Stop Making Sticky and Slimy Pasta: Here’s How

Published Categorized as Cooking Tips

There’s nothing like a plate of Italian pasta for you and your family to cozy up after a long day. And the simplest, most authentic recipes usually take only minutes to make. But there’s the thing… If cooking pasta is so easy to do, why are there so many ways to get it wrong?

One question home cooks ask is, “Why is my pasta sticky and slimy?”

Your pasta noodles can come out sticky and slimy if you haven’t filled your pot with enough water and/or if you’ve cooked them for too long.

Sticky and slimy pasta is bad for you. Overcooked pasta has a higher glycemic index than pasta that’s been cooked just enough, a.k.a. al dente.

The higher the glycemic index of the noodles, according to, the faster your body will digest them. Which will cause a spike in your blood sugar levels, making you feel slouchy and tired.

Pasta that’s been cooked just enough has the opposite effect on you—acting as a source of energy for hours on after you’ve eaten it.

In this post, I’m going to share with you a list of four mistakes to avoid, so that your pasta noodles never come out sticky and slimy again.

Keep on reading if I’ve got you curious.

Use a Large Pot

Here’s what most Italian cookbooks will tell you: it takes 4 to 6 quarts of well-salted water to prepare a pound of pasta. This is because a number of things happen when you drop dried pasta noodles in a boiling pot:

  1. The water loses temperature as a colder ingredient is added to it;
  2. The pasta noodles rehydrate and season by absorbing water and salt;
  3. The starch and proteins in the pasta noodles break down.

When you use a large pot to boil pasta, the water will quickly recover the boil after you drop in the pasta. The pasta noodles will also have enough space to not stick to one another and become slimy and sticky (just keep a rolling boil and stir every now and then).

Add Sea Salt, but Not Oil

The only three ingredients you need to boil pasta are: (1) water, (2) sea salt, and (3) pasta.

Salt your water well. Professional chefs say that pasta water needs to ‘taste like the sea.’ Sea salt will season your pasta as it starts to absorb water and, as a result, enhance its flavor.

Don’t follow the advice of some TV and YouTube chefs who will tell you to add olive oil to your pasta water. Olive oil won’t prevent the noodles from sticking together. In fact, it will do more harm than good. Later on, when you mix your pasta with sauce, the oil will prevent the noodles from absorbing sauce.

How to boil pasta? Bring the water to a rolling boil. Salt your water well with sea salt. Once the water is boiling and salted, add your pasta and stir. Stir the pasta occasionally throughout the cooking time to prevent clumping.

Keep a Rolling Boil

There are generally two types of boil: a gentle boil (also known as a ‘simmer’) and a rolling boil.

A gentle boil is when the water is hot, but not overly hot. Tiny bubbles rise to the surface of the water. The ideal water temperature for a gentle boil is 205 degrees F (96 degrees C). This allows you to slow cook your meal.

A rolling boil happens at 212 degrees F (100 degrees C). You start to see fast-moving, rolling waves of bubbles in the water on the pot. This allows you to cook your food quickly.

Cook pasta in a rolling boil. Give your water pot enough time to heat up and make sure the water is salted before you drop the pasta noodles into the pot (when cooking at home, it doesn’t really matter if you add the salt before or after the water starts to boil).

Don’t Cook Your Pasta Too Long

When cooking pasta at home, the most common mistake that people make is letting it boil for too long. Overcooked pasta is limp and gummy. It doesn’t hold its shape.

The best way to cook pasta is ‘al dente.’ This is an Italian term that translated to ‘to the tooth.’ Al dente pasta is tender, but firm to the bite. It gives your teeth enough resistance without being undercooked or crunchy.

Al dente pasta gives your body energy from the sugars and proteins contained inside and won’t tire you down. This is because it’s slower to digest and allows your body time to extract the nutrients contained inside the flour.

How can I cook pasta perfectly? Check the packaging for the recommended cooking time (usually in minutes or range of minutes). Two-three minutes before the time is up, start checking the pasta. Fish out a strand, let it cool down, and taste it.

Here’s how to tell when it’s done:

  • When it’s crunchy, it’s undercooked;
  • When it’s tender, but firm to the bite, it’s done;
  • When it’s limp and gummy, it’s overcooked (throw it out and try again).


No more sticky and slimy pasta! Now, you know how to cook pasta like an Italian chef every single time.

Let’s recap:

  • Use a large pot with enough water (4 to 6 quarts of water per pound of pasta);
  • Salt your water well with sea salt before adding in the pasta noodles;
  • Stir every now and then and keep a rolling boil;
  • Taste for doneness 2-3 minutes early.

Enjoy cooking pasta at home!

By Jim Stonos

When Jim isn't in the kitchen, he is usually spending time with family and friends, and working with the HCW editorial team to answer the questions he used to ask himself back when he was learning the ropes of cooking.