In today's column I write about the un-acids, ingredients that are alkaline and give unusual flavors and textures to a small but significant set of foods that includes pretzels, tortillas and tamales, Oreo cookies, and ramen-style noodles. Baking soda, sodium bicarbonate, is a weak alkali and not good for much more than leavening baked goods. But a brief baking in the oven converts soda into soda ash, sodium carbonate, a much stronger alkali and a good substitute for lye, which is so strong that it's best handled with gloves and goggles.
I also give a recipe for making alkaline noodles, which originated in China and were adapted in Japan as ramen noodles. They have a distinctive eggy flavor and yellow color. The Japanese make them with kansui, a mixture of sodium and potassium carbonates, but the Chinese appear to rely mainly on sodium carbonate, and I found that baked soda works well on its own.
The web edition of the Times includes a recipe for dry-hot alkaline noodles from Fuchsia Dunlop, the wonderful chronicler of Chinese cooking (Land of Plenty, Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper).
Fu, B. X. Asian noodles: History, classification, raw materials, and processing. Food Research International 2008, 41:888-902. doi:10.1016/j.foodres.2007.11.007
Hatcher, D.W. and H.J. Anderson. Influence of alkaline formulation on oriental noodle color and texture. Cereal Chemistry 2007, 84:253-59. doi:10.1094/CCHEM-84-3-0253