I’m working on a post about how to think critically and evaluate the sources of information. It’s taking some time, so in the meantime I’ll tell a story about some soup I tried to make and how it kind of turned in to BBQ sauce. There will also be science.
One of my favorite meals is a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup (yes, sometimes I have the eating habits of a preschooler). I found a straightforward recipe that I really like, so I make it quite often. But, the last time I made it, it didn’t go so well. I had read that you can caramelize onions more quickly by adding baking soda and I thought it might be nice to have the onions very caramelized, especially if I could get them that way without spending all day doing it the traditional way (which, by the way, takes forever even though most recipes lie and say it takes under 10 minutes).
I didn’t take the time to read about how much baking soda to use. Now comes the science-y part. You know how a base neutralizes acid? Do you know that baking soda is a base? I knew, but I wasn’t thinking about it while I was dumping several teaspoons of baking soda in with my onions.
They bubbled quite impressively, and then browned very quickly. I had done it! I made the instant caramelized onions! Yay me!
I added the tomatoes and stock. Still more bubbling. Lots of bubbling. Everything turned brown. “No matter,” I thought. I figured the onions are more browned so of course the soup will be brownish. I let everything simmer for a bit, then pureed the soup. It’s usually at this point that I taste it and add salt if needed.
I tasted it. It was bland and sweet. And really, really, brown. And thick. It was like bland BBQ sauce.
“No matter,” I thought. I figured I could just thin it out with some more stock, and add some salt. It will be fine.
I thinned it out and added some salt, then put it away in the fridge. The next night I made grilled cheese and tomato soup and it was … it was horrible. I mean, it was almost inedible it was so heavy and slick and cloying and … it was like eating a bowl of mediocre BBQ sauce. I choked down most of the bowl because I hate to waste food, then wondered if I would be able to get through the whole batch.
As I was preparing to ladle out another bowlful the next night, I figured it out. Base neutralizes acid. One of the main components of a tomato’s flavor is acid. I had neutered my tomatoes. So, it wasn’t just the sweet, caramelized onions that made it taste so odd, it was the onions with no acidic tomatoes to contrast. Ugh.
Still not willing to throw food away, I made a hail Mary effort by adding lemon juice to the soup to add back some acid. And, it actually kind of worked. It brought the soup from gross to edible, but it still wasn’t the delicious tomato soup I normally enjoy. And I couldn’t get past the BBQ sauce color.
I ate about 1/2 of the batch and then decided life is too short to choke down revolting soup, even revolting soup that has been somewhat repaired with the addition of lemon juice.
In case you want to make some delicious soup, the recipe is simple – 1 onion, a few cloves of garlic, 1 29-oz can of tomatoes, stock, basil. Sauté the onions and garlic, add the tomatoes, stock and basil, simmer, puree, make yourself a nice grilled cheese sandwich, and eat. Just don’t add any baking soda!