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baking soda as a tenderizer - has ruined my food twice now....

the first dish was a hoisin stir fry and the second dish was japanese curry (S&B)...i was using chicken breast both times (not the ideal meat but that's what i had) - not a lot of fat so i'd thought i would tenderize them with a baking soda paste (from a couple of posts i read here on chow). i would sprinkle BS on the sliced pieces of chicken and mix with dashes of water until pasty. this mixture would sit for 20 mins. then, i would rinse well before adding to the cooking process.

the food has turned out bad in that there is a very unpleasant aftertaste - i can't even describe it. when this first happened, i thought it was a result of improper seasoning. then, it happened again and i knew it was the BS.

this was especially frustrating with the curry because it is something that always tastes very delicious (it's very forgiving)...


did i not apply the BS correctly / with the correct method?

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  1. I would never think chicken needs "tenderizing".

    1. That's not how you do it.

      You need egg whites, not just corn starch.

      Start by slicing your chicken (or other meat), pound it out if you want but not necessary. Combine the meat with soy sauce, sugar, salt (optional), sesame oil (optional), Chinese cooking wine, a mixture of corn starch & water, and egg whites. Egg whites are a base and they do the brunt of the tenderizing. They're also what gives the meat that "velvety" texture, which is why the entire process is often called "velvetting". Marinate for 30 minutes or longer if you have the time.

      Then cook as desired, usu. stir frying, but usually never with curry which just sounds odd to me.

      5 Replies
      1. re: ipsedixit

        ipsedixit, i didn't mention anything about cornstarch but thanks for the info...

        1. re: xiaobao12

          Oops. Sorry, misread your post.

          Never used baking soda.

          1. re: ipsedixit

            My brain did the same exact thing, I'm not sure i've heard of using baking soda...

            1. re: chef chicklet

              I just remembered that I use baking soda sometimes to crisp up pork skin before roasting, sometimes roast chicken as well.

              But never for a tenderizier, or to velvet, or to marinade.

        2. re: ipsedixit

          Agree that cornstarch is the key, not baking soda, but I've never used egg whites. Just toss the meat with cornstarch and let it sit for about as long as you suggested. I make a sauce separately, then lightly brown the meat, adding the sauce to finish cooking the meat. The sauce chickens with help from the cornstarch.

        3. Have never tried it on chicken but use it on eye of round beef, and also pork loin for stir-fry. I dissolve a scant teaspoon in 2 - 3 tablespoons of water and massage into the sliced meat (1 to 2 pounds). Let soak for no more then 15 minutes. Next I basically "wash" the tenderized meat in 2 rinses of cold water. Pour into metal colander to thoroughly drain the meat. After 20 minutes or so I apply the desired marinade for 30 more minutes.

          7 Replies
          1. re: letsindulge

            thanks for the responses - does anybody know if the baking soda imparts a unpleasant taste if not rinsed off? i still don't know why it caused my food to have that same, nasty taste both times...

            1. re: xiaobao12

              Very possible. When you gargle with it, it's got a weird, metallic, burning kind of taste. I think I remember being told in science lab that that's what a base tastes like. I guess bases aren't very common in food, because it's a very odd, unfamiliar taste.

              1. re: xiaobao12

                Baking soda tastes awful! To be honest, I have never heard of this technique and even if I had, I wouldn't try it. Try tasting baking soda by itself. Just a bit on the end of your finger. I think you will agree that it isn't pleasant. I can't even stand when quick breads use too much of the stuff.

                I have used corn starch and potato starch to "velvet" my chicken, and that works very well. I only use this technique when I am cooking Chinese foods.

                1. re: smtucker

                  My recipe for sauteed beef with noodles called for tapioca starch...so it must be all the same mechanism...and indicates that it's starch, not baking soda the OP is after.

                  (I brush my teeth with it on occasion, but at those kind of concentrations in a cooked dish? Yecch)

                2. re: xiaobao12

                  yes. baking soda tastes extremely nasty. no surprise it would make food taste that way.

                  1. re: xiaobao12

                    pH imbalance. Once I left the lemon juice out of my muffins because I thought it was ridiculous to ask for that much lemon juice in a muffin recipe, and the flat-topped alkaline-pucks told me why.

                    1. re: xiaobao12

                      I just Googled "tenderizing baking soda" and found lots of article including some on this site.

                      Sounds like 20m minutes is too long. Most articles said if it went too long the meat would taste like soda.

