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Cooking Vegetables: When Should You Boil The Water?

You'll need this clever hack to remember how to cook your favorite veggies! It's our most popular tip!

When cooking vegetables, ever wonder if you should boil the water before or after you add the vegetables to the pot? Here’s a Farmers’ Almanac secret so you’ll always remember:

  • Vegetables that grow above ground (beans, peas, corn) – add to boiling water.
  • Vegetables that grow below ground (root vegetables, potatoes) – start off in cold water.

The reason? Cooking aboveground vegetables simply requires softening the cell walls to make them more palatable and digestible. Because most green vegetables (and in this case, corn) have thin cell walls, that process doesn’t take very long. So all you need to do is boil water, add the vegetables, and cook briefly.

Root crops, on the other hand, usually contain a great deal of starch, and that starch needs to be dissolved before most can be eaten.

Starting potatoes off in cold water creates more even cooking. Throwing cold potatoes into boiling water gelatinizes the starches at the surface of the potato too fast, leaving you with a mushy exterior that falls apart and dissolves into the cooking water before the center cooks through. By starting in cold water, the temperature in the potato rises more gradually.

While very few vegetables are “boiled” these days (thanks to clever chefs in the kitchen who come up with the best cooking methods to preserve flavor) it still “holds water” for corn and potatoes!

boil water vegetables

This article was published by the staff at Farmers' Almanac. Interested in becoming a guest author? Contact us to let us know!

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Patricia

After cooking vegetables, never pour the liquid down the drain. It is like liquid gold. Let it cool down and use it for houseplants. There are valuable nutrients in the water and they will love you for it. Plants just perk up and grow and sprout and do whatever happy plants do. Don’t need it right away? Park it in the fridge overnight, but let it come to room temp before pouring on plants. They don’t like cold showers any more than we do.

Susan Higgins

Hi Patricia, yes, that’s one of our tips, as well. Just be sure the water is not salted.

Susan

My mother’s saying: If it grows in the hot hot sun, put it in boiling water to cook. If it grows in the cold cold ground put it in cold water to cook. Mom would have been 103 this year.

Susan Higgins

We love that! Thank you, Susan

Donna

Microwaving one of corn, in husk, for four minutes is amazing. Cut base and silk slide off with husk.
Eight minutes for two ears…

Durkeehill

I’ve always started my potatoes in cold water, something my mother and grandmother always did. Didn’t know about the corn, have always started my corn on the cob with sugar in cold water.

LaRene Grover

I have Idaho Potatoes that I have always started in hot water & brought up to a boil & they don’t get mushy. It’s the other potatoes that you can’t do this with!! Just sayin’

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