The chemical compound sodium bicarbonate is also known by other names including bicarbonate of soda, sodium hydrogen carbonate and baking soda. The ingredients of sodium bicarbonate include four natural elements combined together to form a white sold crystalline structure that makes a fine white powder. There are many uses for sodium bicarbonate including as an ingredient for baking and in medications.
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Sodium bicarbonate consists of four elements, giving it the chemical formula of NaHCO3. The first ingredient, sodium, often exists bound to chloride, forming common table salt. Because sodium dissolves easily in water, compounds containing sodium, like sodium bicarbonate, also dissolve in water. Sodium bicarbonate contains one hydrogen atom, which forms a hydroxide (OH) ion, giving the compound its mild alkaline characteristic. The carbon and oxygen combine to form the carbonate compound that provides the effervescent, or fizzy, effect of sodium bicarbonate.
Because sodium bicarbonate is alkaline, meaning it falls into the base section of the pH scale, it helps to neutralize acids. Although classified as a base, it exhibits only mild alkaline properties, which allow it to also react with and neutralize stronger bases. Because it effectively neutralizes a wide variety of substances, sodium bicarbonate can absorb odors. Along with being used as an ingredient in baking applications and medications, the unique properties of sodium bicarbonate make it useful in a variety of applications including as a chemical in fire extinguishers, as a cleaning agent, in beauty products as a skin exfoliant and as a mild abrasive in toothpastes.
Many over-the-counter medications marketed to reduce stomach acid contain sodium bicarbonate. As an ingredient, sodium bicarbonate can neutralize the effects of excessive stomach acid to relieve symptoms like heartburn and indigestion. Doctors may also prescribe sodium bicarbonate to make your blood or urine less acidic. Sodium bicarbonate can cause side effects including increased thirst, stomach cramps, gas, nausea and headache.
The common baking ingredient known as baking soda contains pure sodium bicarbonate. Baking soda functions as a leavening agent, which means it causes baked goods to rise. Sodium bicarbonate reacts with acidic ingredients in the recipe like yogurt, chocolate, buttermilk or honey, in a chemical reaction that produces carbon dioxide bubbles. The bubbles cause the baked item to rise as temperatures rise during the cooking process. Baking powder, also a leavening agent, contains some sodium bicarbonate but also contains the acidic component, usually cream of tartar, and a drying agent like starch. The other ingredients in the recipe determine which sodium bicarbonate leavening agent to use.