Cooking pasta in table salt could be harmful, study warns

Cheap yet versatile, pasta represents a food that mediates between a quick work lunch and a made-from-scratch, elaborate dinner. But before tucking into your chosen pasta type paired with a flavoursome sauce, the key step is boiling the shapes in water first. While you might not pay too much attention to this process, new research warns against using table salt during this step. Worryingly, the chemical reaction between the hot water, iodized salt and wheat pasta could whip up “harmful” byproducts.

Often mixed with various salts of the element iodine, table salt is a humble but staple ingredient found in almost every kitchen.

Whether it’s sprinkled on roasted potatoes or mixed into a rich sauce, the popular seasoning somehow finds its way into every dish – even cake sponges.

However, research, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, have found that adding iodized salt to your pasta water might not be the best idea.

While iodized salt can help prevent iodine-deficiency disorders, including goiters and certain birth defects, it has been unclear how this seasoning interacts with chloramine-treated drinking water if some of the disinfectant is left behind.

READ MORE: Readily available supplement could help ward off dementia, study finds ‘key insights’

With this in mind, the research team demonstrated that cooking pasta in such water with iodized table salt could produce potentially “harmful” byproducts. 

In most countries, drinking water is treated with chlorine or chloramine before it trickles out of kitchen or bathroom faucets. 

But small amounts of these disinfectants can end up in water used for cooking. 

Previous research suggested that when wheat flour was heated in tap water that contained residual chlorine and iodized table salt, potentially harmful iodinated disinfection byproducts could form. 

Because similar studies hadn’t been conducted with real foods and at-home cooking conditions, the new research decided to settle this debate once and for all.

Susan Richardson and colleagues wanted to find out if this could happen in real-world situations, and how home cooks could minimise the formation of these harmful byproducts.

The researchers cooked elbow macaroni in tap water, which had been treated with chloramine, with the addition of salt.

The initial test saw them boiling pasta according to the package directions, but other attempts included changing the cooking conditions and different salt types.

READ MORE: Five ways to ease long Covid breathlessness at home – almost half of patients affected 

The research team then measured the amounts of six iodinated trihalomethanes, which are potentially toxic compounds, in the cooked food and pasta water. 

Worryingly, they detected all of the iodinated trihalomethanes in cooked noodles and pasta water, but the cooking conditions significantly impacted the amounts.

While the effects of low levels of trihalomethanes on human health are unclear, “massive levels” of these byproducts have been linked to liver problems, heart arrhythmias, cancer and other conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The good news is that the researchers also managed to identify four ways to reduce possible consumption of these substances.

Based on their results, the team recommended the following:

  • Pasta should be boiled without a lid
  • The noodles should be strained from the water that they’re cooked in
  • Iodized table salt should be added after the pasta is cooked
  • Iodine-free salt options, such as kosher salt and Himalayan salt, should be used if home cooks want to boil pasta in salted water.

They explained that boiling pasta without a lid allows vaporised chlorinated and iodinated compounds to escape, and straining noodles removes most of the pesky contaminants. 

Furthermore, adding table salt after cooking should reduce the risk of byproduct formation. But if you’re a creature of habit that can’t see themselves boiling pasta without salt, you should opt for non-iodized salts, according to the research.

Source: Read Full Article