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Sodium carbonate (E 500): application & recommendations

by Josephine Andrews
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It is a versatile kitchen helper: Sodium carbonate is a salt of carbonic acid. The food additive has the European approval number E 500. This includes both sodium carbonate (soda) and sodium hydrogen carbonate (baking soda) as well as mixtures of the two. Sodium carbonate is primarily valued as a raising agent. Find out here which products contain it and whether it is harmful to your health.

What is Sodium Carbonate?

Sodium carbonate is a crystalline white powder. On the one hand, it is obtained from minerals that occur naturally in soda lakes and dry deposits in America and Africa. They will be dismantled there. Since the minerals are usually contaminated, the source minerals are processed before transport and further use and then converted into crystal water-free, purified soda.

In addition to the production of soda from natural sources, sodium carbonate is also produced chemically by introducing ammonia and carbon dioxide into a saturated solution of sodium chloride.

Strictly speaking, this additive summarized under E 500 consists of several different sodium carbonates with different properties:

  • Soda (E 500i; Na 2 CO 3, Natriumcarbonat, Dinatriumcarbonat),
  • Natron (E 500ii; Na2HCO3, Natriumbicarbonat, Natriumhydrogencarbonat)
  • Sodium sesquicarbonate (E 500iii; mixed crystal of soda and baking soda)

Is sodium carbonate used?

Sodium carbonate is used in the food industry as an acidity regulator, raising agent and carrier. Baking soda and soda are common kitchen gadgets.

Baking soda is used as a raising agent and is part of baking powder. It is ideal for this purpose because it releases CO2 at comparatively low temperatures, such as 60 degrees, and turns into sesquicarbonate, which in turn releases carbon dioxide together with a weak acid. The resulting gas increases the volume of the dough, it “rises” and becomes loose.

Soda is commonly used to regulate the acidity of drinking water. Since it also makes insoluble food components soluble (breaks up), it is used in cocoa to increase the color intensity or in coffee substitutes as a breaking down agent.

Soda, along with baking soda and disodium phosphate, prevents evaporated milk from curdling. Sodium carbonate is permitted as a dispersing agent in melted cheese, boiled cheese or boiled sausage, which means that it supports the optimal mixing of at least two components that are not miscible.

Sodium carbonate may also be added to organic products, at least for those of plant origin. If animal products are to be used, this is only permitted in exceptional cases – for example with sour cream butter.

E 500 is found in the following food products, among others:

  • Backpulver
  • Sauerrahmbutter
  • Table washer
  • Processed/cooking/sour cream cheese
  • boiled sausage
  • Cocoa and cocoa products (e.g. chocolate)
  • Coffee Substitutes/Coffee Additives
  • effervescent powder

Soda and baking soda can also be found in detergents.

Sodium carbonate questionable?

Sodium carbonate can cause irritation in direct contact with skin or eyes. In general, sodium carbonate is considered harmless to health. As much of the additive may be added as is necessary to achieve a certain property in the respective product (quantum satis).

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