The Science Behind Perfect Al Dente Pasta

Just as your ancient Italian grandmother insisted, there is a "right" way to get perfectly-cooked pasta every time—and a new video from the American Chemical Society shows you exactly how Nonna did it.

Wolfgang Pup pasta recipe.
Sam Kaplan

Pasta isn't difficult to cook. Perfectly made, delicious al dente pasta, however, is another story.

And yet there are so many tips and tricks that chefs and Italian grandmothers alike swear by to achieve perfect pasta, it can be hard to figure out which methods work and which are a waste.

Fortunately, though, researchers at The American Chemical Society and PBS broke down the science of cooking pasta and provided some pro tips for getting it perfect every time.

Let's start with the foundations: eggs, water and flour are all that go into pasta dough. As the video explains, pasta's main chemical components starches (you know them as carbohydrates) and protein. The proteins in pasta hold the starches together to make the dough stretchy, but not sticky. When you cook pasta, the protein and starch interactions are manipulated to create the al dente base for your favorite sauce (or gravy, for all you Italian-American guys from the Northeast.)

The ACS recommends also has two key tips: Keeping the pot at a rolling boil, and reserving some pasta water for your sauce. The rolling boil will keep pasta moving instead of sticking, and a little bit of that starchy pasta water improves both the texture and taste of any sauce.

They also came to conclusions about two common and controversial pasta water additions: salt and oil.

Any chef would probably tell you that salting the water is an integral step in delicious pasta, and they'd be right. Salt is an important flavor enhancer that you'd probably miss if it weren't there.

As far as olive oil, the ACS says skip it. While some chefs swear by adding oil to prevent pasta from sticking, researchers say that this step actually has little to no effect on the pasta.

Check out the full PBS video:

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