In crafting and creating our food, we might sometimes forget the fascinating processes behind it all. There truly are a lot of forces at work getting our bread to rise, or attaining that perfect crisp to our chicken when we fry it. This is why we also can’t forget about certain ingredients that may seem inconsequential at first or forgettable. Most times, we end up remembering the components that add a great deal of flavor or protein to our dish. But ingredients like Lye water, also known as Lihia in Filipino, are part of what ties the entire dish together.
You might have heard of this in various rice cake or kakanin recipes, as it really is a staple in some of these dishes. And while it might not initially shine as a component in your ingredient list, it plays a vital part in the baking or cooking process. Lye water is responsible for that wonderfully gooey and sticky texture that distinguishes the taste of rice cakes from so many other desserts. What would your kutsinta be without that signature stickiness that makes it so delicious?
But before we delve into some other recipes we use this with, let’s get to the basics of what lye water actually is.
What is Lye water:
This is actually a food-grade alkaline solution that manufacturers create by dissolving lye in water. It is transparent, and essentially looks a lot like water. But don’t be fooled by its appearance, as it actually has a great deal of functions that make it unlike water. Firstly, it can give food a yellow color, and has functions in providing tint for your meals. This is where your ramen noodles may be getting its unique yellow color.
Lye water can also neutralize acid content in food, as well as give a bit of an alklaline flavor to your dish. Another important role of this ingredient is curing food like pretzels, bagels and olives. This is also essential in giving pretzels a nice and brown surface by treating its exterior, and also making it crunchier.
Considering how important it can be to some recipes, you might be wondering where to buy Lye water. Well, the bottled version of this can actually be bought in grocery stores or in the palengke or wet market in the Philippines. Because of how often we also like to make kakanin, it shouldn’t be too hard to find in local stores. But if you live outside the country, you might be able to catch a glimpse of it in local Asian markets or stores. The ones sold are ready-to-use, and usually are made of potassium carbonate and a white alkali salt that is soluble in water for your recipes.
But in the case that you can’t find it anywhere, or have simply run out of your supply of it, don’t fret. There is actually something that you can make at home that provides the same function, and is quite easy to make!
How to make Lye water of your own:
This isn’t necessarily one of the most popular ingredients that we use in our dishes. But don’t be intimidated by perhaps the unfamiliarity of Lye water. A homemade version is something you can actually whip up with just some baking soda and water! There are a few methods for this too. We just need to make sure to heat our baking soda so that we get a pretty strong alkaline substance that can perform the same duties as our original ingredient when we integrate it with some water.
Making this by using a pot:
You can try the boiling method, which will involve placing 1 teaspoon of baking soda and 4 cups of water in a medium pot. Make sure the pot is a bit deep. This is to ensure that we don’t end up with the water overflowing later on. Now with high heat, wait for this to boil for approximately 5 minutes. Make sure to keep your eyes on this so that it does not spill over. After you’re done, you can wait for the mixture to boil,. And then pour your homemade Lye water into an airtight jar for later use.
Making this by using the oven:
You could also bake your ingredients to turn this into a good Lye water alternative! Simply preheat your oven to 120 °C. And as you are waiting, use some aluminum foil to line your baking tray. Then put the teaspoon with baking soda on top of the foil, and distribute it evenly. Now put this inside your oven. Let this bake for approximately an hour wherein the baking soda will start to have strong alkali.
After this, you can take it out of the oven. But be careful not to touch the mixture with just your hands, as this is dangerous to sensitive skin. Place this in an airtight jar with caution, and make sure the powder does not get moisture from air. And when you need to use it again, you can just incorporate 1 teaspoon of this baking soda you’ve baked to 4 teaspoons of water. Stir this thoroughly, then feel free to use it with whichever recipe you’d like to get your hands on!
But if you’re at a loss for what to cook with this, I’ve got some options for you. Since you now have choices on your Lye water, whether it be store-bought or homemade, it is time to explore the various recipes you can try out!
Recipes making use of Lye water for your reference:
Scrumptious and sure to fill your stomach, Suman sa lihiya is a dish that you really won’t want to skip out on. It is a rice cake that boasts a mild sweetness. This makes it perfect with some brown sugar, white sugar or latik sitting atop it. And as previously mentioned, despite being best known as a dessert snack, it can be pretty hearty. This comes from our usage of heaps of glutinous rice.
Of course, your supply of Lye water also comes in handy for this dish. This helps give it that rich chewiness in texture. Now you might have had your fair share of this from seeing them sold practically everywhere in the Philippines, but it would be great to make some of your own! Not only would you get to have it at its freshest and most delicious, but it only uses few ingredients for your convenience. All you will be needing is glutinous rice, Lye water, a banana leaf, and water. Sharpen your cooking skills by trying your hand at some Suman Sa Lihiya!
And if you are craving some mighty tasty kakanin with a bit more sweetness and hints of a smoky or coffee-like flavor, this is the recipe for you. Kutsinta is definitely a fan favorite because it holds a distinguishable flavor compared to some other rice cakes. Other than its appealing sugariness, it has a unique taste brought by a nice amount of brown sugar.
Another fantastic part about this recipe is how easy it is to make. You will essentially be mixing and steaming, and you’ll be good to go! And by the end of it, you’ll have 6 servings that your family and friends are sure to love. Perhaps you could have it with some Suman sa Lihiya? After all, these two make a beautiful pairing, and are two kakanin foods we definitely enjoy having together! Just throw in your cold drink of choice, and enjoy some of this during the afternoon. Make sure your guests are satisfied and happy for meryenda by making some yummy Kutsinta!
Now even if Lye water is already pretty widely used in various recipes like the ones mentioned above, there are still concerns about its safety.
Is Lye water dangerous:
It is a pretty common misconception that lye water is not good for consumption. But rest assured that this is actually safe to have in your dishes. This is because food-grade Lye water is not the same we use for industrial purposes. There are other types that we use for cleaning and soap manufacturing, but the food-grade kind definitely differs from these. As long as you use it as indicated for your recipes, it is pretty much safe. However, you should be careful to handle it properly.
Do not swallow it directly from the container, as this can poison you or burn your mouth. Also be careful not to let it splash onto your eyes or skin, as this can also burn these areas. It would be important to go to the hospital if ever this were to happen. Just be sure to use this wisely and safely!
Other tips on handling Lye water:
Considering how this can be a pretty strong ingredient that won’t be safe for consuming on its own, you should also be mindful of how you use it in your recipe. Remember that going overboard with your Lye water, at least more than what the recipe says, could lead to a bitter flavor in your dish.
Now if you instead are looking for less of the taste of this ingredient, you could also try lessening the quantity of this by just a little. This could also work if you want a lighter tint on your food like if you are making noodles. Also make sure that it is out of children’s reach if you have any in the house. They may accidentally drink the Lye water on its own.
As for thoughts and questions about this ingredient, don’t hesitate to comment below! I’d be happy to answer any queries you’ve got! And perhaps we could also converse about some dishes you’d also recommend that use Lye water.