What is the principle behind not salting the cooking water for Asian noodles?

I know that salting the water is a no-no for soba, udon, Chinese wheat noodles, and the like, but I've been doing it anyway, and the finished results are almost always better, as is usually the case when I cook with Italian pastas. I'm curious if anyone knows what the rationale is behind this. I haven't been having much luck getting a good explanation, and have been poking around for a while.

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7 Comments

HalfPint August 4, 2014
From this Asian person's experience, noodles (& rice) are a way of stretching ingredients that are otherwise very expensive or scarce. So we've developed recipes for dishes that are intensely flavored & very salty on their own. But when mixed or served with noodles or rice, the seasoning is perfect. With a little bit of the "dish" and a lot of starch, you can serve generously serve a lot of people. Ever notice how Chinese food is not very meat-heavy with a lot of salt and fat? With the seasoning in the 'entree', you really don't need to salt the cooking water for noodles or would you need to salt the water for rice.
 
LukasVolger August 4, 2014
Yes, this makes sense to me - thanks very much!
 
Lindsay-Jean H. August 4, 2014
Scientifically, I defer to Harold McGee, who has explained that salt in the cooking water not only flavors the pasta, but also limits starch gelation, which reduces stickiness. In the case of soba noodles, you're reducing the stickiness by rinsing/washing off the starch at the end of cooking.

Anecdotally, I've noticed that the soba noodles I buy are much higher in sodium (most of of which is removed after they're rinsed) than Italian-style pasta noodles, so I'm probably getting some of the stickiness-reducing benefits of salt too.

All that said, if you've been happy with the results of salting the water, stick with what works for you!
 
LukasVolger August 4, 2014
This is really helpful- thanks, Lindsay!
 
Susan W. August 2, 2014
Lukas, did you know there is an article on this site about soba noodles? Lindsay-Jean Hard wrote it, so hopefully she will see this and explain why no salt. I am now very curious. :0)
 
Susan W. August 2, 2014
I wonder if it's because so many Asian ingredients are high in salt? Soy, fish sauce, miso etc. I am totally guessing. I googled and didn't get an explanation either.
 
LukasVolger August 2, 2014
Thanks, Susan! That's one thing that I wondered as well.
 
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