Baking Soda

There are so many uses for baking soda you really would be surprised. It can be a cleaners best friend and is also, of course, a great aid in cooking; for making your cakes rise and even for making mushy peas!

This handy kitchen item is believed to date back to ancient civilization. It is probably most well-known for being the star ingredient in Irish Soda Bread - a traditional, distinctive-tasting bread. The soda makes it possible to make this bread quickly and without yeast.

So what exactly is Baking Soda?

It's pure sodium bicarbonate. It's a fine white crystalline solid that usually you will see as fine, white powder and is soluble in water. It has many names so you may see it called: bicarbonate of soda, sodium bicarb, bicarb soda, sodium hydrogen carbonate, bread soda, cooking soda, or saleratus. You may even see it written as its chemical formula NaHCO3.

It tastes slightly alkaline and is one of the components of the mineral, natron, which is often found in mineral springs. This natural form is called nahcolite; however it is also manufactured artificially. For food purposes baking soda can be classed as an ingredient, but strictly speaking it should be classed as a chemical additive.

How does it work?

To make it work you need to mix it with a liquid and also some sort of acid - for instance sugar, buttermilk, molasses, yoghurt, citrus juice or fruit. As soon as you mix them together a chemical reaction starts which produces gas bubbles, mostly carbon dioxide and so your mixture starts to fizz. When you put this mixture in a hot oven the bubbles of carbon dioxide expand and cause your bread, cakes or batter to rise.

The difference between Baking Soda & Baking Powder

People often get confused between these two. However, it is important not to substitute one for the other because you may spoil your dish. This is because the soda and the powder react in a different chemical way to produce the rise required, and they may also rise at slightly different times. Baking powder is basically bicarbonate of soda ready-mixed with acid salts (e.g. Cream of Tartar) and a drying agent (e.g. cornflour). It is ready to rise as soon as you add a liquid - you don't have to add an acid food to make it work.

Tips

- Be careful to add the correct amount of soda; it is worth measuring it out properly. If you add too much it can make your mixture taste bitter, or leave a bitter aftertaste. Too much also makes your mixture rise too fast which makes the gas bubbles grow too large and subsequently burst leaving you with a collapsed, flat cake or bread.
- However, adding too little soda can make your mixture tough & dense, lacking the air bubbles that make your cake light and fluffy.
- Bicarb starts to react as soon as it's wet so it's usually better to add it to your dry ingredients first e.g. mix it in with your flour before you add any liquid.
- Because the rising action starts as soon as you mix your bicarbonate of soda with your ingredients; you need to get your mixture in the hot oven quickly or your mixture will start to fall again. Don't be tempted to open the oven too many times at the beginning as the draught may also make the rise fall flat again!
- Bicarbonate of Soda can keep indefinitely but needs to be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. If you're not sure if it's still fresh you can test it by mixing - teaspoon soda with 2 teaspoons of vinegar. It should bubble up immediately.

So, as you can see this little ingredient can make many interesting things possible. Whatever you are making we hope it turns out well and read on for more information & tips.

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