Most prized in the culinary sphere as a leavening agent, baking soda has all kinds of other uses in the kitchen. Here are a few of our favorites.
Peel boiled eggs more easily: According to food scientist Harold McGee, one of the reasons boiled eggs can be difficult to peel has to do with their pH levels. Egg whites are naturally low in pH, which causes them to cling more fervently to their shells. But adding a little baking soda to the water (McGee recommends ½ teaspoon per quart) raises its alkalinity, and thus its pH, making it easier to peel the finished product. (One caveat: The addition of baking soda can also make the eggs smell and taste more sulfury, so be warned!)
Clean your grill: Our grills get a workout all summer, and by the end of the season, they look it. Baking soda makes months' worth of carbonized, caked-on food easier to clean thanks to its slightly abrasive and mildly alkaline properties, which help dissolve dirt and grease more readily than soap alone. To clean, remove the grate from the grill and use a brush to scrub it with a paste made of baking soda and a little water. Rinse and begin collecting recipes for next season.
De-stink hands: Alliums like garlic and onions make almost everything taste better, but their smell can linger on your fingers for far too long. Get rid of it by rubbing a tablespoon of baking soda between your hands, then rinsing. (You can also add a bit to liquid soap with the soda if you'd like.) Baking soda deodorizes by neutralizing both acids and bases, thus acting as a buffer between the offensive scent and you.
Brown onions: Caramelized onions taste so very good, but take so very long to make. Speed up the browning process (a.k.a. the Maillard reaction) by adding a ¼ teaspoon of baking soda per pound of onions. The soda is an alkaline, which raises the onion's pH and hastens the browning.
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