There are certain labor-intensive recipe phrases that can make the most diligent cook roll her eyes. "Do I really have to do that?" we wonder. Leave your Do I Really Have To Do That? questions in the comments and they shall be answered, saving us all a lot of needless trouble.Aida Mollenkamp, host of Yahoo! Shine's In the Pantry shed some light. "Baking soda acts as a deodorizer that not only prevents your fridge from smelling but also prevents your foods from getting 'cross contaminated' with flavor." Meaning baking soda keeps the butter for your morning toast from tasting like leftover salmon.
Right now, I have a box of baking soda on the top shelf of my fridge, languishing and long-forgotten in the back corner. It might have done its duty at one time, sucking up the smells from a diced red onion or curried lentils, but isn't it just hanging out now like some bump-on-the-log houseguest? Do I really need it in there?
Karyn Siegel-Maier, author of The Naturally Clean Home, explained the kitchen chemistry at work in the little orange box. "Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, is amphoteric, meaning that it consists of molecules that react with other molecules that are acidic or alkaline. When foods start to 'turn' in the fridge, they release stinky gases with acidic properties, namely hydrogen sulphide and methane. The ions in baking soda 'grab' these rogue molecules and neutralizes them, making them less offensive to our noses."
When baking soda isn't effective is when its as old as the leftover mustard on the fridge door. While Arm & Hammer previously recommended replacing the box in your fridge every three months, research has since shown baking soda loses its odor-zapping power in about a third of that time. "A box of baking soda will remain effective at odor-busting for 30 to 45 days" said Siegel-Maier. "Of course, nothing beats cleaning out leftovers on a regular basis."
What else can work, in addition to a good scrub down? Some kitchen chemists suggest charcoal, which can also act as a deodorizer, but Siegel-Maier suggests an alternative more likely in your kitchen year-round: a dish of coffee grounds. "It's even more effective if you add a splash of vanilla extract."
But it's probably not worth shelling out for any of the specialty fridge-deodorizing products on the market, since baking soda works and costs less than $1. Mollenkamp advises keeping one box in the fridge and another in the freezer and jotting down the date on the outside so you know when it's time to swap in a new box. "My only word of advice is that you don't use that baking soda for cooking because it might have odd flavors from the fridge!"
Final verdict: If you'd like to keep your fridge sweet-smelling, and your leftover banana pudding from tasting like yesterday's enchiladas, keep an open box of baking soda in the fridge, and replace it each month. For the best-tasting cookies, keep a separate box for baking use.
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