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Why do you add baking soda to sweet tea?

Sweet tea is a beloved staple beverage in many parts of the southern United States. This refreshing, sugary iced tea gets its characteristic sweet taste from being brewed with a higher sugar concentration than most other iced tea recipes. However, some recipes for sweet tea also include the addition of baking soda. This may seem like an unusual ingredient to add to a beverage, so why exactly do people put baking soda in sweet tea?

Reasons for Adding Baking Soda to Sweet Tea

There are a few key reasons why baking soda is sometimes added to sweet tea:

To Neutralize Acidity

One of the main motivations for adding baking soda to sweet tea is to neutralize some of the acidity from the tea leaves. Black tea tends to be higher in tannins that can give it a bitter, acidic taste. The baking soda helps to balance out this acidity and makes the overall flavor of the tea more smooth and palatable. The alkaline nature of baking soda brings the pH level of the tea closer to neutral.

To Enhance Browning of the Tea

When steeped for a long period of time, as is typical with sweet tea recipes, the tea leaves release more tannins, resulting in a darker color. The baking soda is thought to help enhance this browning process, allowing the tea to take on a rich, dark color even with shorter steeping times. This darker color is seen as more visually appealing.

To Reduce Bitterness

In addition to neutralizing acidity, baking soda can help mellow out some of the bitterness in brewed black tea. Compounds like catechins and polyphenols that give black tea its characteristic bitter taste are softened by the pH-modifying power of baking soda. Just a small amount can make the tea taste less astringent or biting.

To Soften the Flavor

Not only does baking soda reduce bitterness, but it also rounds out the overall flavor profile of sweet tea. The alkalinity helps mellow the tangy bite of the tea, giving it a smoother, more balanced flavor. This allows the sweetness to shine through instead of being overridden by tannins or acidity.

To Enhance the Sweetener’s Flavor

Adding baking soda is thought to allow the sweet taste of the sugar or sweetener used in sweet tea to come through more clearly. The less acidic environment created by the baking soda prevents the sweetness from being muted. This lets you use a little less sugar or sweetener while still achieving the desired sweet flavor.

How Baking Soda Affects Sweet Tea

To understand why baking soda has such an impact on sweet tea, it helps to take a closer look at the chemical reactions occurring. Here are some of the key ways baking soda alters the chemistry of steeped tea:

Neutralizing Acidity

The key reaction is that baking soda neutralizes acids. An acid like citric acid from lemon juice reacts with the sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) to form carbon dioxide gas plus a neutral salt, like sodium citrate. This interaction reduces the acidity of the tea.

Increasing Browning

Compounds in tea leaves called polyphenols are responsible for some of the color. Baking soda causes more of these polyphenols to become oxidized, resulting in faster browning reactions.

Softening Catechins

Catechins are a type of polyphenol in tea that contribute to bitterness. Baking soda apparently helps convert catechins into derivatives called theaflavins that are less harsh and astringent.

Reducing Bitterness

In addition to altering catechins, baking soda binds to bitter tannins and polyphenols in tea, reducing their taste. The alkaline environment reduces their solubility so fewer interact with taste buds.

Enhancing Sweetness

Baking soda does not directly make the tea sweeter. But by reducing acidity, it prevents sugars or sweeteners from being deactivated, allowing their sweetness to come through more clearly.

Proper Dosage of Baking Soda

When adding baking soda to sweet tea, moderation is key. Too much can make the tea taste soapy or overly salty. A good rule of thumb is:

For a Half-Gallon of Tea:

– 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
– 1/2 teaspoon baking soda for very acidic tea

For a Gallon of Tea:

– 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
– 1 teaspoon baking soda for very acidic tea

It’s best to start with less and adjust upwards if needed. You can always add a pinch more baking soda to reach the desired pH balance. But it’s hard to fix overly alkaline tea with an unpleasant soapy taste.

How to Add Baking Soda to Sweet Tea

There are two main methods for incorporating baking soda into sweet tea:

Add to the Hot Tea

For most efficient mixing, stir the baking soda into the freshly brewed concentrated hot tea. Mix until fully dissolved then let cool before diluting with cold water and ice.

Sprinkle in Cold Tea

You can also simply sprinkle the baking soda on top of the finished chilled sweet tea, then stir to dissolve. This works fine but may take a little more stirring and time to dissolve fully.

