Baking Soda: A Leavening Agent With Many Uses

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Baking soda has a long history that stretches all the way back to Ancient Egypt. Ancient Egyptians used a product called natron, which contained baking soda. Natron was used for assorted purposes, including for preserving mummies and for cleaning teeth. The first synthetic baking soda was not made until the late in the 18th century when a French chemist named Nicolas Leblanc invented a process for making it with sodium chloride (table salt). In the 19th century, two bakers from New York would utilize Leblanc’s method and use to make baking soda that they sold under the brand name Arm & Hammer.

Today, Arm & Hammer is the best known brand of baking soda in existence. At around the same time, Alfred Bird would create the first baking powder formulation. This formulation would include baking soda along with an acidic ingredient since baking soda has to react with an acid to provide leavening. In Bird’s product, the two ingredients had to be kept separate until they were to be used. In 1856, Eben Norton Horsford would come up with his own baking powder formulation in which the acidic ingredient and baking soda were kept together.

In the late 19th century, a Belgian chemist named Ernest Solvay would come up with a new method for making baking soda. The Solvay method would replace the Leblanc method, but the Solvay method creates environmental problems as the necessary ingredients are all pollutants. As a result, the modern baking soda industry is relying more on refined trona ore. Trona ore is typically found in close association with the natron used by the ancient Egyptians. There are natural deposits of this crystalline ore all over the world.

Baking soda flavor profile

On its own, baking soda has a mildly salty taste. When used in baked goods, its taste can become slightly metallic as a result of sodium carbonate that is formed when the baking soda releases its gases. It is possible to get rid of this taste by neutralizing the sodium carbonate with an acid or with cocoa powder.

Health benefits of baking soda

While baking soda does not have any major nutrients, it does offer benefits for health conditions like:

  • Kidney disease: One of the conditions that sufferers of kidney disease often face is the inability of their kidneys to remove acids from the body. Baking soda can help with this. Its alkalinity can help to control pH in the body. Consuming it can slow the loss of kidney function and reduce the risk of an individual requiring dialysis.
  • Digestive ailments: Baking soda is one of the ingredients in Alka-Seltzer and other antacids. It has long been used for the treatment of heartburn. Its alkalinity helps it to neutralize stomach acids and provide relief from heartburn symptoms.
  • Cancer: Animal studies have shown that baking soda can make cancer tumors more alkaline, which makes them less likely to spread. It can do this with no effect on healthy blood vessels and tissues.

Common uses of baking soda

Traditional baked goods that include baking soda include Irish soda bread and banana bread. In addition, there are cracker and biscuit recipes that require it for leavening. Some recipes require both baking soda and baking powder. There are other ways that baking soda can be used aside from in baked goods. It can be used when cooking shrimp and when cooking beans. It gives the shrimp a snappier texture and helps to soften the beans.