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When making a cake from a box mix, I see that soda can be used instead of eggs and oil. What is the science behind this, and what are the properties of oil and eggs that the soda is replacing?

Here's an example of this substitution being mentioned (from ehow)

Reduce the fat in a cake by using soda to replace the oil and eggs, as well as the water. The cake will still have a tender and moist crumb, but will be somewhat chewier than usual. A diet soda may be used rather than regular soda, which will further reduce the total calories in the cake.

Edit: Here are some links to similar recipes

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Do you have an example from a better source? Sure you can dump soda in your batter, but I would expect it to be as similar to good cake as Koolaid is to freshly pressed juice. And ehow is not known for quality information. – rumtscho Feb 29 '12 at 22:02
@rumtscho Alright, added a couple more links to some recipes. I had trouble finding a place that gave an explanation. – Kryptic Feb 29 '12 at 22:17
I have done this many times. I think it tastes great. I find the only down side is that it falls apart just a bit more if made in a 9x 13 pan. But this also happens if I make it with my powdered eggs. So I tend to make the soda/cake mix into cupcakes. We all love them just as much. Sometimes I do it for less calories and sometimes I do it because I need to save my eggs for other recipes. I find it moist, yummy and a great dessert recipe – user13929 Oct 14 '12 at 23:21
I also wondered why this works. My daughter and I have both tried this with various flavors of cake mixes and soda, and it is delicious and moist. I don't know WHY it works, I just know it does! – cindy Jul 14 at 2:38

2 Answers 2

up vote 10 down vote accepted

There are lots of people who have a rather simplistic approach to nutrition and think that removing fat and calories makes you healthy. Then they go through recipes for things they want to eat, replace the sources of fat with something which doesn't have fat and doesn't make the result outright inedible, and declare their recipe a success. I think this is what happened here.

In a cake, eggs provide leavening, moisture, smoothness, own flavor, and enhancement of other flavors. Oil provides smoothness and enhancement of other flavors (and possibly its own flavor, if not netural). And while it is not water based, it keeps the moisture in the cake from evaporating, so it makes the cake less dry.

If you are a "simplistic nutritionist" without all this information, you can approximate some of the effects with soda. It will provide moisture, and it will also provide some leavening because it is fizzy. It will provide some flavor of its own too, but frankly, I find the rather chemical flavor of soda to be unpleasant. And it won't have any fat. In the eyes of the simplistic nutritionist, it has successfully replaced the oil and eggs while reducing fat and calories.

From the point of view of a baker, the cake will be a disaster, and won't even deserve the label cake. It will dry out quickly because it has no fat. It will have a bland flavor. Its texture will be terrible. They say "more chewy?" It will miss both the protein structure and the emulsifying agents provided by the eggs. It will be essentially an overwhelmingly sweet quickbread with no redeeming qualities. From a culinary point of view, it will be terrible.

From the point of view of somebody who understands nutrition, it can't be declared a success either. The matter is just too complex to be covered by blanket statements like "All fat is always bad for you". So while fat reduction may be advisable for some people, it is not clear whether eating such a product (which is still laden with questionable ingredients) is more or less healthy than eating normal cake, even if you don't include behavioral issues (eating more of a fatless cake because it is considered not dangerous). Neither me, nor the person eating the cake, nor even a nutrition specialist has a way to tell for sure whether the person's diet was made better or worse by the substitution. So, it is not like you are sacrificing taste for healthiness.

Bottom line: under some assumptions, it is a good substitution. For me, these assumptions are so far from reality as to be useless. It is a terrible substitution.

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I ran into this substitution in Dutch Oven cooking. By which I mean taking a pack of supplies out into the wilderness and cooking over a fire; where a dutch oven is used to fill the role of more numerous cooking implements. These days dutch ovens are increasingly appearing in kitchens, often covered in ceramic. Still a very handy pot, but it's a different game. Anyway...

A simple dessert (more cobbler than cake) can be made by pouring a can of fruit into the bottom of a dutch oven, spreading the contents of a boxed cake mix over the fruit, then pouring a can of soda over the cake mix. Cook over medium coals for about 45 minutes. The primary goal in this context is packing supplies which do not spoil, and transport easily. Canned fruit and canned soda beat eggs, oil and milk hands down.

I expect someone ran into this somewhere, and the idea made it's way backward into mainstream cooking. From there, I'm completely with @rumtscho. Just offering a potential history. ^_^

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