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This source claims that adding baking soda is crucial when soaking chickpeas. Is this true, and if so, what is the reason that this works?

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Crucial? No.

  • I regularly do really tasty chickpeas without baking soda.

Beneficial? Maybe it gets done quicker.

The baking soda makes the soak basic(pH wise). This is known to smoothen maize flour to make tortilla dough pliable enough. I would guess it has the same effect on the chickpea shell.

This answer is a shot from the hip guesstimate. Upvote/downvote as appropriate.

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Chickpeas should be soaked for a minimum of one night (~12 hours) before cooking. 24+ hours is even better.

Adding baking soda can get the chickpeas ready to cook in about an 1.5 hours.

Adding baking soda to the cooking water itself is claimed to help reduce post-consumption gas.

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