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Does Pasta Dough Need Salt?

Salt is often included in pasta dough, but the ingredient is missing in some recipes. This makes you wonder: should you rather salt pasta dough or not?

I did some research, and the answer is more complex than you’d think: salt plays more than just the role of a flavor carrier.

Pasta dough does not need to be salted, but the benefits go beyond improved flavor: salt makes pasta dough easier to work with. In addition, salt has a strong effect on the structure of the dough, making it more elastic, plastic, and supple.

In this article, you will discover how salt improves the characteristics of pasta dough and when you should use it in your recipe.

Does salt go into pasta dough?

Salt does not necessarily have to be in pasta dough. It does add flavor to the pasta, but you could just as easily salt it during cooking and achieve the same effect.

You don’t want to do without salting the pasta water (for various reasons), so you should always be sparing when salting the dough.

Many of my homemade pasta recipe books do not use salt in the dough. Instead, pasta pros rely on water and sauce to carry the flavor.

In many dishes, the pasta plays more of a supporting role: It should carry the sauce’s flavor to the palate, not compete with it—the consistency and shape of the pasta appeal to sensory rather than gustatory perception.

It’s a personal choice whether you prefer pasta dough to be tender or more flavorful; there’s no clear rule.

However, although pasta dough works just as well without it, in some cases, it is worth reaching for the mineral. To understand more precisely why we need to take a brief look behind the scenes of science.

How much salt can you add?

For every 100 grams of flour, 1 gram of salt (small pinch) is enough. In any case, you should not overdo it with the salt in the pasta dough. A small amount is already enough to develop superior elasticity.

How does salt affect pasta dough?

Salt does not only affect the taste of pasta. In pasta dough, it has a particular effect that pasta professionals take advantage of when the right opportunity arises.

Salt consists of two electrically charged atoms: sodium (Na+) and chloride (Cl-). Since water molecules are dipoles (molecules in which the centers of gravity of the negative and positive charge carriers do not coincide), the salt dissolves in contact with water.

Positively charged sodium and negatively charged chloride can now move freely in the dough and, because of their charges, affect some proteins and, thus, the structure of the dough.

In particular, the effect on glutenin is interesting for the structure:

This protein is contained in gluten (glute protein). It consists of about 800 amino acids, some of which have a positive or negative charge.

These electrical charges are necessary because they cause the glutenin chains to bond with other proteins. The resulting bonds, while not inseparable, give the dough a stable structure and prevent it from cracking or becoming brittle.

Since sodium and chloride are free to move, they prevent the glutenin from forming a bond at some points for a short period.

This results in fewer bonds overall: the dough becomes softer, easier to knead, and easier to shape.

When should you salt pasta dough?

When making filled pasta, pasta dough should always contain some salt. Even a tiny amount of salt already causes pasta dough to become more elastic, plastic, and pliable. The “Culurgiones” variety is challenging to shape without salt.

The dough is usually rolled out very thinly for filled pasta, so the pasta shell cooks quickly, and the filling doesn’t overcook.

The additional suppleness gained means the dough is easier to roll out without creating fringes at the edges.

Furthermore, the thinly rolled-out dough sheets are bent and folded during shaping. The improved elasticity prevents the dough from tearing during this process.

When is it better not to use salt?

Even though salt only improves the dough, sometimes it is better not to use it.

As mentioned, the main intention behind salting the dough is not to improve the taste. However, the taste is essential, and since the pasta absorbs additional salt when cooking, you have to be careful not to oversalt.

If the sauce is already salty, it can quickly lead to a salty dish. However, since you can add salt after the fact but not remove it, you’re always on the better side with too little salt.

There’s another reason why it’s better to avoid salt in the dough altogether:

If you want to dry the homemade pasta, you must not use salt. Drying is supposed to remove a large part of the water from the pasta, but salt holds the water and counteracts drying.

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