What are “alkaline” noodles and why are they prized in Asian cuisine? How can you use baking soda to make these alkaline noodles? Continue reading to find out!
What are alkaline noodles?
- Alkaline noodles are noodles that have been made with water that has a higher pH than normal drinking water.
- Remember Chemistry 101? Water has a neutral pH of about 7. Adding alkaline salts to water changes its neutral pH of 7 to a basic pH of 9-11 and results in alkaline water. When we use alkaline water to make noodle dough, we get alkaline noodles like ramen which are chewier/bouncier than the softer noodles made without alkaline water.
- Alkaline noodles are prized for their unique texture – a firm, chewy, springy, slurpy-smooth mouth-feel.
- Alkaline noodles have a characteristic yellow color due to the higher pH levels. As the pH rises above 9.0, the yellow pigments that occur naturally in wheat react with the alkali salt to give the noodles it characteristic yellow color.
- Alkaline noodles also have a characteristic smell which I find it hard to describe but it’s like an ever-so-slightly stringent smell.
What are the origins of alkaline noodles?
- In parts of China where alkaline wheat noodles are common, they were traditionally made with alkaline water that came from wells. Before industrialization of the food production in China, kansui was made at home by filtering water through ashes produced from burning hardwood.
- Nowadays, the alkaline noodles are made with commercially produced alkaline powder or alkaline water.
- In Japan, alkaline noodles are now known as “ramen” and was introduced by the Chinese in 1910. The term “Ramen” is the Japanese kanji pronunciation of the Chinese characters for “lo mein”.
- In Chinese, the mixture of sodium carbonate and potassium carbonate is called “jian” and when mixed in water it is called jian water or “jian shui ” or “kansui”(枧水/梘水, 碱水 / 鹼水) “xue jian shui” (snow alkaline water) . Kansui sounds like the Chinese word for “soap water” so growing up, I literally thought we were eating noodles made with soap.
Can I make alkaline noodles at home?
- Yes, you can use commercially produced food-grade lye water sold in Asian grocery stores. One popular brand is Koon Chun and is a solution containing Potassium Carbonate & Sodium Bi-Carbonate.
- In the absence of lye water, you can also use baking soda but it first must be baked to turn it into a stronger alkaline.
What is baked baking soda?
- It is baking soda that has been baked in the oven at a low temperature.
- Baking soda has only one ingredient: sodium bicarbonate. When we bake baking soda, we transform sodium bicarbonate into sodium carbonate – an alkaline salt.
Can regular baking soda that hasn’t been baked also work to make alkaline noodles?
- While you can use regular (unbaked) baking soda to make alkaline noodles, the results won’t be as good as using baked soda.
How do I make baked baking soda?
- Preheat oven to 250°F (120°C).
- Spread one cup of baking soda onto a baking tray lined with aluminum foil or baking/parchment paper.
- Bake the baking soda for 1 hour.
- Remove the baking soda from the oven and when cooled, store in an airtight container and store indefinitely.
Be careful and do not use your bare hands when handling the baked baking soda or it can irritate your skin.
Click here to make your own ramen noodles at home with your baked baking soda.
- Alkaline water of various strengths is used to make foods like pretzels, masa flour, Chinese century eggs, Thai Lod Chong (rice noodles flavored with pandan used in dessert), Norwegian lutefisk, brined olives, some types of pickles, candies and many other things.
- “For Old-Fashioned Flavor, Bake the Baking Soda,” New York Times
- “On Alkalinity,” Lucky Peach
- “Opusculum: Alkaline Ramen Noodles,” Lucky Peach