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Food Science: what's the purpose of the baking soda in the ground beef?

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I have a dim sum recipe for some kind of meatballs. The recipe includes various flavorings (chopped tangerine peel, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar), stuff to hold the meatballs together and absorb liquid (egg white, cornstarch)--and baking soda!

Does anyone know what the purpose of the baking soda is? I've never seen any other recipe that adds baking soda to to any dish other than a baked bread kind of dish.

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  1. Bicarbonate of soda/ Baking soda is used in many Asian dishes as a meat tenderizer. There have been some discussions about this on the Home Cooking board.

    1. Is it solely to tenderize, or does it also make the meatballs lighter? Baking soda plus rice wine vinegar should equal leavening, right?

      1. interesting this comes up now. i,m doing r&d for a new concept utilizing chix. i'm western, partners are chinese. am trying to grasp the baking soda, msg marinade thing.

        i'll let you know after i drop em in the fryer.

        1. It took me a long time to find that out, many botched meatballs. If you've ordered steamed beef balls from a dim sum place you'll notice that it has an almost gelatinous texture. The marinating in the baking soda is what softens the meat and gives the meatballs that great soft texture. I like it alot, but some people don't seem to for some reason.

          It doesn't seem to work well with meat that isn't lean. When you make them correctly the center of the meatball should still be pink even though it's been fully cooked.

          Did you find the recipe online by the way? I wouldn't mind having another recipe for those.

          1. according to America's test Kitchen - 1/4 tsp baking soda and 1TBS water poured into 1-2 pounds of ground beef helps maintain moisture and stops the rubbery texture and dryness. Protein molecules seize up with high heat, the soda changes the PH of the protein, thus allowing it to be cooked over a high heat without the rubbery texture we get so many times. This is a great show for these kinds of explanations - I keep it in my DVR weekly. I had a 97% lean beef and put this in it and the hamburger was juicy and tender at medium. Amazing!