Hard water impacts your cooking – it's a fact. And the hard water problem is vast. England's water is considered very hard, with some areas having 200 ppm. Statistics from the United States show that 85% of homes have hard water. And hard water will change the way that your food tastes.
Delicious food requires attention, the right mix of ingredients and the right water. Your food is impacted by the minerals that lead to hard water, including magnesium and calcium. The type of food you cook will be the main variable in how drastically hard water impacts your food.
Bakers. Hard Water is the Enemy
You start baking a delicious pie. You follow the ingredients perfectly. Your pie never tastes like your mother-in-law's pie; she even gave you the recipe to follow. What's the problem? It might be hard water.
It's true: baking is an art.
But it might be something else. You might be a great baker who is being sabotaged by your water. The reason that bakers have such a hard time with water is that hard water changes:
Minerals in the water will have a chemical impact on your baking, and this is often seen when you have:
If you've followed the recipe exactly, chances are there is another variable impacting your baking. Hard water may be the issue.
Don't take my word for it: King Arthur Flour states that water hardness impacts baking. The flour company, one of the top in the world, defines hard water as having over 200 ppm. Soft water has less than 50 ppm.
You see, the minerals in your water actually help with the yeast fermentation process. The minerals feed the yeast, allowing for fermentation to occur.
When water hardness levels are exceptionally high, they will:
A decrease in fermentation rate will cause water absorption to be more difficult. Potable water works best, but King Arthur also notes that most water hardness levels aren't extreme enough to cause a major impact on your baking.
There are also cases where the water is too soft, and when water is too soft, it will make your dough extra sticky.
Sourdough is another interesting case. When baking sourdough, chlorine can have an impact on culture. A neat trick that the company recommended, if you haven't purchased a water softener, is to leave the water out overnight.
Chlorine will dissipate overnight, allowing you to make sourdough.
Hard water is also more alkaline, so it can decrease yeast activity. You can use a pH strip to try and measure the acidity level of your water. You want your pH to be just below 7 for it to be ideal for baking.
Color and texture are also affected by hard water.
Cooking. Hard Water Remains an Issue
Maybe you don't bake often. In this case, you'll find that hard water will still impact your cooking. But it often has less of an impact because a lot of chemical reactions occur during the baking process.
When the minerals dissolve, they will impact your food's:
If you have a tendency to blanch your vegetables or boil them in hard water, you'll also find that they're impacted. The vegetables will often lose some of their color, or they'll become tougher. If you cook a lot of rice like I do, the rice will be harder, too, according to some reports.
And something I didn't know was that chlorine makes boiling water take longer.
Hard water increases the boiling point of water, and while not drastic, it's definitely a noticeable increase. Chlorine that's added to the water by your local government also causes:
Foods can also absorb these minerals. If you’re one of the unlucky people who have very hard water or water that has a strange smell, it may be the minerals in your water causing your food to taste funny.
This is going to sound strange, but smell your water.
If your water smells funny, you'll want to take action to save your cooking.
How to Correct Your Hard Water?
Fixing hard water requires a system to be installed or used in your home.
Water Softening System. You can install a water softener in your home. These systems will require you to fill a brine tank with salt, in most cases, to cause an ion exchange to occur. What's great about entire home systems is that they will soften your water when cooking, showering, drinking – everything. Hard water even impacts the way your clothes come out in the washing machine and how your hair comes out after a shower.
Water filters are not designed to soften water. You may find that the water is a little softer because a lot of the minerals and contaminants are removed, but this isn't as effective as a water softener.
Now, if all you're worried about is your cooking, you can do a little test to see if hard water is the problem.
Bottled water will often go through an intense softening and filtration process, so it's a good way to test if your water is hard or not. Don't opt for flavored water or carbonated water. Choose pure water for best results.
Signs That You Have Hard Water
Hard water can be tested with strips and an in-home testing kit, or you can call your city and ask for a water quality report. A few of the signs that you're cooking with hard water include:
- Crust on the faucet, showerhead or drain
- Soap that doesn't lather
- Film on your dishes
- Scum in your shower
- Dry skin
If you have any of these problems, there's a chance that your water is hard. Before diving in and installing a water softener, you'll want to test the water hardness level.
Hard water kits are the best method – there are a lot of DIY options, too. These at-home kits are color-coded, and they will include test strips. Inexpensive, use these strips to gauge if you have hard water that's affecting your cooking.
Also test again after you've installed a water softener to make sure the problem has been corrected.
James Parrett is the co-editor of SofterH2O.com, a site that focuses on the effects that water quality can have on people’s lives. He also likes to play and watch rugby in his spare time and loves Indian food.