Here at Business Insider, we love to learn more about the science behind everyday things.
That’s why we asked Dan Souza, the executive editor of “Cook’s Science” at America’s Test Kitchen and one of the authors of “The Science of Good Cooking,” for some science hacks he uses to take his cooking to the next level.
One of his favorites? Changing up the acidity of foods using baking soda.
A lot of the foods we eat every day have a pretty high acidity – citrus fruits, for example, are seriously acidic, as is vinegar. But there’s not a whole lot you can do to make a food more basic or alkaline.
“Most things we deal with in the kitchen are pretty acidic, so it’s easy to go that way, there’s not a lot that takes it in the other direction,” Souza said. That’s why he turns to baking soda, which is very basic. (Its pH level is 9, while lemons have a pH level of 2.) “We actually use baking soda in some really unique ways, not just in cakes and cookies, but we apply it to meat when we’re marinating as well.”
When you apply baking soda to the meat, Souza said, it helps the meat brown better, a reaction you can see in your cakes and cookies too. “As things become more alkaline they brown better, so if the cake has baking soda in it, you’ll see that it has better browning,” he said.
And that’s not the only thing that happens. Adding baking soda to your marinade also helps the meat hold water better. Souza pointed to a technique called “velveting” that’s typically used in Chinese cooking before tossing the meat into a wok to be stir fried. Velveting often uses a combination of cornstarch and egg whites to raise the pH and tenderize the meat.
“We mimic that in the kitchen a lot,” Souza said. “If we’re doing a stir fry with beef, we’ll toss it with baking soda and a little bit of water and let it sit for 15 minutes and then add the rest of the marinating ingredients and cook from there. We get really tender meats that’s hard to overcook at that point.”