Al dente means to the tooth in Italian and is used to describe pasta that is still firm to the bite.
Pasta that is cooked al dente is not only more delicious, no one wants a mushy bowl of pasta, but in the case of dry pasta, it’s healthier too.
According to the Harvard Medical School, foods that score low on the glycemic index, such as vegetables, beans, and dry pasta, can “prevent a host of chronic conditions, especially diabetes” and can “also ward off heart disease and various cancers.”
The glycemic index measures the impact of specific foods on blood sugar levels. Your body digests foods that score low on the glycemic more efficiently and they leave you feeling full for longer.
But dry pasta must be cooked al dente in order to score low on the glycemic index. Overcooked pasta, like fresh pasta and white bread, scores high.
To cook your pasta al dente, fish a piece of pasta out of the pot with a fork or other utensil while the pasta is cooking, run it under cold water, and then bite it. The pasta should feel a bit tough and there should be a tiny bit of uncooked white pasta in the middle.
I usually test my pasta at least twice when cooking it. Once about five or six minutes in to gauge roughly how much longer it will take and then once more when I think it is almost ready. Most dry pasta can take anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes to cook. I also sometimes remove the pasta early and let it finish cooking in the sauce.
As estimating cooking time can take practice, you can also refer to the suggested cooking time on the package. Test the pasta by biting it a minute or two before the package suggests it will be ready.