Food Science: The Effect Of Baking Soda On Texture And Density
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Baking soda or soda bicarb, is often used as a leavening agent in recipes. When it comes into contact with an acid and moisture through ingredients like vinegar, buttermilk or lemon juice, it produces carbon dioxide gas bubbles. The bubbles get trapped in the batter or dough, causing it to rise and become light and fluffy. This process is essential in recipes like pakodas, muffins and quick breads, where aeration is needed for proper texture and structure. Baking soda also helps neutralize the acidity of certain ingredients, such as tomatoes, some of which can be overly acidic. This can be particularly useful in dishes like tomato sauces or chili, where balancing the flavours is necessary.

Baking soda also promotes browning with baked goods like cookies or bagels. It accelerates the Maillard reaction – a chemical reaction that occurs between amino acids and reducing sugars, resulting in the browning and development of caramelised flavours. While tenderising meat, baking soda can be quite effective in a marinade, as it helps break down proteins in meat, making it tender and easier to chew. Baking soda can have a significant effect on the texture of food, depending on how it's used and the specific recipe. Its impact on texture is primarily related to its role as a leavening agent and its ability to actively interact with other ingredients. This results in a lighter, airier texture in baked goods like cakes, muffins and pancakes.

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In some recipes, baking soda is instrumental in controlling the texture of food in a sense that it can be added to recipes using legumes or beans, to help soften their skins as well as reduce cooking time – resulting in a smoother and creamier texture. This can have an impact on the density of food, although its impact is often indirect and related to its role as a leavening agent. When baking soda is used in a cake batter, it helps the cake rise, producing a light, fluffy texture and a lower density compared to a denser, dry and unleavened cake. With dough, baking soda allows the carbon dioxide to filter through it, expanding air cells that hold the dough together.

Along with being one of the most frequently used leavening agents, baking soda also raises the dough’s pH, creating an alkaline environment that slows down protein coagulation. The resultant effect creates uniform thickness when something like a cookie dough is rolled out, giving the dough more time to spread before the eggs set again. This usually allows for cookies to have a tender crumb, develop a deeper flavour and colour within a shorter amount of time.