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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
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    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
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    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! – user36818 Jul 14 '15 at 2:38
  • 7 p was used during WW2 in place of these items. The reason for this was Food Rations the Governments imposed on their people. So the food won't run out. – Beth Kent Apr 9 '18 at 18:20
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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.

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.

  • I have been looking at this answer to see how I can remove the topic of health from it, but I can't, because it is based around the fact that certain groups of people have certain health beliefs. So I will like to remind everybody: please accept this as a descriptive fact and do not comment on whether you agree or disagree with these beliefs, such discussion is off topic here. I may change the answers' tone too, if I find out how to make it less leading towards such reactions. – rumtscho Apr 10 '18 at 14:15
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I have developed an intolerance to eggs and sought some advice from a vegan Indian family I know. They have always used soda in their cakes. Since they've never had a cake made with eggs they admitted they have no way to compare the cakes but they said it is spongy and not dry. For them it isn't a matter of simple nutrition but a cultural and religious diet.

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    There are plenty of egg substitutes (even vegan ones) that better mimic the nutritional and culinary properties of a real egg than soda, though. – ESultanik Jan 7 '16 at 16:06
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Cake recipes that heavily use syrup (especially inverted syrup/honey due to its non-crystallizing, moisture-keeping properties) and can work well without eggs are not uncommon (several types of Gingerbread/Ontbijkoek/Syrup Cake...)

Now soft drinks (not the diet type suggested in that recipe, oddly, unless it uses sugar alcohols) ARE (thin) syrups. Additionally, the carbon dioxide will help start gas bubbles for raising, while the acidity of still dissolved CO2 probably helps to activate any (baking, not soft drink) soda in the recipe .

  • Eggs are basic, though, so replacing them with an acid will alter the pH balance of the batter and thus potentially hinder chemical leavening. – ESultanik Jan 7 '16 at 16:08
  • Something basic, unless it is the leavener itself, will hinder leavening. Eggs are there for textural reasons, they make the dough easier to leaven but are not part of chemical leavening. – rackandboneman Jan 7 '16 at 21:44
  • Oh yes you're right; I had things flipped. Sorry! But altering the pH of the batter can have other effects, such as hindering browning, which may or may not be desirable. – ESultanik Jan 8 '16 at 13:48
  • Yep, actually some recent articles advise to always add (very little, and without an acid to activate it) baking soda even to cookie recipes that you do not want leavened. – rackandboneman Jan 8 '16 at 14:01
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i am NOT a good cook...but COULD do cakes with eggs, oil...etc then I switched to the cola in the brownie idea...wow !! flavor, moist, not dry...not as 'heavy, dense' but much lighter and much much tastier...so those who wish to debate the science...I suggest you make a cake with just 2 ingredients...a box mix and a soda...give it a FAIR trial...don't tell the family (they won't know) until after the last crumb is consumed !!!

  • It's always great to know that it works, and this makes me want to try! But the original question was about why -- do you have any info about the food science involved? – Erica Jul 23 '18 at 16:18

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