When it comes to home remedies for all sorts of things – Be it hard water stains, burnt-on food, carpet stains, dirty leather, and more – Many blogs (ours included!) cite the cleaning power of baking soda. It has various uses beyond simple cleaning and odor elimination, but these small, commonly orange boxes of a chunky white powder seem full of mystery for many homemakers. Many people never even see them beyond the confines of a fridge, where their odor-fighting properties tend to shine the brightest. So today, we’re going to demystify the product as best we can. What is baking soda made of? How is it made? Is it safe? Can you cook with it? What can you use it for? We will answer all these questions and more in this article!

The Basics

If you remember anything about high school chemistry, you probably remember the difference between acids and bases. As a basic compound, baking soda is an alkaline material with several useful properties. Known as sodium bicarbonate, when it’s mixed with an acid, it releases carbon dioxide gas. It forms naturally and is a pretty simple chemical in terms of its structure, but the stuff you buy is made of ground-up sodium bicarbonate crystals, ground so small that several grains of baking soda could fit in a single grain of table salt.

How Does Baking Soda Work?

Because it’s an alkaline substance, acids will make it produce gas in the form of bubbles. These small bubbles move throughout the batter when mixed with baking soda, causing it to expand. Yeast works in a very similar way, but as the yeast are alive, they produce gasses in different ways. You can produce this chemical reaction by mixing the baking soda with vinegar, buttermilk, yogurt, lemon juice, and cream of tartar – Among other things!

It will also make bubbles when its bonds break down due to heat, even without acid. It only needs temperatures to stay above 80 degrees Celsius – Or around 175 Fahrenheit!

Is Baking Soda & Powder the Same?

No! The two are very different but related. Both are used for leavening in baking but work differently. As we mentioned, baking soda reacts with acids such as cream of tartar, and baking powder is made by mixing baking soda and cream of tartar, sometimes with cornstarch added. This creates a more reactive compound that begins to produce bubbles as soon as it gets wet, such as when wet ingredients are added. Once this action slows down, it begins acting a second time when the ingredients are heated. It’s double-acting, and one should never be substituted for another. But some recipes will ask for both if the recipe needs a boost in its leavening process. The inventor of commercial baking soda even wrote a cookbook with a section titled ‘Don’t Use Baking Powder!’

What is Baking Soda Used For?

As you might have gathered, it is used for baking primarily. However, it has a number of other uses. It can be mixed with acids to create a powerful cleaner, open boxes can be placed in refrigerators or cabinets to reduce moisture and odors, and it can even be taken in proper amounts to reduce heartburn and indigestion – Half a teaspoon in half a cup of water will usually do the trick, but keep in mind it has a lot of sodium. In fact, it has a quarter of your daily sodium limit in that quantity!

Baking soda is very safe when used properly, though. You should also be aware that it can expire! To see if yours is still good, pour three tablespoons of distilled white vinegar into a bowl. Add half a teaspoon of baking soda, and stir a bit. If it starts to bubble, it’s fresh, and you’re good to go! Otherwise, go out and get some more, and enjoy all the benefits today.