Baking soda is amazing stuff. What else do you use in baking and to deodorize your fridge and sneakers?
This week I want to make sure we can appreciate just how useful this innocuous ingredient can be. Baking soda, or "bicarb" as it is called in Britain (shortened from its scientific name bicarbonate of soda) is basic. You may have missed that subtle pun, so here's the inside scoop: baking soda has a high pH so that makes it a base. Bases react with acids and that can create carbon dioxide. Those bubbles can do all kinds of good.
In baking, leavening agents are the secret to creating all kinds of magic - like breads and buns, cakes and cookies, even pancakes and waffles. They add air to baked products to make them rise. This can be done by whipping up air (usually done by beating eggs), by trapping steam (like when high heat is applied to a moist batter), or by producing carbon dioxide bubbles.
Yeast was the first, but it was unpredictable and hard to grow. Nothing else was around that was easier until two brothers developed something in their home kitchen in 1846. Those two brothers started a company called Arm & Hammer. Sound familiar?
Baking soda needs an acid to create the bubbles. Buttermilk, sour cream, yogurt, lemon juice or vinegar, and even brown sugar, molasses or honey will do the trick. Cocoa or chocolate work too.
One of the best examples of how well these ingredients work together is my mom's Chocolate Wacky Cake. (You really should try it. I highly recommend it.
Did you know baking powder contains baking soda? It was formulated to create a slower acting leavener for recipes that need even more lift, so a buffer was added to the combination of baking soda and the other acidic ingredient.
But baking powder cannot do what baking soda does beyond its work in baking recipes.
Because a base neutralizes an acid, a pinch of baking soda can work in many acidic recipes. A pinch in tomato soup will soften the acidity - and keep the cream from curdling if you want to make it cream of tomato soup.
Use a half teaspoon of baking soda added to the spices you use to season a few pounds of chicken pieces for roasting and you will get crispier, browner skin on that chicken. Parboil potatoes in alkaline water (baking soda instead of salt) and you will have spuds ready for making crispy roasted potatoes or fries.
Outside the kitchen, it works wonderfully as a deodorizer. Sprinkle it on the rug before vacuuming to get rid of those pet smells. It makes those after-workout shoes smell much fresher too. Sprinkle some on your cutting board to take away strong smells like garlic.
Baking soda also works well to clean things. You can polish your silver, or rinse pesticide residue from produce. You can even use it to help relieve a foot fungus in a water bath, and it does wonders in the laundry room, too. Check out Arm & Hammer's website for loads of tips. (See what I did there laundry “loads?”)
It may sound obvious, but baking soda also works as an antacid. Did you know a pinch in your cup of coffee can help reduce acid reflux? It also works to help soften any legumes more quickly when cooking.
See what I mean? Baking soda does much more than just take the strong odours out of the fridge or help those oatmeal cookies spread and brown nicely in the oven.
A little bit of science has gone a long way to offering us all kinds of solutions at home. I wonder if those two brothers knew just how useful their invention would become.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.