Popular science for the home cook. Find out whether or not baking soda dissolves in water (and why it matters in the first place).
From leavening quick bread to reducing the acidity of cooking water and sourdough starter, there are many uses for baking soda in the home kitchen—their number limited solely by the resourcefulness of the cook.
Baking soda is a white, powdery salt sold in sachets at the baking aisle in the grocery store, typically next to the flour bags. Sometimes, you will find it in the home supplies aisle, near the cleaning and laundry products (baking soda can also be used for cleaning and deodorizing, both in the kitchen and around the house).
Baking soda dissolves easily in water. To dissolve baking soda in water, pour the contents of the sachet in a glass or cup and stir to incorporate, for about 30 to 40 seconds with a spoon, until the liquid is cloudy and uniform.
Since baking soda is basically a salt, it dissolves equally well in warm or cold water, although higher temperatures facilitate dissolution. It’s important to note that baking soda won’t activate with water alone; it needs both water and acid to start bubbling.
Since you’re here, I assume you have a good reason for doing this. For example, my dad likes to dissolve ½ tablespoon of baking soda in a glass of water and drink the mixture to regulate the acidity in his stomach.
Still, there are more uses for this uncomplicated mixture than you think, and learning about them can help you take your home cooking to another level. Take a peek below and find out what they are.
Keep greens from dulling:
If you sprinkle baking soda in the cookware water when you’re boiling greens (asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, green beans, green peppers), they will stay bright and shiny.
It turns out that the baking soda prevents dulling of the greens by keeping chlorophyll, the naturally occurring pigment in plants that gives them their green color, from reacting with—and seeping into—the cooking water.
Speed up the cooking of beans, lentils, and split peas:
Add baking soda to the cooking water at a concentration of 1 teaspoon baking soda per 1 quart water when you’re boiling legumes (beans, soybeans, lentils, split peas), and you will make them cook as much as ¾ times faster.
This is because alkaline (meaning non-acidic) cooking water causes the walls of the cells that make up legumes break down, so they tenderize and cook through significantly faster than otherwise.
Make boiled eggs peel easily:
For a number of reasons I won’t go into for the sake of brevity, fresh eggs are much harder to peel than their old counterparts. Believe it or not, baking soda can help you peel fresh eggs without fuss.
If you bought a carton of fresh eggs and want them to peel almost effortlessly when boiled, add baking soda to the cooking water (at a ratio of ½ teaspoon of baking soda to 1 quart of cooking water).
When to Bake With Baking Soda
Many recipes call for the addition of baking soda because it’s a chemical leavening agent, and thus a substitute for yeast. When mixed with water and acid, it forms gas bubbles that get trapped in the dough and make it rise.
Use baking soda when you want to make baked goods rise quickly, without having to wait hours for the yeast to ferment. Baking soda doesn’t taste as overpowering as baking powder, which is why many bakers still swear by it.
That said, the speed of baking soda comes at a price:
Yeast takes hours to ferment the dough and make it rise. In contrast, baking soda releases its gas bubbles all at once, as soon as it reacts with the water and the acid. This is the main reason why baked goods leavened with baking soda must be slid in a hot oven immediately.
Compared to yeast-leavened doughs, chemically-leavened doughs are less fragrant and flavorsome. Yeast, with its slow rise, ameliorates the aroma and flavor of the final product. Baking soda only makes it puffier and, since it’s a salt, saltier.
Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder
Baking soda is 100% sodium bicarbonate. To bake with it or clean with it, you need to make it foam. And, to make it foam, you need to mix it with water and acid, such as buttermilk, Greek yogurt, cream of tartar, lemon juice, or vinegar.
Baking powder is a mixture of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), a weak acid (cream of tartar), and a buffer (cornstarch) that prevents the two from reacting with one another. To activate baking powder, you only need to add water.
Baking soda is pure sodium bicarbonate; to activate it, you need water and acid. Baking powder is sodium bicarbonate and an acid, so it is activated only with water.
Baking powder, as those of you who’ve read through the labels of sachets at the grocery store may have noticed, can be single-acting or double-acting.
Single-acting baking powder contains only one acid: cream of tartar. Like baking soda, goods leavened with it must be baked immediately after they are mixed.
Double-acting baking powder, as its name implies, contains two acids: tartar and aluminum sulfate. It makes your baked goods rise in two stages, the first one immediately after they’re mixed, and the second continuing as they bake in the oven.