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Sodium Hydroxide ?? for Pretzel Wash

I am told that Natrium Hydroxide or as we know it "Sodium Hydroxide" is what the Germans use as a 4% bath for the pretzels that we all know and love. It can be bought at the Apotheke(drugstore) there. Does anyone know where it can be bought here? Only need about 15g to 30g by batch. Any suggestions would be helpful.

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  1. I don't know if something is lost in translation here, but sodium hydroxide is a very strong BASE, not an acid. AKA lye, used in cleaning, making soap, etc. The exact opposite of an acid. I know nothing about pretzel cooking, so I don't know if you're looking for an acid or a base...

    1. hmm, very interesting Celeste..ok..in translation from a German recipe and my wife that is also German, this is what they use. NatriumHydroxide, which Na, the atomic symbol is Latin for Sodium. I am reading on it and you are correct it is a lye, and for the purposes know to us, not seen in cooking at all. I referred to an acid wash I guess out of terms, basically what I meant was the washing before the baking, as in Bagels, Pretzels, etc? If you know someone that can translate German maybe they can get something different out of this message I was given


      1. It is in fact a lye like substance you are looking for, not an acid. If you have a European style bakery nearby they should be able to hook you up with a commercial dip for this purpose. You have to use a glass or stainless steel vessel for the dip, and be very careful with it. A commercial supplier of this solution is Abel&Schaffer, a German bakery supply company. It is also the ingredient in Drano. Baking the products makes them safe to eat.

        1. Learning to make these Bretzeln is like cracking the DaVinci code, thanks Mattrapp !! :-)

          1. Lye—Sodium Hydroxide—is widely used in food processing. Common uses include washing or chemical peeling of fruits and vegetables, chocolate and cocoa processing, caramel color production, poultry scalding, soft drink processing, thickening ice cream. Foods processed with lye include olives, lutefisx, hominy/grits, corn nuts, 100 year eggs, pretzels, and German lye rolls.

            Lye can be purchased at hardware stores and drug stores. Note that while many plumbing products such as Draino do contain lye, they often contain other chemicals that render them unsafe for food processing.

            1. This recipe uses a baking soda bath.


              I thought they came out pretty good when I made them.

              1 Reply
              1. re: LStaff

                Thanks for the baking soda recipe athough I have found that I cannot get the correct texture. Was to me not the same crunchy texture using baking soda, but what do I know.. will try anything to duplicate what I was eating day in and day out on my visit to Munich for 3 weeks.

              2. ok, I now went 0/2 in finding Sodium Hydroxide, the woman at CVS looked at me like I had three heads, and the guy at the hardware store said "We have sodium phosphate and rock salt" he says, you should search the internet, I did, and it brought me to you, what next? ... sodium hydroxide search ... to be continued .......

                2 Replies
                1. re: Jimbosox04

                  Don't ask for sodium hydroxide. ask for lye. Check the aisle where they have drain cleaners. Stay away from liquids and gels. You want 100% lye in granular or flake form. The brand Red Devil is widely available in grocery, drug, and hardware stores.

                  1. re: Jimbosox04

                    Any good chemical supply house will carry Sodium Hydroxide, Reagent grade, which is really pure. Also look for USP grade, slightly less pure, but is allowable for medical uses.... 'Better living through Chemistry"...

                  2. Maybe it's just me, but I wouldn't let hardware store lye anywhere near my food. There is a world of difference between "industrial grade" chems, which can have any number of contaminants (including toxins, carcinogens, heavy metals, etc.) in varying quantities - you're not supposed to eat it after all -- and "food grade," which are manufactured to much more stringent specs. I'm not saying it'll kill you, but at least be aware there is a very big potential difference between the two.

                    (I have no idea where, if, you can find food-grade NaOH in tiny retail quantities. Once upon a time maybe at a drugstore, but not at the Duane Read/CVS/Rite Aid variety, for sure.)

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: MikeG

                      Lowes sells lye.. good industrial/food quality lye. The only difference between industrial lye and food grade lye is purity.
                      Food grade lye is stronger. It is 100% pure lye. It lacks the impurities and additives found in your brand name or industrial strength lye products such as Drano. DO NOT USE DRANO.

                      at Lowes..
                      It is called Roebic Crystal Drain Opener. $14.98 for a 2 lb bottle. 100% pure lye. Perfect for cleaning drains and baking pretzels and bagels. http://www.lowes.com/pd_486650-331-HD...

