Science is so dang delicious.
It’s pretty safe to assume that, for most people, baking soda is a mundane pantry staple that you whip out when a chocolate chip cookie recipe tells you to or you stash in your fridge to keep the environment clean/odor-free. Other than the occasional urge to bake or freshen up a space, you’re probably not going anywhere near that box of Arm & Hammer. And this, my friends, is a huge missed opportunity. Two clear examples of where the addition of baking soda can take your food from a measly B– to a strong A++ are bagels and hummus. Seems random, but allow me to explain.
For both of our sakes, I’m not going to get too science-y on you, but it is worth noting that baking soda is a base. This is important because when you mix a base with an acid, a simple chemical reaction occurs that produces carbon dioxide (A.K.A. bubbles!). That’s why, in the case of a baked good, creating a reaction like this between an acid and a base is a very clever thing to do. However, before you head to Costco to buy the biggest container of baking soda you can find to make fluffy baked goods for the rest of eternity, keep in mind that the more baking soda you add does not necessarily mean your final product will be significantly lighter and fluffier—too much baking soda will lead to a metallic-y, undesirable taste in your product, so it’s important to use just as much as you need. A good starting point for baking is using ¼ teaspoon of baking soda per 1 cup of flour.
That said, the key to these NYC-style, chewy bagels is boiling them in the alkaline (basic) solution. Not only does this aid in browning because of the increased surface pH (basically, it’s basic), it also promotes that signature light, yet chewy, texture and distinctly bittersweet flavor. Don’t you love science?! Sure, these bagels are definitely more a project than a last-minute, weeknight recipe, but the extra steps required are going to yield a product that deliciously reflects those extra steps you so diligently took.
The next example of a circumstance when baking soda is the key to unlocking a whole new level of culinary satisfaction is hummus. Sure, you can just dump a can of pre-cooked garbanzo beans into the bowl of a food processor with oil, tahini, salt, pepper, and lemon juice, and call it a day. This is a quick, easy way to go about hummus; however, the final product will likely have a little bit of chunkiness to it. Getting some baking soda in on the action is going to provide a creamy factor that you might not have even known was possible. This is not an exaggeration. This hummus is about to go down smoother than a greased melon on a waterslide.*
To incorporate the magical powers of baking soda into your next batch of homemade hummus, you’ll need to simmer dried chickpeas in a baking soda solution. Soaking the chickpeas in water alone is too acidic of an environment to fully break down the hard outer shells. The strong alkalinity provided by the baking soda allows the legumes break down faster and more efficiently, resulting in a dangerously smooth spread. If you’re feeling up to it, you can even go ahead and peel away the chickpea skins, but it’s not necessary—the baking soda on its own should do the trick. Again, this is an overnight process, but you’re just going to have to take my word that it’s WORTH IT.
Congratulations, you are now prepped and primed to harness the full potential of your basic pantry staple (pun very much intended).
*I’m not sure where that comparison came from.