Sticky pasta can easily take away from the aesthetic presentation of your delicious pasta dish. Not to mention, it could detract from the authenticity and the care you put in. Even if you aren’t experienced around the kitchen, you should at least be able to cook pasta, right?
In reality, cooking pasta itself can be considered an art (or at least a skill). Perfectly cooked pasta is subjective, but in our humble opinion, al dente is the best. You won’t be able to achieve al dente pasta if you don’t get it right. Yes, there is a “right way” to cook pasta to prevent it from sticking.
How can you keep pasta from sticking together? You can keep pasta from sticking together by constantly stirring it, not adding the pasta noodles until the water is boiling, and if appropriate, adding olive oil to the cooking water.
Okay, so there are a bunch of things you can do, but we mentioned adding olive oil is only appropriate in certain circumstances.
Best Tricks to Prevent Pasta from Sticking Together
Stir the Noodles – A Lot
We know a lot of people that put the pasta noodles into the water before boiling, leave it, and move on to prepare the sauce. This is a big no-no if you don’t want stickiness.
You should be stirring the noodles, and quite often, in order to prevent them from sticking together. The starch is what causes the pasta’s stickiness.
Don’t worry, you won’t need to be stuck in one spot stirring while the rest of your ingredients are untouched. You only need to stir the pasta for the first few minutes until the starch has dissolved.
If you’re cooking long pasta noodles, it’s important not to stir too hard or they may break.
Patience is a Virtue and the Key to Non-Sticky Pasta
There is a bit of science attached to this next part. Pasta noodles are cool when they enter the water, so logically, it lowers the temperature. If you place uncooked pasta into lukewarm water, your noodles will have the chance of becoming gummy and take longer to cook.
You want to put the noodles in when the water is boiling so there is little effect on the temperature and the noodles cook quickly while you stir. If not, you would need to wait for the noodles to become soft enough to stir them effectively and by then, the starch will have already started to get sticky.
No Oil! Unless…
A lot of other food blogs have mentioned adding oil to the pasta water to prevent sticking. This does work, there is no doubt about it, but there are also downsides to this method.
Do not add oil to the pasta water unless you’re making aglio e olio-type pasta. Aglio e olio means “garlic and oil” in Italian. This type of recipe is the one you see without any sauce and the dish is largely flavored with oil, garlic, some seasoning the natural flavor of the ingredients.
If you add oil to the noodles for a traditional bolognese, for example, the sauce won’t be able to really soak into the noodles.
When you add oil to the water, it coats each noodle in a slippery layer. While this is very effective at preventing stickiness, what’s the point if the noodles end up unflavored and bland?
Rinse Off the Starch
Another trick is to rinse off the pasta.
Rinsing uncooked pasta will get rid of the starch and the stickiness. We also recommend this method more for cold pasta dishes because rinsing the pasta will cause each noodle to absorb moisture, even if you leave it to dry for an hour or two.
When it comes time to boil them, it will make the pasta cook prematurely and leave you with soggy and soft noodles that no one really likes.
Sticky Pasta – Is it That Bad?
Italians all over the world may gasp at this question. But we get it, all beginners have to start somewhere, and there is no such thing as a “dumb” question.
Sticky pasta is not bad, although we are aware that “bad” is a very broad term. If it’s a busy weeknight and you’re not trying to impress anyone, sticky pasta is more than fine.
Noodles sticking together also makes it more difficult for the sauce to coat the noodle and penetrate into each strand. It’s also not easy to eat the pasta properly (we’re talking about winding the noodles into a ball on your fork).
Turns out, overcooked or sticky pasta is also not that great for your health. You don’t want too much starch, because the glycemic index is higher, which then leads to blood sugar level spikes, which lead to what is affectionately known as “food coma”.
If you have ever felt extra tired, lazy and sleepy after a high-carb meal, you now know it’s the glycemic index and your blood sugar levels that are to blame. Cooking the pasta just right, which is al dente, can help you avoid the food coma entirely.
Extra Tips for Perfect Pasta
Want to get it perfect the first-time round? Here are a few extra tricks that give you ideally-cooked pasta noodles.
Use the Right-Size Pot for Cooking
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s worth it to point out that using a proper-sized pot can avoid sticky pasta. A pot that’s too small won’t give you enough room to stir to keep the noodles separate.
Salt the Pasta Well
It needs to be as salty as the sea (but maybe not the Dead Sea). The salt will cause the pasta to absorb water naturally and give you that perfect texture as well as more flavor.
Keep the water at a rolling boil or simmer when it hits boiling point. This will give you more control over the cooking process and speed to give you flawless al dente pasta.