                      I am making pretzels now.

                    2. I found food grade available at this one location on the internet. I wouldnt take the chance either with strains of other chemicals, If anyone else is interested the website is


                      maybe I am crazy for using this method but that is what I am told makes the best crispy coating on traditional bavarian pretzels.

                      Thanks again - Jim

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: Jimbosox04

                        I found this online, too...and the page even references pretzels: http://www.isss.biz/food-grade-lye.htm

                        1. re: Jimbosox04

                          I have lots of odd ingredients like orange blossom water and pomegranite molasses, so when deciding to get one I find it wise to find more than one use if possible, or face prized ingredient becoming clutter. The aaa link mentions also:

                          Olives - I always thought it was just brine, apparently not. Intigued as to the taste difference. I have seen olives growing in this country, but only teenyweeny ones, so not really practicable.

                          Lutefisk http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lutefisk , "I am fairly liberal, I gladly eat worms and insects, but I draw the line on lutefisk." .. doesn't sound all that great..

                          Hominy http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hominy , sounds downright odd. But here in the UK we are used to sweet sweet corn, not the US animal feed stuff. Doesn't sound very compelling regardless

                          Any other suggestions?

                          I think it can be used in soap. It occurs to me that lye can be homemade; partly prompted by the Fight Club connection - burning human sacrifices is a leetle beyond the scope of my cooking aims however :) I seem to recall that some kinds of seashells can be burned to produce it - its also called whitewash, sugar soap and brick acid (the acid when its blatantly super-alkali thing again). Perhaps food in the form of shellfish could be relied on to produce food-grade byproducts?

                          1. re: No essential nature

                            You owe it to yourself to try hominy grits.

                            1. re: 23skidoo

                              I agree with 23skidoo, grits are another whole dimension of the corn universe and you haven't experienced the full potential of corn until you've at least tried them. Plain grits with butter and salt, or a fancier version with garlic and cheese, the difference from regular corn is as big as the difference between plain rice and a good risotto.

                              BTW, the masa used to make corn tortillas and tamales in Mexican cuisine is alkalized too.

                              And in earlier times homemade lye for soapmaking was produced by pouring boiling water over wood ashes. Never heard of the seashell method- perhaps that produced calcium hydroxide?

                        2. If you can get the FG, what the hell? :)

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: MikeG

                            just found that I could Mike, wasnt an easy undertaking

                          2. I actually saved that link. ;) I wouldn't dream of paying $80/kilo under any circumstances, but I was thinking of getting some from the place you found - you never know when you might have a use for a little food grade lye! rofl

                            1. Will other caustics work?

                              Markets catering to Mexicans will carry "cal" or calcium hydroxide powder that is used to treat dried corn.

                              Chinese markets will have "gan sui", a solution of sodium carbonate and potassium carbonate used for some bread and noodle doughs and other uses.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: usr.bin.eat

                                I searched "gan sui" pastry and found apparently they are used for 'sweet joong', which there is coincidentally an article on here about: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/405795

                                It reminds me, I thought I heard 1000 year eggs can be made with lye..

                              2. I am not sure that other caustics would work, that is like telling a German brewer to try a different kind of hops other than Bavarian.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Jimbosox04

                                  It appears that potassium and sodium hydroxide were often not distinguished, both being referred to (and usually in) lye..

                                  It also appears to be simply the alkalinity of the solution that does the trick. I will consult a chemist friend..

                                2. Look at this one !!! This should end the discussion and arguement that I have been chasing for a time. This was a lab that was done by Ohio State University Students, based on the browning of pretzels using different solutions and the results, read for yourselves.


                                  Now I am a believer, if you have ever been to the Bavarian region of Germany you would understand why I am so passionate to figure this out. :-)

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Jimbosox04

                                    Too right!

                                    "The NaOH pretzels had a great savory flavor. The Na2CO3 pretzels had a fairly decent flavor, but not as great as NaOH. For crust formation, NaOH pretzels had the best crust. It was dark, thick, glossy, and had the most even coverage. Na2CO3 also produced an even, brown, slightly glossy crust, but the thickness of it was not as great as the NaOH."

