If you’ve ever cooked pasta, you’ve probably heard the phrase a thousand times. Al Dente. But what does it even mean? And how do you know when your noodles are Al Dente? Why do we even cook pasta this way? What psychopath invented Al Dente and somehow managed to stress out an entire generation simply trying to make spaghetti? You can blame the Italians for this one-thousand-year-old definition of the perfect noodle consistency.

No one knows when exactly Italy started using the phrase. However, historians are confident when everyone else did. In 1898, Julia Anne Elizabeth Tollemache introduced England to Al Dente in her cookbook, Mrs. Roundell’s Practical Cookery Book. She credited the Neapolitans with coining the phrase, and this new way of making pasta quickly became famous. Al Dente lived happily in Europe until it made its way over to the United States shortly after World War One. However, it only rose to fame after it was promoted in the 1980’s by the New York Times and other publications.

But why were people so obsessed?

Al Dente in Italian literally translates to “to the tooth”. When cooking pasta, one undercooks their noodles for a few minutes. The result is a slightly chewy yet still tender texture. The consistency helps the pasta hold its shape after it’s been covered in sauce. It also provides surprising health benefits. The American Diabetes Association says that pasta that has been cooked Al Dente has a lower glycemic index then pasta that is cooked soft. Noodles that are overcooked cause a higher spike in a person’s blood sugar. Eating spaghetti this way is not only a tastier way to eat, but also healthier.

But how can you tell when your pasta is Al Dente?

You may have been told to chuck your noodles at your kitchen wall and if it sticks, it’s good to eat. And while that is the fun way of testing the edibility of your pasta, it’s the wrong way. Even Rachael Ray herself has advised against the method. It’s important to remember that pasta is made from starch. The more it sticks to something, the more overcooked it is.

Another disproven method of cooking Al Dente is the infamous white dot at the center of your noodles. Some chefs say that when the white dot disappears, your pasta is Al Dente. Other chefs argue that it is rather when the white dot appears in the center of your noodles.

The most effective and agreed upon method is taste testing. Your pasta should have a little resistance when you bite into it. It should never be crunchy. The best way to ensure Al Dente pasta is to shorten your cooking time to two to three minutes before the recommended cooking time. So, two to three minutes before your timer goes off, eat a noodle, and make sure it is a little chewy but still tender.

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