ICYMI, we now live in the digital age, where a large part of adulting involves arguing with random strangers on the internet. Often over food, as social media seems to be doing two very different things in tandem — introducing us to some seriously mind-blowing cooking hacks, and exposing some people for the culinary monsters that they really are. The latest example comes from TikToker @east_gate_cafe, who has gone viral for proposing a seemingly simple pasta-cooking trick: adding olive oil to your pasta water.
The trending TikTok tip? “Add olive oil to your pasta water, and the noodles won’t stick together.”
Since posting, it’s racked up over a million views and been liked more than 40,000 times. It has also created some lively discussion in the comments section, with people falling into one of three camps: those who already do this and are surprised it’s even news, people who feel as though this should be a last resort, and people who think the very idea has long-departed Italian nonne rolling over in their graves.
But, angry Italian grans aside…
Does it work?
Well, yes. Adding olive oil to your pasta water probably will keep your pasta from sticking together. As with many things in life, though, it doesn’t mean you should do it just because it works. In the immortal words of Italian-American chef extraordinaire Lidia Bastianich, “Do not — I repeat — do not — add oil to your pasta cooking water! And that’s an order!”
The problem with oiling your pasta water is that it can prevent your sauce from sticking to the pasta. According to Shaylyn Esposito for The Smithsonian, since oil is composed of hydrophobic molecules, it leaves a layer across the top of the water. When you drain your pasta, it passes through and gets a fresh (slick) coat of oil.
To keep noodles from sticking together without oil, culinary experts recommend salting the water, stirring frequently, and adding noodles slowly to ensure plenty of water between them.
Before the anti-oil commenters start to feel too smug, a note: Per Esposito, “If you are not using a sauce or are using an olive oil base, then the oil has little effect.”
Does adding oil to pasta water keep it from boiling over?
Some people swear by adding olive oil to pasta water because they think it’ll prevent a messy overflow situation (we’ve all been there). And, hey guys, I don’t make the rules here, but this one’s kind of a toss-up too.
Michael Easton, chef and owner of Il Corvo Pasta in Seattle, told Insider that olive oil does prevent the water from foaming up and boiling over the pot. Remember how it’s hydrophobic? That layer on the top of the water interrupts the surface tension. However, Chef Easton says pasta water isn’t likely to boil over unless you’re dealing with hearty noodles that have a 13+-minute cooking time.
In other words, there’s no real need to add olive oil to your pasta water. But if you want to make sure they don’t stick post-boiling, Chef Easton recommends tossing the cooked noodles in butter.
“The butter — instead of olive oil at that point — becomes part of your sauce and helps make your sauce stick to the noodle. Whereas olive oil, at that point, will coat your noodles and not really let them accept the sauce. It’ll keep the sauce from sticking to your noodles.”
So, there you have it. Save that viscous liquid and let it shine in an olive oil cake.