Either way, be sure the baking soda is completely incorporated so you don’t get a mouthful of gritty powder if it sinks to the bottom. A few quick stirs before serving prevents this.

The Effect of Baking Soda on Tea Health Benefits

While baking soda can improve the taste of sweet tea, some sources raise concerns about it negatively impacting the health benefits. Here is a look at how baking soda could alter the compounds linked to tea’s benefits:


Polyphenols like catechins and flavonoids are antioxidants. Baking soda may lower these by converting catechins and oxidizing polyphenols. But the drop in antioxidants is likely minor.


Baking soda does not degrade caffeine so the energizing effect remains. If anything, it might extract a bit more caffeine by making the solution less acidic.

Vitamin C

Some vitamin C is destroyed by baking soda. But tea is not a significant source of this vitamin. A squeeze of lemon juice easily compensates for any losses.


The fluoride content could be slightly decreased. But tea is a minor contributor to fluoride intake compared to other sources.


Baking soda may allow for better hydration by producing a less acidic, electrolyte-rich beverage.

Overall, baking soda likely causes only minor changes to sweet tea’s nutritional value that are arguably outweighed by the benefit of a better taste. Those concerned about health effects could instead use lemon juice to balance acidity.

Should You Add Baking Soda to Your Sweet Tea?

Whether or not to add baking soda comes down to personal preference. Here are some pros and cons to consider:

Potential Benefits

– Improves balance of flavors
– Reduces bitterness and acidity
– Enhances color
– Allows sweetness to shine through

Potential Drawbacks

– Alters natural tea taste slightly
– Risk of soapy flavor if too much is added
– May very slightly reduce some nutrients

For those who enjoy the bubbly, molasses-like flavor of soda-altered tea, the benefits likely outweigh the downsides. But purists may find baking soda alters the tea’s natural flavor in an unappealing way.

The amount of baking soda used is small enough that health effects are negligible. But you can always leave it out if concerned. Your homemade sweet tea will still be tasty without baking soda – just perhaps a little more bitter.

Best Practices for Adding Baking Soda

If you wish to use baking soda in sweet tea, here are some tips:

– Use sparingly – 1/4 to 1/2 tsp per half gallon maximum
– Mix thoroughly until dissolved
– Add to hot tea for best dissolution
– Taste and adjust as needed
– Increase amount for very acidic tea
– Avoid aluminum cookware which reacts with baking soda

With the right approach, just a pinch of baking soda can enhance sweet tea’s flavor. But be careful not to overdo it. Moderation and diligent mixing are key for soda-sweetened tea perfection.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does baking soda really make sweet tea taste better?

For most people, a small amount of baking soda does improve the balance of flavors in sweet tea by reducing bitterness and acidity. This allows the sweetness to come through more clearly. However, baking soda does slightly change the natural tea taste in a way some people dislike. It’s ultimately a personal preference.

How does baking soda change sweet tea?

Baking soda makes sweet tea less acidic and bitter while producing a smoother, more well-rounded flavor. Tea browns faster, and the sweetness is more pronounced. Too much baking soda can make the tea taste soapy or salty.

Is baking soda healthy to drink in tea?

In the very small amounts used to alter tea’s acidity, baking soda is considered safe for consumption. It does not have significant effects on the nutritional value or health benefits of tea. But very excessive amounts could potentially pose harm over time.

What does baking soda do to iced tea?

Similar to sweet tea, baking soda lowers the acidity of regular iced tea and reduces bitterness from tannins. This creates a smoother, less astringent flavor. But because iced tea is not sweetened, the impact on perceived sweetness is minimal.

Can you use baking powder instead of baking soda?

No, baking powder should not be substituted for baking soda. Baking powder contains baking soda mixed with an acid and will not have the same effect. Pure baking soda is needed to properly neutralize acidity in sweet tea.


While not a traditional ingredient, baking soda is added to sweet tea by some Southern cooks to balance the flavors. It neutralizes bitterness and acidity, allows sweetness to shine, enhances browning, and creates a smooth, mellow taste. About 1/4 tsp per half gallon provides chemical tweaks without overdoing it. The impact on nutrition is minor. While not mandatory, baking soda can elevate the flavor of sweet tea for those who enjoy the subtle effect it provides. Proper dosage and mixing techniques ensure soda-laced tea is perfected, not ruined. With its bubbly bite tamed by a just pinch of baking soda, a glass of chilled homemade sweet tea is a soothing delight.