What is a Rolling Boil?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The term “rolling boil” is used to describe an especially vigorous state in a pot of boiling liquid, and it is sometimes referred to as a “roiling boil.” This type of boiling is often called for when it comes to blanching vegetables and flash-cooking other foods in water. Foods like pasta, which start cooking at the boil, sometimes also benefit from being dropping into a pot of water that has reached this type of boil.

Pasta at a rolling boil.
Pasta at a rolling boil.

Given that all water boils at the same temperature, 212°F (100°C), differentiating between different “types” of boil might seem odd. Water, in fact, behaves slightly differently depending on how long it has been at the boil, and whether or not the water is still being heated. When water reaches a rolling boil, it means that the boil is so aggressive that it cannot be disturbed or disrupted by stirring or by dropping ingredients into the water.

A steaming teakettle indicates a rolling boil inside.
A steaming teakettle indicates a rolling boil inside.

Cooks can tell when water is starting to boil because large bubbles begin to rise up from the bottom of the pot and burst open at the surface. Water at the early stages of the boil can easily be disrupted with a quick stir with a spoon or whisk. When water is at the rolling boil, the bubbles are much larger, and they bubble up so quickly that when the water is stirred, bubbles will continue to form. Clouds of steam will also roll from the top of the water, which can pose a burn hazard if cooks are not careful.

One reason many recipes call for a rolling boil is to ensure that water is really at the boil when ingredients are added. Water actually starts to bubble below the boiling stage, and when ingredients are added before water reaches the boil, the water does not get a chance to fully boil. When ingredients are added after the water is really boiling, the water is so hot and so agitated that it actually stays at that temperature unless the heat is turned down or a high volume of ingredients are added.

Incidentally, the reason many people recommend starting with cold water when bringing water to a boil is that many minerals are soluble in hot water. If pipes are lined with layers of mineral material and hot water runs through them, the heat will dissolve the minerals, and they will wind up in the cooking pot. Mineral deposits can alter the flavor of the food, and, depending on the minerals, they can also be harmful to a diner's health. These deposits can also accumulate in cooking pots. Cold water has significantly lower levels of dissolved minerals.

Large, continuous bubbles covering the surface of the water signal a rolling boil.
Large, continuous bubbles covering the surface of the water signal a rolling boil.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I was wondering if you could settle a debate for me. OK, now growing up, I learned that when you make pasta, you should always put the pasta in only after the water has come to a rolling boil.

Of course, you start with the water coming out of the tap cold rather than hot, that's no question, but you have to wait until the cold water comes to a rolling boil before putting in your pasta, no matter what.

My mom always said that waiting until you had a good rolling boil going made the pasta taste better -- something about the rolling boil causes it to be chewier, or more al dente or something.

But now my boyfriend swears that waiting until the water is at a rolling boil is incorrect, and that that can actually cause problems when you make your pasta.

Can you settle this debate for us? Is there even a right answer? I'm really curious to know, help me out!



Thanks for this article. I have just recently started cooking, and I am always getting hit with all these new cooking words and definitions.

It may seem really simple, and all my friends make fun of me for having to look up things like a rolling boil definition, but a lot of those cooking terms are really weird, if you think about it.

I mean, before I started seriously cooking I had a vague knowledge of basic cooking terms like grating and chopping, but man, you cooking people really take differentiating between actions to the next level!

If you take the rolling boil thing for an example, it seems like there's even different kinds of rolling boils. One recipe I have calls for a full rolling boil while another just calls for a rolling boil, and a third one wants a barely rolling boil.

I'm just glad I was able to find my definition here -- that really helps a lot, thanks!

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