                                    Na2CO3 is sodium carbonate or baking soda.I suspect it would be possible to produce a similarly alkaline solution to the lye using baking soda (both used at 2%) however. Perhaps not, you don't ever have to wear gloves to handle it after all..

                                  2. OMG, I made a batch of pretzels and washed with the Sodium Hydroxide Solution for my In-Laws after a great Thanksgiving feast, lemme tell you, they are Bavarian and were they impressed. The Quest is over and the secret is mine forever. Give it a try and open a bakery near you !!

                                    4 Replies
                                      1. re: Jimbosox04

                                        Is there a chance that you would share this recipe with us?

                                        1. re: chouxchef

                                          I've been using Alton Brown's pretzel recipe from Good Eats.

                                          It uses baking soda instead of Lye, but they are very tasty. He mentions using lye in the episode, but his lawyers wouldn't let him. Since then, I've been search for info on lye dips. Which led me here.

                                          The recipe is sound though.

                                        2. re: Jimbosox04

                                          Yeah, is there a recipe and did you go with FG Lye? I just spent two weeks in Bavaria and I am on a similar hunt on how to make great pretzels.

                                        3. I've made Bavarian/Schwabian pretzels with lye used for making soap (food grade? not sure) and the Natrol brand land a friend brought from Germany. Both were great and tasted accurate to that in Germany. I had a chemist friend do the calculations and there's no way to get water as basic with baking soda as with lye since you'd need to dissolve several lbs in a cup of water to get the same pH and that ain't gonna work!

                                          1. That's what we used in our food chemistry class at the University of Florida to turn them brown. A baking soda solution or a salt solution also works. Maybe try a specialty food store or a cooking supply store. They might carry stuff, particularly if you're in a large city.

                                            1. Just thought I'd bump this thread. There is a current thread on my home board (Western Canada) regarding a source for food grade lye and I thought I'd pass this info along:


                                              1. If you need a food-grade alkali that is stronger than baking soda, try looking for "cal" in a Mexican grocery store. Mexican cooking uses the calcium hydroxide for nixtamalization. (Look it up on Wikipedia).

                                                What you need the alkali for is its ability to enhance the Maillard reaction- browning that occurs as sugars and proteins combine.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. Lye is very difficult to find these days, since it's used heavily in manufacturing Meth. I used to run a soaping business and had to special order the stuff by the case. Got an interesting visit from the police and had to actually show them my soaping equipment and business web site before he believed that I wasn't running a meth lab.

                                                  If you want to do the lye bath, maybe try looking at some places online that sell soaping supplies. They may still be able to get it for you, but it's been a while since I've seen it in any of the grocery stores.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                    1. re: Jimbosox04

                                                      Thanks for this thread. I also have been trying to figure out what I was doing wrong as I wasn't getting the dark chewy crust. The reciepe I have did not mention lye bath only the soda bath so I thought I was doing something wrong. I will try the lye, and hopefully will soon have the flavor and texture that I fell in love with in Germany!

                                                    2. Interesting & applicable piece by Harold McGee in the NY Times:

                                                      The relevant section: "...baking soda is too mild to produce the particular flavors and textures that lye can. But thanks to the simplest chemical magic, you can cook up a more muscular and versatile alkali from your cupboard. You just bake the baking soda.

                                                      Just spread a layer of soda on a foil-covered baking sheet and bake it at 250 to 300 degrees for an hour. You’ll lose about a third of the soda’s weight in water and carbon dioxide, but you gain a stronger alkali. Keep baked soda in a tightly sealed jar to prevent it from absorbing moisture from the air. And avoid touching or spilling it. It’s not lye, but it’s strong enough to irritate.

                                                      Baked soda is also strong enough to make a good lye substitute for pretzels. In order to get that distinctive flavor and deep brown color, pretzel makers briefly dunk the shaped pieces of raw dough in a lye solution before baking them. Many home recipes replace the lye with baking soda, but the results taste like breadsticks, not pretzels.

                                                      Baked soda does a much better job of approximating true lye-dipped pretzels. Just dissolve 2/3 cup (about 100 grams) in 2 cups of water, immerse the formed raw pretzels in this solution for three to four minutes, rinse off the excess dipping solution in a large bowl of plain water, and bake. "

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: PrawoJazdy

                                                        I admire Harold McGee, but I have a question about the basic concept. If you go to the trouble of baking baking soda into a more alkaline compound that is as strong as lye, why not just use lye? It's cheap and you don't have tobake it, etc.

