A box of baking soda can be found in the cabinets of most cooks. Sodium bicarbonate, the ingredient in baking soda, is safe enough for most people to ingest a few times a day as an antacid, but like any substance, it can have its problems if not used correctly. Before you add baking soda to food, be aware of these issues so that it doesn’t become dangerous.
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French chemist Nicolas Leblanc invented the process of manufacturing sodium bicarbonate. Baking soda was used in Europe, and the English imported it to the American colonies. In 1846, a Connecticut doctor joined with a farmer from Massachusetts to establish the first factory in America to make baking soda. Dr. Austin Church and John White continued to produce the product under the company that is now known as Arm & Hammer.
The one item in your cupboard you want to be careful with when mixing with baking soda is vinegar. Arm & Hammer issued a warning that baking soda should not be mixed with an acid. Acids – such as vinegar – create an inert gas when put with sodium bicarbonate. While this is harmless in general, it can be extremely dangerous when the mixture is put in a container, or anything enclosed. The result can be a dangerous explosion.
If you are on a low-sodium diet, you should use caution when adding baking soda to food. A half teaspoon of sodium bicarbonate has 616 milligrams of sodium. That is not a lot if you are adding it into a whole loaf of bread that you are going to eat one-tenth of, but keep this in mind when cooking with baking soda. The American Heart Association links high-sodium diets to a higher risk for stroke, heart attack and high blood pressure.
Baking soda is used to thicken sauces or make baked goods rise. When you combine it with lemon juice or another acidic agent, carbon dioxide will be released and absorbed into the food’s cells. The gas will expand during the baking, expanding the cell walls as a leavening agent. Adding sodium bicarbonate to items such as cookies or muffins will make them rise to a taller and wider finished product.
The ability to safely add baking soda to food products is demonstrated by the other uses of the product within the air you breathe and the water you drink. Baking soda is used to help control air pollution since it can absorb sulfur dioxide and other gas emissions. Sodium bicarbonate is even used in water treatment. It can make water taste better since it reduces levels of heavy metals like lead.