Sodium Bicarbonate in Food & Nutrition

Dive into sodium bicarbonate's usage in food & nutrition. Learn about its production, applications, health impacts, and safety in our detailed article.
10 min read

Sodium bicarbonate, commonly known as baking soda, is ubiquitous in the food and nutrition industry. Its unique chemical properties make it an indispensable ingredient in various formulations. This article aims to provide a comprehensive overview of sodium bicarbonate, focusing on its production, applications, and role in food and nutrition products. It is tailored for chemists developing and optimizing formulations that incorporate this compound.

What is Sodium Bicarbonate?

Sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda, is a chemical compound with the formula NaHCO3. It is a white crystalline powder that is commonly used in cooking. It is primarily used as a leavening agent. When combined with an acid, it produces carbon dioxide gas, which causes a rise in the volume of the food matrix. This makes it a key ingredient in bakery and widely used in food products like cakes, cookies, and breads. Thus, the name baking soda. 

chemical structure of sodium bicarbonate

Source: Wikipedia

Sodium bicarbonate is an inorganic compound and a weak base. It comprises sodium ion (Na+) and bicarbonate ion (HCO3-). When dissolved in water, it dissociates into these ions, interacting with other cations or anions to provide the desired effect. The chemical structure of sodium bicarbonate is given below.

How is Sodium Bicarbonate Produced?

The Solvay process is principally used for the synthesis of sodium bicarbonate. Sodium chloride, ammonia, water, and carbon dioxide are reactants. Sodium bicarbonate precipitates when carbon dioxide is bubbled through ammonia brine [1]. The process results in the formation of sodium bicarbonate and ammonium chloride. The sodium bicarbonate is then purified and crystallized. This method is favored for its efficiency and minimal environmental impact, making sodium bicarbonate readily available and cost-effective for industrial use.

Natural Source

Nahcolite is the natural mineral source of sodium bicarbonate. It is significantly found in Eocene-age Green River Formation deposits in Colorado’s Piceance Basin. It is mined from the deposits. 

Use of Sodium Bicarbonate in Food and Nutrition

In the food industry, sodium bicarbonate is critical in many applications. Its primary use is as a leavening agent in baked goods, where it reacts with acidic components to release carbon dioxide, helping the dough rise and achieve the desired texture. However, its utility extends to pH regulation, flavor enhancement, and even as a component in effervescent beverages. Understanding the breadth of its applications is essential for chemists creating innovative and effective food products.

Leavening agent/Raising agentIt is one of the most common uses of sodium bicarbonate. When combined with an acid, such as cream of tartar, it produces carbon dioxide gas, which causes dough or batter to rise. When heated above 100-120 °C, it decomposes into potassium carbonate and water and liberates carbon dioxide, thus increasing the volume of high-temperature processed goods.
EffervescentCombination with acid liberates carbon dioxide, which creates effervescence in beverages. 
Acidity regulatorIt is a weak base and can act as a buffer, helping to maintain the pH balance in various substances.
AntacidPotassium bicarbonate is also used as an antacid to relieve heartburn and indigestion. It works by neutralizing excess stomach acid.

Applications in Food and Nutrition

BakeryCake, Bread, Cookies, Tortillas, Pizza, Muffins, Crackers
Snacks & SavoryWaffles, Pancakes 
Soft drinksFlavored beverages, Effervescent beverage tablets
ConvenienceCake premix, Dough mixes, Powdered beverages, Batters, 
MeatProcessed meat
Infant foodInfant formulae
Chocolate & ConfectioneryHard candies, Chocolates, Chewables

Properties of Sodium Bicarbonate

Chemically, sodium bicarbonate is a weak base and is a buffer in acidic environments. This property is crucial in maintaining pH balance in food products. It is also heat-stable, making it suitable for cooking and baking. 

