[Sca-cooks] Bakers borax again

David Friedman ddfr at daviddfriedman.com
Sun Aug 19 08:39:54 PDT 2012

al-Warraq is pretty explicit that it's  leavening. In one of the 
recipes, discussing what can go wrong, he mentions the possibility of 
dead yeast and suggests adding more buraq to make up for it.

"If the yeast was bad, add some more borax to the batter." (p. 415)

Nasrallah says it was also used to give bread a shiny surface, but I 
don't think there are any recipes in al-Warraq that do that. Any guess 
what that might imply about the nature of bakers' borax?

On 8/19/12 7:47 AM, Terry Decker wrote:
> 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.
> Bear
>> 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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David Friedman

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