Recently we spent some time with J. R. Goode in her kitchen while she whipped up a batch of delicious caramel corn. We were amazed at how quickly and easily she popped the corn, created the caramel syrup and stirred it all together in a paper bag that she popped into the microwave oven. As the hot sticky, and very delightful smelling, caramel corn was poured out of the bag and into trays to cool, I asked, “Why did you add baking soda to the caramel syrup?” Her answer sounded a bit like a science experiment, but in the context of candy making it is very interesting.
Baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate, or bicarbonate of soda, is a common household ingredient that is about 4x stronger than baking powder. It is used in recipes that have acidic ingredients, such as vinegar, citrus juice, sour cream, yogurt, buttermilk, chocolate, honey, molasses, brown sugar, fruits and maple syrup.
When baking soda is introduced to a hot melted mixture of butter and brown sugar, it releases carbon dioxide bubbles. As the dry soda is moistened from the hot mixture the bubbles start to form. This action creates a foaming effect in the mixture. Once the caramel mixture has started to cool, the trapped air bubbles create a softer, airier texture which can more easily coat and stick to the popcorn. How cool is that?
Another interesting fact: if baking soda is added to cocoa powder, perhaps if you were making a cake, it causes the powder to take reddish tones in color, hence the name Devil’s Food Cake.
If you have ever tried to make caramel corn without using baking soda you already know that it generally does not turn out well and the whole batch ends up in the garbage. And that is the story behind this important baking ingredient!
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