I have a (molecular) cooking recipe with instructions on introducing an agent to create an alkaline (base) environment while cooking (to influence the Maillard reaction).

What 'normal'/common ingredients can I use to create such an environment in my pan?


That is absolutely correct, an alkaline environment will speed Maillard reactions, and baking soda is a simple choice for creating it. The one thing to watch out for, depending on what you are cooking is that it can also create a mushy texture. You'll want to use a very small amount, less than 1% by weight for sure.

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Baking soda is the easiest and safest way to get a base in cooking. I've never heard of using it for browning, though.

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    Lowering the PH aids browning. A lot of pretzel recipes will have a baking soda wash for this purpose (as well as texture). – Sobachatina Aug 31 '10 at 14:36
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    @Sobachatina: Lower pH = more acidic. A base (higher alkalinity) would have a higher pH. – Aaronut Aug 31 '10 at 14:52
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    @Sobachatina Now that I think about it, I think I have seen pretzel and bagel recipes that used either baking soda or a lye solution . . . but I certainly wouldn't recommend anyone use lye in a home kitchen. – Bob Aug 31 '10 at 20:29
  • Here's a chicken recipe that uses baking powder to get a nice crisp brown skin -- I guess because of the influence on the Maillard reaction: thepauperedchef.com/2008/02/crisp-skinned-r.html – Martha F. Sep 2 '10 at 15:57
  • @Martha baking powder actually contains baking soda (base) + cream of tartar (acid), leaving it with a neutral (or close to it) ph. I wonder why that recipe works; it seems that straight baking soda would do a better job. – Bob Sep 2 '10 at 16:23

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