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E524 - Sodium hydroxide

Food additives

Group: E500–E599 (acidity regulators, anti-caking agents)
Sodium hydroxide, also known as lye and caustic soda, is an inorganic compound with the formula NaOH. It is a white solid ionic compound consisting of sodium cations Na+ and hydroxide anions OH−. Sodium hydroxide is a highly caustic base and alkali that decomposes proteins at ordinary ambient temperatures and may cause severe chemical burns. It is highly soluble in water, and readily absorbs moisture and carbon dioxide from the air. It forms a series of hydrates NaOH·nH2O. The monohydrate NaOH·H2O crystallizes from water solutions between 12.3°C and 61.8°C. The commercially available "sodium hydroxide" is often this monohydrate, and published data may refer to it instead of the anhydrous compound. As one of the simplest hydroxides, it is frequently utilized alongside neutral water and acidic hydrochloric acid to demonstrate the pH scale to chemistry students. Sodium hydroxide is used in many industries: in the manufacture of pulp and paper, textiles, drinking water, soaps and detergents, and as a drain cleaner. Worldwide production in 2004 was approximately 60 million tonnes, while demand was 51 million tonnes. Food uses of sodium hydroxide include washing or chemical peeling of fruits and vegetables, chocolate and cocoa processing, caramel coloring production, poultry scalding, soft drink processing, and thickening ice cream. Olives are often soaked in sodium hydroxide for softening; Pretzels and German lye rolls are glazed with a sodium hydroxide solution before baking to make them crisp. Owing to the difficulty in obtaining food grade sodium hydroxide in small quantities for home use, sodium carbonate is often used in place of sodium hydroxide. It is known as E number E524. Specific foods processed with sodium hydroxide include: German pretzels are poached in a boiling sodium carbonate solution or cold sodium hydroxide solution before baking, which contributes to their unique crust. Lye-water is an essential ingredient in the crust of the traditional baked Chinese moon cakes. Most yellow coloured Chinese noodles are made with lye-water but are commonly mistaken for containing egg. One variety of zongzi uses lye water to impart a sweet flavor. Sodium hydroxide is also the chemical that causes gelling of egg whites in the production of Century eggs. Some methods of preparing olives involve subjecting them to a lye-based brine. The Filipino dessert (kakanin) called kutsinta uses a small quantity of lye water to help give the rice flour batter a jelly like consistency. A similar process is also used in the kakanin known as pitsi-pitsi or pichi-pichi except that the mixture uses grated cassava instead of rice flour. The Norwegian dish known as lutefisk (from lutfisk, "lye fish"). Bagels are often boiled in a lye solution before baking, contributing to their shiny crust. Hominy is dried maize (corn) kernels reconstituted by soaking in lye-water. These expand considerably in size and may be further processed by frying to make corn nuts or by drying and grinding to make grits. Hominy is used to create Masa, a popular flour used in Mexican cuisine to make Corn tortillas and tamales. Nixtamal is similar, but uses calcium hydroxide instead of sodium hydroxide.

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