[Sca-cooks] Bakers borax again

Terry Decker t.d.decker at att.net
Sun Aug 19 07:47:09 PDT 2012

E.J. Brill's First Encyclopedia of Islam 1913-1936, list several other types 
of "borax."  Obviously, borax is being used as a generic name for a number 
of naturally occurring compounds rather than as a specific mineral, sodium 
borate.  The translator is correct, as far as the translator goes.

As for natron, the primary constituent is soda ash, sodium carbonate, which 
is a natural water softener.  There are modern bread recipes which call for 
both yeast and buraq, suggesting to me that it may be the water softening 
properties that are desired.  As a generalization, soft water makes better 
bread.  At 17 percent, you would need roughly 2 Tablespoons of natron to get 
1 teaspoon of sodium bicarbonate, so again I would think that the intent was 
to soften the water with the added benefit of a little chemical leavening.


> I've been reading al-Warraq and am still puzzled over the borax question.
> According to the author and the translator, there are two kinds of borax: 
> Natron and baker's borax (aka Armenian borax). The latter is used in food, 
> both to make a glossy surface on bread and, apparently, as a leavening! 
> The translator says that it is sodium borate, which is what is now called 
> borax--and never explains the chemical difference between the two kinds, 
> although she does describe their differing appearance.
> But according to Wikipedia, natron doesn't have any boron in it. It's a 
> mixture of sodium carbonate decahydrate  and about 17% sodium 
> bicarbonate--aka baking soda. Which suggests that perhaps bakers' borax is 
> baking soda, or some natural mineral that consists largely of baking soda.
> In which case we not only have a period chemical leavening, we have period 
> baking soda!
> -- David Friedman

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