                                                        1. re: AsperGirl

                                                          Easier to find, since every grocery store carries it, and no doubts about its food-grade quality?

                                                          From reading the posts here & on other cooking-focused sites, I'm not sure it's easy to find food-grade lye in bricks & mortar stores. I don't plan my cooking/baking far enough in advance to order lye online.

                                                      2. Asian markets will often sell a premixed solution of sodium hydroxide or potassium carbonate, labeled as "lye water". It's a relatively strong solution - I just use a couple tsp when making noodles, but I don't think you'd want to dilute it much more for a pretzel bath.

                                                        1. I procured a lye solution from a pretzel making friend a few times, and they were the best pretzels I've ever made.

                                                          That said, I've found a baking soda solution to be much easier and cheaper to procure (obviously) and work with. The pretzels with the baking soda wash have come out great as well.

                                                          But, if you really want true Bavarian style pretzels I think lye is your only option. I haven't done an extensive search for lye in the states, but I also haven't really tried because the baking soda solution works well enough for me.

                                                            1. Oh my goodness! PLEASE DO NOT PURSUE USING SODIUM HYDROXIDE TO MAKE PRETZELS. I am a scientist and can assure you that even 4% sodium hydroxide, when boiling, can permanently scar your skin and will DEFINITELY BLIND YOU if you even get a drop in your eyes. If you ignore this warning, DO NOT USE SODIUM HYDROXIDE from a hardware store. This is like using Home Depot (R) paint for food coloring. It isn't made for food use.

                                                              Yes, sodium hydroxide is used to make authentic German pretzels, but do your homework before you are permanently mamed. This stuff is dangerous. Google for a safety data sheet for sodium hydroxide. While you are at it, google industrial accidents using sodium hydroxide.

                                                              Be safe!

                                                              3 Replies
                                                              1. re: jvernice


                                                                I'm sure you have the best of intentions, but your ALL CAPS warnings and lame analogy about using paint for food coloring (in fact, using hardware store lye instead of food grade is like, well, using hardware store lye instead of food grade) are just a little insulting to those of us who have used lye in baking or soap making many times and still have the use of both eyes and all our fingers. You may have been misled by the original post referring to a 4% solution. If you had checked some online recipes and done the math, you would have found that typical concentrations are 0.1% to 0.5% by weight. I've had such a solution splash onto my hands many times, and it is uncomfortable, but I just rinse with cold water and my hands are as smooth as an Easter lily (ok, maybe not, but at least they have no chemical burn scars). Yes, be careful because lye is indeed dangerous, but don't get hysterical.

                                                                1. re: Zeldog

                                                                  Just to add onto to this a bit. I've worked with lye a bit between soap making and other projects. Some precautions that should be added, keep a bottle of vinegar around as a neutralizing agent in case your get some on yourself or in your work area, add the lye to the water (not the water to the lye) or you'll get to enjoy a volcano of caustic solution all over you and your work area. Rubber gloves, the kind you use for washing dishes are helpful. If any of it splashes, clean it up immediately, it'll ruin the finish on a counter.
                                                                  I've been dancing around the idea of using lye instead of baking soda and egg whites for a while, pretzels just don't turn out 'right' any other way it seems. If I get some down today I'm going to try it.

                                                                2. re: jvernice

                                                                  You don't boil the lye water. You dunk the pretzels and then place them on the tray before putting them in the oven.

                                                                  You should take care when mixing the lye water (add crystals to water, not water to crystals) and dunking, and always use food-grade lye, but it is not difficult to do in a safe manner, and there is no substitute when it comes to making a proper pretzel.

                                                                3. Anyone know where I can get food grade lye in Canada? Neither AAA nor Amazon deliver lye to here.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. Lowes sells lye.. good industrial/food quality lye. The only difference between industrial lye and food grade lye is purity.
                                                                    Food grade lye is stronger. It is 100% pure lye. It lacks the impurities and additives found in your brand name or industrial strength lye products such as Drano. DO NOT USE DRANO.

                                                                    at Lowes..
                                                                    It is called Roebic Crystal Drain Opener. $14.98 for a 2 lb bottle. 100% pure lye. Perfect for baking pretzels and bagels. http://www.lowes.com/pd_486650-331-HD...