                      I would tenderize another way.

                  2. i personally never heard of tenderizing meat with baking soda. but maybe i'm thinking of the "velveting" technique that uses cornstarch. aren't those the same? hmmmm. confused now.

                    12 Replies
                    1. re: linguafood

                      it's great for teeth whitening, tho '-)

                      1. re: linguafood

                        thanks to all for the posts - i guess i really should not have used baking soda. but for all those curious as to where i got the idea:




                        1. re: xiaobao12

                          I've read a whole lot of Chinese cookbooks in English and Chinese in my day and been around Chinese home cooks, and I have never seen baking soda mentioned as a tenderizer once that I can remember. It does have a nasty taste and even if I did see it mentioned I wouldn't do it. Too bad it ruined your dishes, that's a shame.

                          1. re: xiaobao12


                            Where in the Young recipe quoted above does it call for baking soda? She uses cornstarch. I have made that recipe and it is delicious! Well worth a re-try with cornstarch.

                            I think you have confused two ingredients in your mind.

                            1. re: smtucker

                              one of the comments suggested using baking soda to tenderize - see below the recipe. i did not confuse the BP and BS but i guess i used BS the wrong way.

                              1. re: xiaobao12

                                Personally, I would take the word of a world-renowned cookbook author over a random internet poster. But I can emphasize, this is a great recipe as written!

                                1. re: smtucker

                                  Acids and bases are generally more reactive than starch. I'd have tried the baking soda too.

                                  1. re: jvanderh

                                    How did the baking soda taste to you? Did you have the same reaction as xiaobao?

                            2. re: xiaobao12

                              Some Chinese restaurants use baking soda as a meat tenderizer - it is illegal in NYC though.

                                1. re: xiaobao12

                                  Old (and antiquated health law.) Baking soda used on meats reduces their thiamin content. In the USA we are not short of this vitamin (B1) so I do not know why the rule is still in place. Most likely from an earlier age when that was a concern.

                        2. I've definitely heard of baking soda used as a tenderizer. I've also heard of the velveting technique, which is completely different. Using baking soda as a tenderizer (even a small amount) can impart a different taste to the meat that some find utterly repulsive (even when washed out of the meat), and the texture of the meat can be a bit gummy.

                          1. The method/amount you describe sounds more like what is used with cornstarch or tapioca starch, not baking soda, except cornstarch is not rinsed off before using the meat. When baking soda is called for, use much less than you would cornstarch, and only on a tough cut of meat, not chicken. An amount that you might see is 1/4 t baking soda for 8-10 oz sliced meat. This would be in addition to whatever cornstarch is called for in the initial sitting in a bowl phase of your preparation to stir-fry.

                            The baking soda can change the texture of the meat, making it soft on the exterior. Too much will make it taste bad. What you describe might indeed make it taste bad.

                            Here is a set-up to sit around in a bowl that I have from a book by Grace Young, to show you amounts/ratios, but I no longer have the original, just my kitchen notes:

                            8 oz beef, sliced 1/4 inch (She might have used flank. I don't.)
                            1/4 t baking soda (I only use if cut of beef is tough, like flank.)
                            1 1/2 t cornstarch
                            1 1/2 t soy sauce (the ordinary kind, not the dark, thick kind)
                            1 t sherry (my substitution for the more authentic Shao Hsing)
                            1/4 t sugar
                            she may have added sesame oil, too

                            The book is The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen, which was fine. It is for her Tomato Beef.

                            1. Chicken breast is probably the most naturally tender protein there is.

                              If you cook it properly therefor no reason whatsoever to chemically or mechanically "tenderize" it

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: C. Hamster

                                thanks guys -- i learned my lesson.

                                saltwater, is that the whole recipe? i don't see any tomatoes...do you have the whole recipe, in your notes? thx!

                                1. re: xiaobao12

                                  Yes I have the recipe, I make it now and then, as my husband enjoys it. Remember, if you use flank meat, slice across the grain. I like a cut from the chuck blade area in this (the flatiron steak).

                                  When preparing the bowl of meat, sprinkle the BS on the meat if using, then add the rest of bowl ingredients and mix up and let it sit a brief while, maybe 10 minutes or so while you prepare the remaining ingredients. Also, since the bowl ingredients stick together as it sits, right before you use the bowl, stir in 1 t oil to separate it.


