Please, don’t reach for your box of baking soda until you read this post. If I had not become aware of the dangers of GMOs and other poisons in our food supply, I would probably have never asked myself “What is baking soda and where does it come from?”
I mean, it’s baking soda, there wouldn’t be a reason for anyone to mess with that, right? Wrong. As we continued to make the transition into a non-Gmo, organic, no processed food life, I began to wonder about the base ingredients I was using to prepare our food and make our hygiene products.
I began researching baking soda and what I found shocked and befuddled me!
What is Baking Soda?
True baking soda is a naturally occurring mineral found in evaporated lake beds. Its use dates back at least as far as the ancient Egyptians who used it for mummification, medicinal purposes, personal hygiene, and household tasks.
In its natural form, it is called nahcolite.
We usually think of baking or cleaning when we think of baking soda. It reacts with liquid releasing carbon dioxide making that bubbling action we’re all familiar with. This is its rising action in baking.
All Baking Sodas are Not Created Equal
Most of the world’s baking soda is made by chemical reactions! Shocked? I know I was.
Almost all of the baking soda in the United States and about 1/4 of the world, comes from Green River, Wyoming. In Wyoming, trona ore is mined from the earth as a raw material. It is then “refined” using chemicals to get soda ash.
Then the soda ash is treated with heat and carbon dioxide to create sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and sodium phosphates (detergents). Ta Da! You now have chemically created baking soda! The kind that comes in the “orange box….”
This blows my mind! Why go through all that trouble to chemically create baking soda when it can be mined straight from the earth in its natural form?
Baking Soda Uses
Baking soda is one of the most useful products in our homes. These are just a few of the many uses for baking soda:
- a rising agent in cooking
- taking some of the gas out of beans while cooking
- scrubbing agent for cleaning
- deodorizer and odor absorber
- personal hygiene
- fungicide and insecticide in the garden
- abrasive agent for scrubbing
Naturally occurring baking soda is not a health risk to animals or humans. However, chemically created baking soda brings risk simply because of the way its created.
To be cost effective, I do use the “orange box” of baking soda for cleaning. Since I wear gloves to scrub things, it doesn’t come into contact with my skin.
Choices for Buying Natural Baking Soda
You will be glad to know that there are some sources for true baking soda. I buy Bob’s Red Mill. They mine it in Colorado, directly from the ground in its natural state of nahcolite (sodium bicarbonate). There are no chemical reactions needed or used, just pure sodium bicarbonate. There are a few other choices out there like Frontier Brand.
We do all that we can to avoid chemicals and unnatural products. It really isn’t that much more expensive and the peace of mind I get when cooking our food, or brushing our teeth is worth a couple of dollars to me.
The Difference Between Baking Soda and Baking Powder
This is a common question I get when I share a recipe or help someone who is learning to cook from scratch.
Baking soda and baking powder are both leavening agents used in baking.
Baking soda starts to work as soon as it comes in contact with liquid. Because it’s alkaline, baking soda is used in recipes that have an acidic liquid such as apple cider vinegar, buttermilk, or lemon juice which makes it more effective. When activated, carbon dioxide is released causing the fluffy rise you desire in baked goods.
Baking powder is considered a “complete” rising agent because it is made of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and an acidic agent. It comes in single-acting and double-acting. What you will find in most grocery stores is double-acting which means it has two stages of rising, one when liquid is added and a second from the heat of cooking. Single-acting is almost always used in commercial baking and as its name implies, reacts only once when they’re exposed to the heat of cooking.
I hope this clears up your questions about what is baking soda and whether all baking sodas are created equal. As we see, they definitely are not!
As with all the things we talk about, you must decide what’s best for you and your family. You are the one who has to feel good about the decisions you make for your home.
As always, I’m here to help.