The versatility of a simple powder

Published 9:54 am Thursday, June 9, 2022

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Salt and peanuts, both subjects of recent columns, are not the only common household items with limitless uses. 


A simple powder first used by ancient Egyptians in natron for making mummies and used as a cleaning agent was invented by a French chemist in 1791 as sodium bicarbonate but called soda ash.

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In 1843, Alfred Bird, a British chemist, compounded the first baking version of the soda to help his wife, who was allergic to yeast. But it was in 1846 that New York bakers John Dwight and Austin Church began using it as a leavening agent and established the first factory for producing Arm & Hammer baking soda out of carbon dioxide and sodium carbonate.


The iconic brand logo, representing Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and metalworking, was introduced in 1867.


In addition to being a leavening agent in the baking of breads, cakes, muffins and cookies to a light, fluffy texture, it was, and still is, used in the baking of green vegetable dishes to give them a bright green color.


Should more than one box be purchased during a sale and remain on a pantry shelf for some time, it was still fresh enough for use if it foamed up when you mixed a tablespoon of vinegar with a teaspoon of soda.


There were many other uses of baking soda in the kitchen area. Soda was sprinkled on the bottom of the wood stove oven, then water was sprinkled on it until it formed a paste. Left for a few hours, the stuck-on food and grease wiped off easily.


If an improperly cleaned cast iron skillet or cooking utensil caused food to stick to its sides, it wasn’t washed with soap. [See my earlier column on how to clean a cast iron skillet…and live.]


Removing food particles, plaque and stains from teeth by brushing with baking soda and gargling with soda in water were the most common personal hygiene uses. Many modern toothpastes with added whitener contain sodium bicarbonate, as do mouthwashes.


A ¼ to ½ teaspoon of soda in a glass of water was the best way to relieve heartburn and acid indigestion. Many people still do this, but in combination with some current prescription drugs, may develop problems.

Mixing baking soda with a little water and making a paste to apply to an insect bite or sting gave relief from pain.

A strong, natural cleaner, baking soda does such a thorough cleaning of metals, such as silverware or copper-coated pots and pans, that it has been preferred over chemical cleaners for some time.

Perhaps its crowning achievement as a metal cleaner came in 1986. To celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Statue of Liberty, its inner copper walls were cleaned and restored with baking soda, which removed 99 years of grime and left the copper undamaged and completely clean.