                                  Bowl ingredients from my first post

                                  1/2 of a medium red onion (cut off ends, slice in half on the longitude), make 1/2" longitudinal slices, separate pieces
                                  some oil
                                  6 fresh ginger root coins/slices, like US quarters (purists will peel the ginger first)

                                  1 t sugar
                                  3 tomatoes, peel (I don't), core, make 3/4" wedges

                                  1/4 cup chicken stock
                                  3 T oyster sauce (I use Lee Kum Kee premium, not the Panda kind)
                                  4 scallions, cut into 1 1/2 " long sections

                                  Make the bowl ingredients and let sit in bowl. Prep other ingredients. In a wok or I use a non-stick 12" skillet for this one, add some oil (1 T neutral flavor oil for my nonstick pan) and stir fry the onion wedges some, then add in ginger slices a bit, then add in the entire beef bowl, don't forget to separate it with oil, as mentioned above. Arrange beef flat in one layer and let sit still until browning. Stir now. When beef 90% done to your liking (I aim for medium rare by the time I serve the meal), put entire contents of wok onto a plate and reserve. Time it so the onions and beef are done simultaneously.

                                  In the empty wok/pan, add more oil if needed (I never do), add the sugar and tomatoes and stir fry one minute. Add the stock and the oyster sauce and cover the pan and cook about one minute. If you leave the skins on the tomatoes and you don't time carefully, you will have tomato skins separate and floating around in your meal. I cook it just under that, so the skins cling on, but the tomato has softened.

                                  Uncover. Return plate of beef and onions and juices to the pan. Stir together and add scallions briefly. Turn out onto serving plate. Serve with plain rice, I use jasmine. It makes a saucy dish, so it can cover more rice than the average stir fry.

                                  I have found the author was right, and it can be done reasonably well with off season tomatoes, so long as they are not the hopeless rocks found around February. I haven't made the dish for a few months (it is March). I use those "on the vine" things when they look good (for the off season).

                                  1. re: saltwater

                                    thanks for the recipe saltwater. i have saved it and am dying to try it. will let you know how it goes.

                                    1. re: saltwater

                                      Saltwater, I made this recipe two weeks ago. It was the bomb - better than any I've had in Chinese restaurant. I used great meat - Whole Foods - $15 / pound - ridiculously expensive but I think it made a huge difference.

                                      Thanks so much for posting this. It's a keeper..

                                      1. re: xiaobao12

                                        So glad you enjoyed it! You are right about good meat helping in this. That is why I use meat from the flatiron cut for it. I like its taste and tenderness.

                                2. In order for baking soda to lose it's bitterness it needs to combine with acidity in some form (typically buttermilk in baking recipes) so unless you've got a way to introduce some acid at some point in the preparation (e.g. orange juice, etc.) I doubt you'll ever eliminate the bitterness/metalic taste altogether.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: todao

                                    your descriptions, todao, sound like what happened to my dishes.

                                    for the Chinese dishes that use BS, what is the acid? the Shaoxing wine?

                                    1. re: xiaobao12

                                      Here's how the master chef in a classy Chinese restaurant I worked in tenderised all chicken using baking soda. The amounts  and timings need to be precise or you risk failure. The amounts below are for ONE chicken breast; multiply the amounts for more than one. Keep the timings the same as below irrespective of how many breasts you are using. This method gives moist, tender shiny chicken.

                                      1/2 teaspoon baking soda 
                                      1 chicken breast sliced as thin as possible across or with the grain - your preference (interestingly, the Master chef insisted his chicken breast be sliced very thinly with the grain). Sprinkle baking soda over chicken and mix gently but thoroughly to make sure it's evenly distributed. Cover in refrigerator for 10-12 mins. Remove and place in strainer. Rinse with lots of cold water gently but very thoroughly to remove all baking soda. Pat dry thoroughly with paper towels. 

                                      Place in a bowl with 1/2 teaspoon of corn starch and I teaspoon of Chinese rice wine. Cover and refrigerate for 15 mins.

                                      Then use in recipe as per usual. Don't overcook; it will take 30 secs to 1 min only in a very hot wok.

                                      1. re: 1109chrisb

                                        thanks for resurrecting this and for sharing your knowledge. I will try this.

                                  2. I think you meant to use sodium carbonate NOT sodium bicarbonate.

                                    Very different things.

                                    Here's a whole thread on its use in velveting. Be sure to read the whole thread, and
                                    scroll down for the technique links and photos.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                      Hi Maria, did you mean to put a link? Thank you!