Sodium bicarbonate is also called baking soda and is actually a type of salt.
Some popular uses for baking soda are to help baked goods rise, as an antacid to treat indigestion, and as a general household cleaner.
The FDA regards sodium bicarbonate as “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) for use as a food additive, active ingredient in toothpaste, and antacid.
Uses & Benefits
Baking & Food Preparation
Baking soda available in the grocery store is pure, food-grade sodium bicarbonate. Bakers add a small amount of baking soda to the mixture of flour, sugar, eggs, butter and other ingredients in cakes, cookies and other baked goods. The resulting chemical reaction then helps batter expand or rise inside a hot oven. Without baking soda and this chemical reaction, muffins, cakes and breads would fall flat.
Personal Care Products & Medicines
In skin care and personal care products like lotions and bath salts, sodium bicarbonate helps control a product’s acid-base balance to keep it from spoiling. In toothpaste, sodium bicarbonate helps to remove stains from teeth by dislodging tiny particles of food or beverages that can blemish tooth enamel. It is also a common ingredient in deodorant because it can help neutralize smelly, acidic scents.
Sodium bicarbonate also is an active ingredient in antacid products used to relieve heartburn and treat acid indigestion. It works by quickly neutralizing stomach acid and temporarily relieving symptoms of acid reflux.
Cleaning Products & Solvents
People have been using sodium bicarbonate for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians used natural deposits of the mineral to clean their teeth and make paints for writing. In the 1830s, New York bakers began adding sodium bicarbonate and sour milk to dough to make bread.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that sodium bicarbonate is GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) as a direct food additive. It also states that sodium bicarbonate is generally recognized as safe as an antacid and as an anticaries (tooth decay fighting) active ingredient for over-the-counter use within certain conditions.
The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), an independent expert panel made up of academic researchers and industry scientists, also has evaluated the scientific data and concluded that sodium bicarbonate is safe as a cosmetic ingredient at current levels of use. In 2005, the CIR Expert Panel considered available new data on sodium bicarbonate and reaffirmed its safety conclusion.
While these two ingredients have a lot in common, they are not the same. Both are used in baking and help create the chemical reaction that makes bread and cake rise. The difference is, baking powder is made of baking soda but also includes a powdered acid—often cream of tartar—mixed right in. This means that all baking powder needs is moisture for a reaction to occur, no added acid necessary, unlike baking soda.
So why use baking soda at all? The answer is that recipes vary widely in acidity levels and flavoring. And to complicate matters, some recipes call for both baking soda and baking powder! These recipes usually contain some acidic ingredient, such as berries for example, but the carbon dioxide created when the baking soda reacts with the acid isn’t enough to leaven (meaning rise) the amount of batter. That’s where baking powder is very useful, to add that necessary extra lift.
Baking soda is known to have some health benefits. It can help treat heartburn by neutralizing stomach acid for example, and it can also help whiten teeth by removing stains.
Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate, and both sodium and bicarbonate can be poisonous if swallowed in large amounts. To prevent this, the National Capital Poison Control Center recommends keep baking soda out of reach of children. The Center also suggests if baking soda is being used to absorb odors inside a refrigerator, parents ought to put the container as far back in the refrigerator as possible, out of children’s reach.
The Chemistry of Baking Soda
In both chemistry and baking, sodium bicarbonate is considered a base because it creates a reaction when mixed with acids, like buttermilk, yogurt or vinegar. This chemical reaction produces carbon dioxide (CO2) in the form of bubbles, like a liquid foam. The process sodium bicarbonate creates is called ”chemical leavening,” because the trapped CO2 gas makes the dough or batter rise when baking bread, cookies, cakes and other baked goods.