Scandinavian peoples traditionally serve lutefisk to the Christmas table. Literally, this name translates as "fish in alkali", which, in fact, accurately characterizes the dish. Lutefisk is a pre-dried fish that is kept in an alkaline solution for several days, then soaked in water, fried and served. In this form, the fish acquires an unusual jelly-like consistency. What's the secret? The fact is that the alkaline solution of Scandinavians is prepared from caustic soda - the very aggressive substance that is more commonly known in our country as a means to effectively clean sewer pipes. Probably, many now thought: “Oh, horror! How can they eat this?” But they should stun you even more. Most of us, if not daily, then regularly eat food containing caustic soda. It’s just that in the food industry it is hiding under a different name - additive E524.
The scientific name for E524 is sodium hydroxide or caustic soda. This very aggressive substance of synthetic origin has no analogues in nature. In natural conditions for itself, it takes the form of white scales or small granules of soap to the touch.
Nowadays, it is widely used in various sectors of life, including medicine, pharmacology, food industry. In agriculture, for example, caustic soda is used to check cow's milk for impurities. This substance is used in the production of various types of household chemicals (the most popular ones are for cleaning water and sewer pipes). In cosmetology, caustic soda is added to shampoos, soap, nail polish removers, creams, and also to get rid of dead skin. In addition, sodium hydroxide is an indispensable substance in the oil refining, pulp and paper industry and in the production of diesel fuel.
In the food industry, sodium hydroxide is used to regulate acidity, as a stabilizer and emulsifier. Despite the very aggressive properties and an impressive list of side effects, caustic soda as a dietary supplement is allowed around the world.
Hazardous properties of caustic soda
Caustic soda is a rather dangerous substance. On contact with the skin and mucous membranes, deep and very painful wounds form. Contact of caustic soda with the eyes is very dangerous, as it causes atrophy of the optic nerve, which leads to blindness. If you accidentally inhale caustic soda powder, an attack of severe coughing, shortness of breath will begin, a sore throat will appear, and even pulmonary edema may occur. And you can only imagine what this substance is capable of doing with our internal organs. If you accidentally swallow caustic soda, very quickly severe pain and a burning sensation appear in the abdomen, anaphylactic shock is possible. At the slightest suspicion of sodium hydroxide poisoning, it is important to call an ambulance immediately. Skin areas affected by caustic soda should be washed with a mild solution of boric or acetic acid, mucous membranes with clean water, eyes should be treated with a very weak solution of boric acid, and then with water.
Although sodium hydroxide is used in microdoses in the food industry, side effects are possible with regular use of foods containing E524.
What may be contained
Food supplement E524 can be contained in a wide variety of product groups, in which it performs a variety of functions. Take at least jams and marmalades, which often contain sodium hydroxide. In this group of products, the additive plays the role of a regulator and stabilizer of the acidity level. If you add a certain amount of caustic soda to the dough for baking, then the finished product will get a beautiful ruddy crisp.
The most famous muffin made using caustic soda is German bagels. Black canned olives get their dark color and characteristic consistency also thanks to the addition of E524. In products made of chocolate, cocoa, butter or other types of fats, sodium hydroxide accelerates the breakdown of proteins. This supplement comes to the rescue even when it is necessary to quickly and easily peel the fruits from the skin. To do this, fruits, berries or vegetables are simply treated with caustic soda. In addition, the acidity regulator E524 is used in the production of dairy products, margarines, ice cream, and various types of sweets.
Sodium hydroxide is a dangerous chemical compound. And although in the food industry E524 is used in small doses, which usually do not pose a danger to humans, excessive caution will not hurt. If you do not want or cannot refuse the E-containing food yourself, then try to at least minimize the number of "eaters" in the diet of young children. And for this, do not forget to check what it consists of before buying a product.