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Another Surprising Use for Baking Soda: Authentic Noodles

Food chemistry is amazing. For real ramen noodles, you'll want to pull out the baking soda.


The women of No More Dirty Looks recently wrote about the many surprising ways you can use baking soda. But none of their recommendations were for cooking.

Baking soda is a versatile kitchen staple, though, useful for making pancakes, pretzels, or ramen noodles. It's a pure alkaline, and the chemical reacts with acids to produce carbon dioxide gas bubbles. (Baking powder, it's worth pointing out, is the complete combination of alkaline and acid).

Harold Mcgee, the author of the indispensable On Food and Cooking and James Beard Award honoree, explained in The New York Times that baked baking soda is an even more useful ingredient, albeit a slightly corrosive one:

Baked soda (sodium carbonate) is also a standard ingredient in Chinese kitchens, where it’s called jian. Fuchsia Dunlop, an expert on Chinese cooking who is based in London, told me by e-mail that jian is added to bread and bun doughs to neutralize the acidity of the sourdough fermentation, in marinades for tenderizing tough meats, and to reconstitute leathery dried squid, which becomes very tender and “slithery.”

It’s also the defining ingredient in Chinese alkaline wheat noodles. Ms. Dunlop explained that jian increases their springiness and gives them a distinctive flavor and a refreshing, slippery mouth-feel. It also tints them yellow.

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In the Momofuku cookbook, David Chang recommends making ramen dough by combining 800 grams of flour, 300 grams of water, and 7.2 grams (one more reason you need a scale). More on the method is coming in Chang's new food journal, Lucky Peach, which the good folks at McSweeney's will also be putting out next month.

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