A delicious ramen bowl have been on my mind for days and my last experience, months ago, in New York is starting to feel like a distant memory. I’m salivating to the thought of a delicious, silky and salty broth and the chewy texture of homemade noodles but my palate can barely grab on to this souvenir as days goes by… tragedy right?
Luckily, homemade ramen noodles are very simple to make at home and this one crucial ingredient is opening my mind to many new scientific and culinary discoveries which is: baked baking soda (aka sodium carbonate).
To understand this essential ingredient and the role it plays in ramen making, we have to understand a basic scientific reaction. Here’s a condensed and simplified version of my online readings but first, let’s dig a little bit in the history of these revolutionary noodles.
Originally from China and adopted by the Japanese, classic ramen noodles are made with a mix of low gluten flour (1 part), high gluten four (2 parts) and Kansui (also known as lye water) which is a strong alkaline solution made with potassium carbonate and sodium bi-carbonate. It’s widely accessible to buy this liquid solution online or at your favourite Asian market but for the nomads, like me, who have the impossibility to stock up their kitchen and also the purist/DIY affectionado, it’s possible to create it’s useful counterpart in your kitchen by baking baking soda.
Story tells the tale of the first ramen created with the water from the lake Kan in Inner-Mongolia (which I havent been able to locate on a map despite my brain numbing researches – sorry) and the science behind this miraculous water is that it is/was highly alkaline giving the noodles this researched and loved chewy texture and yellow color.
Many alkaline lakes, also called “soda lakes” or “saline lakes” exist around the world and my guess would be that it is possible to create ramen noodles the same way it was created in Asia with the water from these lakes. The term “soda lake” comes from the high concentration of sodium carbonate which is exactly what you get from the baked baking soda, leading me to believe that Kansui isn’t the most authentic way to create ramen but an easier, factory made solution to save time and troubles of creating sodium carbonate.
The name Kansui translate as “salt water” referring to the Kan lake from where this story begins.
Coming back to the scientific process of why an alkaline solution is essentials for ramen making, we have to look at how protons and hydroxyls reacts to other elements. Without entering in too many chemistry details, a solution with greater protons would be considered acidic while a solution with a greater number of hydroxyls would be considered alkaline.
Strong hydroxyls solutions (aka alkaline solutions) mixed with any types of fats (vegetable/animals) creates a reaction that we call saponification. Like the word lead you to believe, it creates a “soapy” like texture hence why most alkaline materials feel slippery/soapy/chewy to the touch.
Back to the ramen, this chewy texture is exactly what we are searching for. Other examples of sodium carbonate being used in cooking would be from the authentic chewy street pretzels we love so much, lutefisk a gelatinous white fish (mostly cod) that have been salted/dried and then rehydrated in lye water for about a week, many Chinese sourdough buns and breads, mooncakes, meat tenderizing marinades and even the Oreo cookies easily find at the grocery store.
Beside cooking, sodium carbonate also known as “washing soda” is used in soap making, homemade detergents, all purpose cleaners and to unclog and refresh drain and pipes. Ok, these last informations might be a slight turn off but remember that the quantity used in food is minimal and generally risk free.
So how to we make this stuff?
Let’s admit it, I was quit nervous at the idea of baking baking soda for an hour or more, in my small toaster oven (since I currently don’t have a regular oven) but after watching countless of youtube videos and reading a lot about the process, I realized that it’s decently safe and very easy to do at home. Now, don’t get fooled by the simplicity of the task and take the proper care to insure your security since the final product is highly corrosive and volatile. Gloves, goggles and maybe a mask should be considered to handle the powdery solution to make sure it doesn’t touch your skin and that you don’t inhale the fumes.
When you’re baking baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) to create sodium carbonate, the visible fumes that are the releases will be carbon dioxide and water, making it more volatile (and obviously toxic) hence the important precaution.
- Baking sheet
- Aluminium paper
- Baking soda
- 1 hermetic glass bottle
- - For your safety:
- Rubber gloves
- Facial mask to cover your nose and mouth
- - Pre-heat your oven at 300F.
- - Line an aluminium sheet on a baking sheet
- - Make one flat layer of baking soda, making sure to break any visible clumps till everything is back to it's powdery consistance.
- - Bake for 1 hour in the oven and leave the stove top fan on during the process to catch the fumes coming out.
- - Carefully take the sodium carbonate out of the oven and transfer it in your glass bottle while making sure to not drop it on your skin, clothes and to breath any volatile particules.
Other great articles on the subject: