Thursday, November 11, 2010

A journey of scientific and etymological discovery (with cookies!)

In my hometown of The Midwest, everyone refers to carbonated beverages as "pop." In my current town, The East Coast - and apparently most everywhere else in the country - they call them "soda." When I first came here and found my colloquial vocabulary such a source of endless amusement to the residents of my new home, I adapted to the common usage and never gave the issue much thought—except to occasionally revert to using the word "pop" during socially awkward moments in order to get a laugh and a conversation going.

But today, my curiosity came out of the woodwork while I was making peanut butter cookie dough—of course an activity having nothing to do with carbonated beverages. However, the connection was made because of a fortuitous cooking disaster. Ever since my cornbread failed to rise a few days ago because of being made with 6-years-expired baking powder, my mind has been attuned to leavening agents. So, naturally, I was prepared to pay a little more attention to my baking soda than usual. Baking soda. Sodium bicarbonate. Carbonate(d) soda?

Because I love to be distracted and work on anything but my actual work, I decided now was the time when I absolutely must learn how beverages actually become carbonated, and whether that has anything to do with why they are called "soda." I'd always kind of imagined the carbonation process was similar to how vegetable oils become hydrogenated—which, now that I think about it, is also a bit hazy to me! The Internet was not particularly helpful to me in my search—I know now that carbon is added to liquids under pressure, which enables it to dissolve. But I do not know how that feat is accomplished, nor do I have any idea what it has to do with soda.

Feeling unsatisfied, I have jumped to my own conclusion. Several histories of the soft drink industry indicated that the first carbonated beverage was "soda water," so I assume (without any factual data to back me up) that other carbonated beverages which came after were logically referred to as flavored soda water, or soda for short. But the question still remains: why is soda water called soda water? According to Wikipedia, soda water is thus named because sodium salts are added to it to make it taste more like naturally occurring mineral water. Webtender even goes so far as to say that the specific sodium salts added are sodium bicarbonate.

Ah, baking soda.

And I have come full circle, to peanut butter cookie dough. Which I totally deserve to eat after conducting all that grueling research.


Tariq said...

Neat! Well, I don't like the word "soda" in the context of chemicals. Soda is often sodium oxide (Na2O). Caustic Soda is sodium hydroxide (NaOH). In any case, I'd rather just call them their chemical names!

Hmm. There's also sodium carbonate (Na2CO3) in addition to sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3).

Anyhow, I actually did not know how drinks were originally carbonated! I would have guessed that they added dry ice to liquids in cylinders (at least, that's a ghetto MacGyver way of pressurizing things).

As far as hydrogenations...if I recall correctly, those are done using high pressure hydrogen over some metal catalyst.

Anyhow, I've had the worst heartburn lately and I've been munching down on Tums, which contain 750 mg of sodium carbonate. :)