Physical FormCrystalline powder
TasteSlightly bitter/alkaline taste
Storage Temperature & ConditionsAmbient temperature in closed container
Molecular Weight84.007 g/mol
pH (0.1 M)8.3
Density 2.20 g/cc
Solubility100 mg/L (25 °C)
Claims (*Product Specific)Halal*, Kosher*, Vegan, Natural*

Typical Formulations

Pound Cake

Here is an example formulation table:

IngredientComposition (g)
Granulated sugar180.49
Wheat starch (Gelatinized)4.54
Vanilla flavoring2.63
Baking soda (Granulated)1.13
Sodium acid pyrophosphate1.04
Coated monocalcium phosphate0.54

Sodium bicarbonate is used as a leavening agent in this formulation, along with acid from sodium acid pyrophosphate.

Source: Google Patents

Baking Powder

Here is an example formulation table:

Ingredient% Composition
Sodium bicarbonate30
Sodium aluminum sulphate20
Monocalcium phosphate8.7
Calcium sulphate (anhydrous)14.2

The combination baking powder employs sodium bicarbonate with both SAS and MCP, which makes it a double-acting baking powder because of its ability to liberate carbon dioxide in the batter and baking stages.

Source: Google Patents 

Ice Cream

Here is an example formulation table:

IngredientComposition (g)
Milk cream59.2
Skim milk powder30.2
Carboxymethyl cellulose0.93
Egg yolk5.9
Baking soda~1.8 (0.6%)

The addition of baking soda to ice cream improved the viscosity and overrun. It maintained the pH of ice cream in the neutral range. It also made the texture of the ice cream softer and creamier due to the small cavities from  CO2  bubbles that weaken the bonding between ice crystals and other ice cream materials such as fat, sugar, and protein.

Source: ResearchGate 

Effervescent Tablet

Here is an example formulation table:

IngredientComposition (mg)
Potassium citrate2700
Citric acid850
Sodium bicarbonate750
Fruit flavoring4.4-8.8
Sodium benzoate10
PEG 600030

These tablets were prepared by compressing the active ingredients with sodium bicarbonate and organic acid such as citric acid. This combination provides effervescence.

Source: NIH  

Sodium Bicarbonate Formulation Considerations

Physical FormsPowder
Stability– Temperature: Decomposes above 108 °C.
– pH: Stable
Sensory AttributesOdorless white powder with slightly bitter taste
Dosage0.5 – 1.5 % or more depending on the application
Interaction with Other ComponentsReacts with acids in the food matrix

Effect on Properties of Food

VolumeSodium bicarbonate when reacted with acids or via thermal decomposition liberates carbon dioxide. This aeration causes an increase in the volume of the food matrix. 
TextureThe aeration caused by sodium bicarbonate makes the food smooth, fluffy, and comparatively lighter. It can also bring about effervescence in liquid formulations. 
pHSodium bicarbonate affects the pH of the food added to it. It is basic and thus causes an increase in the pH. 
Shelf lifeSodium bicarbonate affects the pH of the food matrix, thus improving its shelf life. It also has reported antimicrobial activity

In a study, sodium bicarbonate improved the shelf life of Kinnow fruits and extended it to up to 75 days from 30 days in specific conditions [2]. 
Freeze-thaw toleranceSodium bicarbonate improved the freeze-thaw tolerance of frozen dough and reduced the extractable protein proportion and free sulfhydryl level [3].

Sodium Bicarbonate vs Potassium Bicarbonate

Sodium bicarbonate is commonly used as baking soda. Potassium bicarbonate is generally a component of baking powder. Both have almost equal strength. The pH of sodium bicarbonate in 1% aqueous solution is ~8.5.

In contrast, the pH of potassium bicarbonate is ~8.3-8.4 in 0.1 M aqueous solution. Potassium bicarbonate is a sodium-free alternative to sodium bicarbonate for low-sodium food formulations.  Potassium is also an important nutrient and electrolyte.

Safety and Regulatory Considerations

FDA InformationSodium bicarbonate is listed as a direct food additive under the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 21, Part 184. Sodium bicarbonate is generally recognized as safe when used per good manufacturing practices [4].
EU Information In the European Union, sodium bicarbonate is regulated by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and is approved as a food additive under the code E500. It is listed in the EU’s food additives database with specific conditions of use and maximum permitted levels.

