Bake With It Or Brush With It

            A subject for discussion tonight between my wife and me at the dinner table was toothpaste. The toothpaste I ordered online was about a week late in coming, and I assured my wife I could brush with another kind of toothpaste until it comes. But what if it doesn’t? This led us down many rabbit trails, and what began as small talk about toothpaste ended up as an analysis and investigation of baking bread and what causes dough to rise.

            Can you bake bread without yeast? Yes! What can you use if you don’t use yeast? Baking soda and lemon juice! And so on.

            Before I get into the culinary arts part of our discussion, let me begin with the dental hygiene part.

            When my parents were growing up, they brushed their teeth with baking soda (so they told me), because that’s what many families in those days brushed with. After my parents were married, they switched to Pepsodent or Colgate tooth POWDER, no doubt because they thought these popular toothpowders were flavored versions of baking powder, — but they weren’t. Toothpowder in those days was made from ground up chalk plus a detergent plus sweetening or flavoring.

            Many professionals who research such things believe baking soda right out of the kitchen cabinet is the best tooth cleaner. Contrary to what most people think, plain ole baking soda is actually less abrasive than any toothpaste on the market, so its advocates say. I have a hunch that ground up chalk is rather abrasive. My grandparents brushed with baking soda for as long as they lived. My mother would see-saw between Pepsodent or Colgate powder and baking soda, not knowing there was no baking soda in the toothpowder.

            So I grew up with a great deal of respect for baking soda, though I did not particularly like the taste of it, and didn’t use it. However, in fairly recent years, Arm and Hammer Baking Soda came out with an Arm-and-Hammer baking soda toothpaste, and I got on that band wagon right away, using it until I developed tooth sensitivity (from old age, not from the toothpaste). I was happy to discover that Arm and Hammer also now makes a toothpaste for sensitive teeth, — and it’s the toothpaste that’s a week late in arriving, — and triggered this whole discussion.

            Now for the culinary arts part of our discussion.

            It began with my wondering out loud if a person could bake bread using either baking powder or baking soda instead of yeast. Before we could pursue that question, we both wondered what the difference was between baking SODA and baking POWDER. So we googled it. Yes, iPhones and iPads are allowed at the dinner table.

            It amazed me to discover that baking powder contains baking soda, so, yes, they are similar. I also discovered that yeast, baking soda, and baking powder are all “leavening” agents used in baking. And, yes, baking soda can be used as a substitute for yeast in baking bread if you add an acid, such as lemon juice or milk with vinegar to the mixture. Wow! Who would have thought?!

            As a former biology teacher, my wife knew all about “yeast,” but I googled it anyway. She wasn’t, but I was, startled to discover that yeast belonged to a taxonomic group called “fungi,” because I am allergic to penicillin, mushrooms, and most other fungi. Good grief, am I also allergic to yeast?

            As a biologist, the wife knew yeast was a single-cell organism which multiples when fed with sugar, and the sugar causes the fungus to ferment.

            Since we buy our yeast at the grocery store, it was enlightening to learn you can make yeast from mashed potatoes or from flour and water, because most plant life contains naturally occurring yeast.

            One of these days my Arm and Hammer toothpaste for sensitive teeth will arrive, and one of these days, if my wife allows me to use her bread-making machine, I will make a loaf of bread using baking soda and lemon juice instead of yeast. Just for the heck of it!


Ray Spitzenberger, a retired college speech and English teacher and a retired Lutheran pastor, has recently published a book, It Must Be the Noodles, on sale at

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