For those times when every minute matters in the kitchen, a simple way to speed up cooking can be a lifesaver. Enter sodium bicarbonate, a.k.a. baking soda.
Unassuming as it may be, baking soda is nothing short of a powerhouse when it comes to quickly softening numerous types of vegetables, dried beans, and polenta. Adding just a pinch to the food as it cooks creates an alkaline environment that weakens the cell walls of the ingredients so they break down and soften more quickly.
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Make These Foods Cook Faster with Baking Soda
For polenta to lose its hard, gritty texture and turn creamy, enough water must penetrate the corn’s cell walls that the starch granules within swell and burst (or “gelatinize”). When a pinch of baking soda is added at the start of cooking, the pectin in the cell walls of the corn quickly breaks down, weakening its structure and allowing water to enter and gelatinize the starch in less than half the time.
When baking soda is added to the cooking liquid for green beans, their pectin rapidly disintegrates, turning the legumes silky soft in minutes.
Baking soda can work wonders on dried beans, saving you up to an hour of cooking time. Just be sure not to add more than ⅛ teaspoon per pound of soaked beans at the start of cooking—too much and the beans can end up tasting soapy and unpleasant.
CARROTS AND BROCCOLI
Adding a ½ teaspoon of baking soda to the simmering carrots or broccoli for pureed soups helps the vegetables break down quickly and create restaurant-level creaminess.
Incorporating a smidge of baking soda into onions or shallots while you sauté or caramelize them causes the alliums to rapidly soften so they nearly melt.