Safety and Toxicity of Sodium Bicarbonate

Sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda, is generally considered safe for consumption and has a long history of use in food. Ingesting small amounts of sodium bicarbonate as a food ingredient or antacid is generally safe for most people. However, consuming large amounts or using it excessively can lead to adverse effects.

Sodium bicarbonate acts as an antacid by reacting with stomach acids when consumed.

However, there are many concerns raised regarding its excessive use as an antacid. It can lead to metabolic alkalosis or even cardiovascular health issues

Identification Numbers

IUPAC Namesodium; hydrogen carbonate
CAS Number144-55-8
EC Number205-633-8
INS No. (Food Additive)INS 500 (ii)
E Number (Food Additive)E 500 (ii)

Acceptable Limits or Maximum Usage

Regulatory bodies like the FDA and EFSA provide guidelines on the maximum permissible levels of sodium bicarbonate in various food products. Adhering to these guidelines is crucial for the safety and acceptability of food products in the market.

The acceptable daily intake (ADI) is proscribed by the WHO as “not limited” [5].

The maximum usage level of Sodium bicarbonate in the food industry per the GSFA is as follows [6].

Food CategoryMax Level
Fermented milk (plain), heat-treated after fermentationGMP
Pasteurized cream (plain)GMP
Sterilized and UHT creams, whipping and whipped creams, and reduced fat creams (plain)GMP
Dried whey and whey products, excluding whey cheesesGMP
Fresh pasta and noodles and like productsGMP
Dried pasta and noodles and like productsGMP
Frozen battered fish, fish fillets, and fish products, including mollusks, crustaceans, and echinodermsGMP
Infant formulae2000 mg/kg
Follow-up formulaeGMP
Formulae for special medical purposes for infants2000 mg/kg
Complementary foods for infants and young childrenGMP
Coffee, coffee substitutes, tea, herbal infusions, and other hot cereal and grain beverages, excluding cocoaGMP
Herbs and spicesGMP

Fun Facts About Sodium Bicarbonate 

  • French chemist Nicolas Leblanc first isolated sodium bicarbonate in the 1790s. The leavening process and related applications in bakeries were later introduced in the 18th century by John Dwight and Austin Church in New York.
  • Sodium bicarbonate has been used since ancient times. The ancient Egyptians used a substance called natron, which contained sodium bicarbonate, for cleaning and as a soap-like material.
  • Beyond baking, sodium bicarbonate is used for many household purposes. It’s a natural cleaning agent, effective for deodorizing fridges and carpets, and can be used as a gentle abrasive for scrubbing. It’s also popular in DIY personal care products, like toothpaste and deodorant.
  • Sodium bicarbonate is a component of some fire extinguishers, especially those used for grease and electrical fires. When heated, it releases carbon dioxide, which helps to smother the flames.
  • It has been used as an antacid to treat heartburn and acid indigestion. In more critical medical situations, sodium bicarbonate can treat certain types of acidosis.
  • Athletes have used sodium bicarbonate as a legal performance enhancer. It can buffer lactic acid build-up in muscles during intense exercise, potentially improving endurance.
  • In baking, it reacts with acidic components (like vinegar, yogurt, or lemon juice) to produce carbon dioxide gas, which helps baked goods rise and become light and fluffy.
  • Sodium bicarbonate is eco-friendly compared to many chemical cleaners. Its non-toxic nature makes it a safe and green choice for household cleaning.
  • A paste made from sodium bicarbonate and water can be applied to insect bites and stings to help alleviate itching and irritation.
  • The oldest known deposit of nahcolite (the natural form of sodium bicarbonate) is in the Green River Formation in Colorado, which is believed to be about 50 million years old.
  • Sodium bicarbonate plays a role in the carbon cycle. It acts as a buffer in bodies of water, helping to maintain a stable pH and thus supporting aquatic life.

Additional Resources


  1. ScienceDirect – Article on Food Science
  2. IJCMAS – Research Paper by S.K. Jawandha and Kirandeep Kaur (PDF)
  3. ScienceDirect – Article on Food Chemistry
  4. FDA – CFR Title 21, Section 184.1736
  5. WHO – JECFA Database on Food Additives
  6. FAO – GSFA Online Additive Details