are (a) how high above sea level you live, (b) what kind of cookware you use, and (c) how powerful your stovetop is.
Does It Matter What Kind of Salt You Add?
Whether you add table salt, sea salt, kosher salt, or Himalayan pink salt won’t make any significant difference to the amount of time it takes for the water in your pot to boil.
All salt is sodium chloride. Some types of salt, like Himalayan pink salt, contain more minerals than others. And others, like table salt, have added iodine to help prevent goiter caused by iodine deficiency.
But as far as what you and I are talking about here is concerned, these differences are minuscule—and they make absolutely no noticeable effect on the time it takes for the water to reach a boil.
So since I have you here, let’s take a minute or two to talk about what does.
How to Make Water Boil Faster
To bring water to a boil faster, turn the heat all the way up and cover the pot. Without the lid, some of the water escapes in the form of steam, which cools the rest of the water in the pot. With the lid, the steam stays in the pot, which keeps the heat in and brings the water to a boil faster.
How much faster?
Not as much as you might think, says Cook’s Illustrated. The test kitchen team at the cooking magazine brought 4 quarts of water to a boil, with and without lids. The covered pot got to a boil in 12 minutes; the uncovered in just over 13 minutes.
Our best advice: If you’re really in a hurry, heat the water in a kettle or microwave and only then add it to the pot. With this cooking hack, you can bring a large quantity of water to a full boil within a few minutes.
No, salting the water in your pot won’t necessarily make it boil faster. But cranking up the heat all the way up to high and covering the pot with the lid will.
Up next: The Difference Between a Simmer, a Boil, and a Rolling Boil