What Is Baking Soda?

A question you might wonder as you bake those cookies.

December 06, 2019

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Baking soda is a common product that fills many baking needs — and can seeminly work magic for household cleaning — but what exactly is it? By definition, baking soda is sodium bicarbonate, and when it's combined with wet ingredients it produces carbon dioxide bubbles. Those bubbles create a chemical reaction that helps in leavening all sorts of baked goods, including peanut butter cookies, cocoa cake and red velvet pancakes. That makes baking soda a staple in any pantry for both the home cook and the professional chef. In addition, it can be used as a cleaner, a deodorizer, a stain remover and more. Here's why you may just want to keep a few boxes on hand.

Beyond cookies and cakes

This baking wonder is most commonly found in cookies and cakes, but pastry chefs have other applications for it as well. At the New York Latin American restaurant Her Name Was Carmen, Chef Omar Ben-Hammou uses baking soda to make a honeycomb candy he incorporates into many desserts. "When making honeycomb, the lattice structure of the candy is caused by baking soda reacting with the acid, which creates tiny air pockets throughout the candy," he says. "It's an ingredient we use in many of my favorite desserts, such as fromage blanc and lucuma ice cream."

Baking soda is also an essential ingredient in quick breads like pumpkin and banana.

An ace odor absorber

Baking soda has so many unexpected uses, but perhaps its most-common application outside of baking is absorbing odors in the fridge. Make sure to have a separate box for this job (not the one you use for cooking — yuck!) and replace it at least every three months (sooner if it's super-stinky).

Speaking of stinky, you can use baking soda to deodorize your hands after cutting garlic or onions. Just mix some with water to form a paste and rub it into your hands and cuticles. Wash as usual and say goodbye to the stink.

Does your drain smell? A cup of baking soda followed by a cup of vinegar can help get rid of that stench. After you pour in the vinegar, cover the drain with a damp cloth to prevent the mixture from gurgling back up, and after a few minutes follow with hot water.

Cleaning up around the kitchen

Looking for a great, natural way to clean your oven? Create a paste of baking soda and water and give your oven the mask treatment, spreading the paste all over the inside surfaces of the oven and leaving it overnight. The next morning, rub off the mixture with a damp cloth.

You can use it to descale your coffeemaker as well (this time you'll just want to use a few spoonfuls of baking soda in a cup of water).

You can also use baking soda to remove tarnish from silver: Add 2 tablespoons of baking soda per quart of water and stir to dissolve, then drop the sterling silver in and let it sit for 20 seconds.

You can even use baking soda to help get the stubborn dirt off the grates of your grill — just sprinkle a bit on the grates before you scrub.

A baking soda paste can clean up most kitchen messes, from counters to pots and pans, too. Baking soda can also help with oil stains; just use it to soak up some of the stain.

As an ingredient that does everything from helping baked goods rise to cleaning and deodorizing, this is one useful box that you'll want to have on hand at all times.

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