Bring the water to a boil, add the salt and the pasta, an action that everyone makes several times a week. But we need to pay attention and take some precautions, otherwise the risk is the development of toxic and carcinogenic substances, which would then end up on the plate and from there into our bodies. Let's try to better understand this process and what we can do to prevent the formation of these compounds, based on the results and tips provided by the team of American scientists from the University of South Carolina and published in the ACS' Environmental Science & Technology journal (Dong et al, Environ. Sci. Technol., Feb 2023).
Wheat flour, chlorine and iodized salt, a risky combination
The water we drink is generally treated with disinfectants to eliminate pathogenic microorganisms. Chlorine is one of the most commonly used substances. Chlorine can interact with other substances present in the water and form by-products, such as chloramines, which are also substances with a disinfectant action. The problem is that previously carried out theoretical studies had already warned about the possible formation of toxic substances deriving from the reactions triggered when wheat flour is cooked in water which contains residues of chloramines and iodine. In short, what could happen when pasta is cooked in salted water with iodized salt. And iodized salt is commonly used since it is recommended to counteract iodine deficiency. However, what was stated was until now only a theoretical study. American scientists from the University of South Carolina have tried to analyze what happens when pasta is actually cooked in tap water and with iodized salt.
The results of the study
The scientists tried to cook pasta, in the form of macaroni, in tap water containing chloramines and to which iodized salt had previously been added. The researchers followed the cooking instructions on the pasta packaging. Then, both the pasta and the cooking water were analyzed and what emerged was that both contained trihalomethanes, which are toxic and carcinogenic substances. Therefore, the researchers managed to prove what was previously only a theoretical hypothesis, namely that cooking pasta in tap water and with iodized salt can favor the appearance of substances dangerous to health.
Scientists' tips to avoid the formation of toxic substances
Scientists tried to modify the cooking conditions. Then they measured the levels of trihalomethanes both in the pasta and in the cooking water. What has emerged is that there are four ways to reduce the formation of toxic substances. First of all, a good choice is to cook the pasta without the lid, in order to evaporate the chlorine and chloramines and thus prevent the formation of trihalomethanes. Another tip is to drain the pasta well, so that it loses these substances. Finally, another way to avoid the formation of these substances is to use salt that does not contain iodine when it comes to the cooking of pasta. Salts of this type are Himalayan pink salt and Kosher salt.
Pasta is one of the most loved foods. Whether seasoned with tomato sauce, vegetables, fish, meat or spices, pasta brings energy, nourishes and improves mood. Today we have seen that it is necessary to pay attention to the cooking phase of the pasta since, in some conditions, such as when using tap water containing chlorine and iodized salt, this process can lead to the formation of compounds harmful to health that will then be ingested. Fortunately, there are some precautions that can avoid this, such as changing the type of salt and choosing one that does not contain iodine, such as pink Himalayan salt or Kosher salt, or cooking with the lid open by evaporating the chlorine and draining the pasta well. Small tips but with great benefits that make pasta an always delicious and safe dish.