What is baking soda?
Baking soda, sometimes known as soda bicarbonate or bicarbonate of soda, is a white powder used in cooking, and sometimes as a natural cleaning product. It is most often used as a leavening agent in baked goods, in conjunction with cream of tartar or some other acidic ingredient.
Baking soda benefits
Baking soda is an alkali, and can help neutralise excess stomach acid, relieving heartburn and indigestion. Half a teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in half a cup of water should do the trick, but be careful not to over-rely on this remedy, as baking soda is particularly high in sodium, which is not good for you in large doses.
Small studies also suggest that taking baking soda before a workout may improve your performance, but the effect is only very slight - comparable to that of taking caffeine - and claims that baking soda can be used as an aid to weight loss are largely without evidence.
How to use baking soda for cooking
Leavening in baking
Baking soda is typically used as a leavening agent, which means it can be used to help baked goods rise. Because it is an alkali, it will react when it comes into contact with an acidic ingredient like cream of tartar, lemon juice or buttermilk. The reaction produces lots of tiny carbon dioxide bubbles inside the dough, causing it to inflate, and producing a light, airy texture.
Baking soda can also be used to keep chicken skin extra crispy and lock in moisture. Simply rub a small amount into the skin before seasoning for perfect chicken every time.
Baking soda is often used as a natural cleaning agent, and it can be used to brighten up your veggies too. Sprinkle a little in the water before boiling to prevent cauliflower from yellowing and make corn look more vibrant.
Add a pinch of baking soda to beans while they’re soaking to soften them up and make them cook faster.
Baking soda vs. baking powder
Baking soda is sometimes confused with baking powder, but it’s important to use the right one, or your bakes may not rise. Baking soda needs to be paired with an acidic ingredient in order to become active. Baking powder, on the other hand, is made from a mixture of baking soda and a dried acid, which means it contains both of the ingredients necessary to effect a rise. The ingredients don’t react in the packaging because they are in dried form, but they will become active once they are mixed with a wet dough.
Baking powder is a handy, all-in-one solution, but if you’ve run out there are plenty of alternatives to baking powder.
Other uses for baking soda
Baking soda has a great reputation as an all-natural cleaning product. It dissolves stubborn stains and neutralises bad smells, and best off all, it’s completely non-toxic.
Neutralize fridge odours
Baking soda is great for getting rid of lingering odours. Simply place a cupful at the back of your fridge and it will react with the odour particles, neutralising them rather than just covering them up.
As a kitchen cleaner, baking soda is doubly effective, dissolving stains while also neutralising odours.
Eliminate garbage odor
Just like it can eliminate fridge odours, baking soda can do wonders for your trash can. Simply sprinkle a little at the bottom to reduce odours by up to 70%.
Remove stubborn carpet stains
Use the power of baking soda and vinegar, another natural cleaning hero, to dissolve unsightly stains on your carpet. Cover the offending area with baking soda, and spray it with a solution of one part vinegar to one part water. Wait for 1 hour, brush away and vacuum.
You can also use the power of baking soda and vinegar to clean tarnished silverware, as follows:
Add 1 tablespoon of baking soda to an aluminium pan, or a regular pan lined with aluminium foil. The aluminium is crucial for the reaction to take place, so don’t skip this step.
Slowly pour ½ cup of white vinegar over the baking soda, followed by 1 cup of boiling water.
Place the silverware in the vinegar solution. This should cause a reaction that transfers the tarnish from the silver to the aluminium. Even heavily tarnished silver will be good as new after just 1 minute.
Use the odour-neutralising power of baking soda to rescue stinky shoes. Simply wrap 2 tablespoons of baking soda in cheesecloth or other fabric and secure with an elastic band. Place these baking soda bags inside your shoes when you’re not wearing them to keep them fresh and odour-free.
Baking soda and vinegar are both known for their natural cleaning power, but which is best? See how these two cleaning heavyweights measure up as we compare baking soda vs vinegar.
Alternatives to baking soda
If you’re all out of baking soda, here are some handy alternatives that you can use in a pinch.
If you have baking powder, you have baking soda and the acid needed to activate it. Baking soda is more concentrated than baking powder, so you’ll need to use about 3 times as much baking powder to get the same effect. This will also make your recipe a little more acidic, so if the recipe calls for an easily removable acid like cream of tartar, you can take it out. You may also wish to consider replacing acidic liquids like lemon juice or vinegar with water.
Self-rising flour is all purpose flour with baking powder and salt added in at roughly 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt to every cup. If your recipe calls for all-purpose flour, you can make the switch to self-rising, but you may need to do some quick math to make sure that the quantities match up.
Whipped egg whites can be used in place of a leavening agent to incorporate some air into the dough. If your recipe already includes eggs, separate them and add in the yolks as per the recipe, then beat the whites until stiff and fold them into the mixture carefully, being careful not to burst those precious bubbles. If your recipe doesn’t include eggs, you can swap them in for an equivalent amount of liquid.
A similar product to baking soda, baker’s ammonia was used to leaven baked goods before baking soda became popular. If you do happen to have any, you can substitute it in equal amounts. It adds a distinctive crispiness to bakes, which makes it great for cookies and crackers. The downside to baker’s ammonia is that it gives off ammonia gas as it becomes reactive, which has a strong, unpleasant smell. Because of this, it is best used in smaller, open-textured bakes, where the gas can easily disperse.
Potassium bicarbonate and salt
Potassium bicarbonate is commonly used as a dietary supplement, but it is also an alkali, like baking soda, so it makes a suitable replacement. It lacks the sodium content of baking soda, which may be an advantage for people who are looking to cut down, but it will affect the flavour, so you may wish to add a little extra salt.
Recipes with baking soda
These delicious baked treats all use baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) to get the perfect rise.
Carrot cake: this moist, crumbly carrot cake is the perfect treat to enjoy with a cup of tea or coffee.
Baked lemon and basil doughnuts: these fragrant iced doughnuts are light, fluffy and delicious. And what’s more, they’re completely gluten free.
Chocolate cake without baking powder: this classic chocolate sponge tastes great by itself, and can also be incorporated into gateaux and layer cakes.
Muffins without baking powder: these perfectly risen, fluffy muffins are a delicious breakfast treat, and so easy to make.
Irish soda bread with raisins: this classic Irish recipe is quick and easy to make, and tastes great spread with butter or jelly.