[Sca-cooks] Bakers borax again

Terry Decker t.d.decker at att.net
Sun Oct 14 18:45:16 PDT 2012

"Buraq" is a very general term and Brill shows more than two usages.  It 
appears that the collective reference is to any whitish crystalline 
substance which can be used as flux in soldering.  Armenian borax (modernly) 
appears to be borax pentahydrate while US borax is borax decahydrate neither 
is of use as a chemical leaven.  The first usage of the term Armenian borax 
is in a Coptic manuscript roughly contemporary to al-Warraq (IIRC).  I have 
seen no evidence that bakers' borax and Armenian borax are synonymous.

Redhouse's "A Turkish and English Lexicon" most helpfully defines "bakers' 
borax" as "soda used by bakers".  Oh, thank you for that insight.  I really 
would like to find an accurate usable definition.

I doubt if baker's borax is pure sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), which was 
first produced in 1791, but some form of sodium carbonate with a small 
percentage of bicarb (like natron) is certainly possible.  The leavening 
effect would not be as pronounced as with pure sodium bicarb.  Sodium 
carbonate alone would produce the glazing effect on the bread and might 
provide a very minimal 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
> www.daviddfriedman.com
> http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/

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