The Meaning of Al Dente: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of al dente? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the term al dente, including its definition, usage, word origin, and more!

Copywriting, simplified.

Introducing the end of writer’s block. With CopyAI’s automated creativity tools, you can generate marketing copy in seconds.

What does the term al dente mean?

According to Collins English Dictionary, RouxBe and The Spruce Eats, al dente is an Italian term that translates to, “to the tooth.” This is usually used in the culinary world to discuss pasta, noodles and rice, among other grains. Al dente pasta is pasta that is slightly undercooked. It is tender, but firm to the bite and not mushy. Italian chefs hate mushy pasta. Some chefs debate whether there should still be a tiny white dot in the center of the pasta when it is cooked al dente. Some believe this is the mark of al dente pasta, while others say that al dente is when the dot is no longer there. All al dente pasta should have a bite to it. Cooked pasta that is al dente can be used in many dishes with a different kind of sauce or olive oil. Texture is very important to a pasta dish, and al dente is the ideal consistency. The word al dente can either be used as an adjective or an adverb. One can describe pasta as “pasta al dente” and one can also say that something should be “cooked al dente.” Pasta that is cooked al dente has a lower glycemic index than pasta that is cooked soft, according to the American Diabetes Association.

In order to test for al dente pasta, you can bite into a test strand of the pasta a minute or two before the package instructions or package directions say it should be fully cooked. If you bite into the pasta and feel resistance but not a crunch and the pasta is still tender, it is al dente. Al dente pasta will feel very different if it is cooked with dried pasta or fresh pasta. Fresh pasta will also take far less time to reach al dente. You can always check the white of the pasta center to see if your pasta is cooked al dente, and the al dente phase of commercial pasta will be different than fresh pasta.

You can also cook vegetables al dente. This follows the same strategy. One can boil a vegetable like green beans for a shorter amount of time so that it is still tender in the center and not mushy. Some people will take vegetables out of the boiling water and put them into an ice bath or a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process and keep them al dente. The al dente process is used in contemporary Italian cooking for different pasta recipes and utilizes a brief cooking time. 

According to Spinach Tiger, to cook pasta al dente, first you need to make sure that your pot and ratio are correct. Use a seven quart pot with siz quarts of water to cook one point of pasta. Do not add oil to the pan, just lots of salt. Add the salt once the water begins to boil and not before. Then, add the pasta. Only cook the pasta until it is al dente – test a couple of pieces if you are unsure. Before you empty the pot or pan into a colander, make sure you reserve a cup of starchy pasta water for your sauce. Never rinse your pasta with water. The pasta needs the starch to stay on it. Then, put your sauce into a large frying pan and finish cooking the pasta in the sauce. This way, it will absorb some of the sauce as it finishes cooking. Additionally, you can add in some of the reserved pasta water to thicken the sauce and add starchiness. 

Different languages around the world also use the term al dente to describe pasta, but others use their own translations. In English, we take the term al dente directly from Italian. You may notice that some of these translations of al dente are identical to the term al dente. These are called cognates, which are formed when two words of different languages share a root or language of origin. This list of translations of the term al dente is provided by Word Sense.

  •  Japanese: アルデンテ‎ (arudente)
  •  French: al dente‎
  •  Russian: аль дэ́нтэ‎
  •  Mandarin: 耐嚼‎ (nàijiáo), 有嚼勁‎, 有嚼勁‎ (yǒu jiáojìn)
  •  Swedish: al dente‎
  •  German: bissfest‎
  •  Galician: al dente‎
  •  Finnish: al dente‎, kovankypsä‎
  •  Cantonese: 彈牙‎, 弹牙‎ 

What is the origin of the term al dente?

According to Etymonline, the term al dente has been used since 1935 in Italian. This word literally means to the tooth, and comes from the Latin dentem, from the nominative dens meaning tooth. This comes from the Proto-Indo-European root dent meaning tooth. The Italian word al is a contraction of the Latin ad meaning to and ille meaning that.

What are different pasta shapes?

There are many different kinds of pasta that you can cook al dente. A list of the types of pasta is below, from Jessica Gavin.

  •  Ditalini
  •  Ziti
  •  Mezzelune
  •  Ravioli
  •  Elbow
  •  Tagliatelle 
  •  Gemelli
  •  Conchiglie
  •  Rotelli
  •  Manicotti
  •  Angel hair
  •  Spaghetti
  •  Shells
  •  Fusilli
  •  Vermicelli
  •  Radiatori
  •  Tortellini
  •  Orzo
  •  Orecchiette
  •  Bucatini
  •  Penne
  •  Campanelle
  •  Cavatappi
  •  Fettuccine
  •  Rigatoni
  •  Rotini
  •  Lasagne
  •  Casarecce
  •  Farfalle
  •  Cannelloni
  •  Linguine
  •  Gnocchi
  •  Pappardelle

Overall, the culinary term al dente means pasta that is slightly undercooked to give it a bit of a bite. This common practice in Italy can also be used on vegetables, and after cooking, the pasta can be tossed with cheese, garlic, or another flavor like a sauce. Al dente is a great way to cook your pasta at home.

Sources:

  1. What is Al Dente? | Roux Be
  2. Al dente definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary
  3. What is Al Dente? | The Spruce Eats
  4. Types of Pasta | Jessica Gavin
  5. Al Dente | Etymonline
  6. Al dente: Meaning, Origin, Translation | Word Sense