The Fresh Loaf

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Substituting Soda Ash for Lye?

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rockcreek's picture
rockcreek

Substituting Soda Ash for Lye?

Hello, bakers! Anybody out there use soda ash, also known as sodium carbonate or washing soda, to boil your bagels in? I saw the discussion about using lye found in the plumbing section of the hardware store; that just won't pass the wife test around here. But soda ash is sold as a pool chemical called "pH Up", and since it goes in water that, presumably, won't kill you if you drink it by accident, wouldn't that imply that it is safer for food use?


Thanks!

PeterS's picture
PeterS

Soda ash is sodium carbonate, as you correctly note; lye is sodium hydroxide. They are not the same. The latter is a much stronger alkalai, on the order of 100x more so.


I recommend using soda ash/sodium carbonate; if it works, it is safer to use.


If you are coming from a recipe using lye, you will have to up the amount (weight) of soda ash that you use to compensate for its lower activity and higher molecular weight--which is proabably the reason lye is favored: it's cheaper.


When you mix any strong acid or base with water, remember to add it slowly to cold water while stirring. Never pour water into a concentrated or pure acid or base. Never mix a strong acid or alkalai in an aluminum container or pot.


There are many different grades of chemical products which usually only differ in their purity. Pool chemicals are obviously not pharmaceutical grade and, most likely, not food grade. That means they are not approved for consumption. That said, there probably isn't anything in pool grade sodium carbonate that is going to be harmful when used in a hot water bath to boil bagels.

rockcreek's picture
rockcreek

Thanks! Just about to give this a whirl. Let's see how it comes out.

blaisepascal's picture
blaisepascal

I did a search on Google for "usp soda ash" and found a site which was selling 20lb tubs of USP grade soda ash for $60.  It was sold for use as part of a mix for treating tropical fish tanks.  I'm not a tropical fish keeper, so I don't know how it's used.


I suspect that local pet stores might stock the stuff.


"USP grade" is pretty pure, as the standard was originally developed for use by pharmacists.

Nickisafoodie's picture
Nickisafoodie

would the same supply houses that provides bagel bakers with flour, seeds, etc also carry this?  Perhaps your fav bagel store would be willing to sell you a few pounds?

PeterS's picture
PeterS

This should be more reasonable:


http://www.essentialdepot.com/servlet/the-2/2-lbs-Food-Grade/Detail


http://www.aaa-chemicals.com/sodium-hydroxide.html


If you have a local soap maker supply or a craft shop that caters to them, they should have something.


The shipping will cost as much or more than the product, more so probably for 20lbs. Lye is a cheap industrial chemical ($0.25-50/lb); packaging, marketing and ignorance drive the price up greatly.


For comparison, the manufacturing specification & typical values for sodium bicarbonate are nearly identical to the USP and Food grades. In this application the differences are insignificant. I would venture that sodium hydroxide (lye) is similar.


The more I research this, the more it becomes apparent that Red Devil lye or equivalent is probably just fine for small scale bagel making at home.

blaisepascal's picture
blaisepascal

Except he's not asking about lye (NaOH), he's asking about soda ash (Na2CO3).   

rockcreek's picture
rockcreek

Well, in a roundabout way, it's still relevant in the sense that if I could be convinced that using store lye was safe, I'd use it. I believe it's probably safe but it's not past my threshold, plus I happen to have soda ash around.


 

mrfrost's picture
mrfrost

It's all about the results. I was not impressed with the result I got with the NYT's method of making soda ash(baked baking soda), cold solution dip(described in master "pretzel" thread).


Although my baking soda was quite old, so that may have affected something. When baked though, it seemed quite potent. A small whiff almost took my breath away.


I got much better browning with a boiling baking soda/brown sugar solution.

rockcreek's picture
rockcreek

Thanks for the links, everybody!


The bagels were a hit! I was coming from a baking soda solution, and these seemed to be pretty acceptably brown and chewy. Tough for me to make a direct comparison because I changed recipes - normally I use the BBA recipe, but used Bruce Ezzell's today. I wanted to check it out, plus we have a small refrigerator AND company, and absolutely no cold rising space.


I happen to have soda ash because I also like to make my own laundry detergent, and the soda ash acts as the water softener (I think - either that or it's a surfactant.) Anyway, the dead simple recipe is: 1 finely shredded bar of pure soap + 1 cup borax + 1 cup soda ash. 1 tablespoon totally cleans a full HE frontloader.


best, Richard