Where can I buy lye?
November 27, 2020 4:31 PM   Subscribe

Where can I buy food grade sodium hydroxide for making pretzels? Can buy online or in person in the SF Bay Area (East Bay). I read I should buy food-grade lye - not the kind marketed for drain cleaning.

My local hardware stores and drug stores do not seem to have, nor do trustworthy online cooking supply shops I checked like King Arthur Flour or Ball Canning supplies... The only places I found it that I know anything about are Amazon & Walmart which are the two corporations I do not want to support. I think I'd be OK buying from anywhere else - as long as it's a reliable/trustworthy company.

Where can I buy lye and trust I'm getting 'food grade', without shopping at Walmart?

I will also welcome your experience making homemade pretzels!
posted by latkes to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You can make lye by baking baking soda in your oven. I don't have a reliable link handy but it's not too complicated a process.
posted by Think_Long at 4:35 PM on November 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

You can special order lye from an Ace Hardware if they don't have it in stock. Or you can make it from ashes.

Update: whoops, I don't know if it is food grade, though! In that case, go with making it!
posted by aniola at 4:41 PM on November 27, 2020

I've seen this for sale at my local (large, mostly Chinese) international market, so that may work for you.
posted by SaltySalticid at 4:41 PM on November 27, 2020

Modernist Pantry has it.
posted by slkinsey at 5:08 PM on November 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

My neighbor, who sells very tasty pretzels at the farmers market (and also teaches pretzel baking classes), told me he uses Washing Soda (Arm&Hammer brand). If you can‘t find Washing Soda you can make it from baking soda. Don‘t know about a food grade source, sorry.
posted by The Toad at 5:32 PM on November 27, 2020

You might contact San Francisco Baking Institute - they teach a class on pretzels and pre-covid, students could buy supplies from them. Their site has changed and I think covid has really impacted them. They don't list baking ingredients for sale anymore.
posted by shoesietart at 5:46 PM on November 27, 2020

My husband likes making pretzels and orders the Essential Depot brand lye online (also available on Amazon). The pretzels have turned out great each time!
posted by catabananza at 6:14 PM on November 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've made pretzels (and bagels; so many bagels) with baked baking soda, AKA washing soda, AKA sodium carbonate. It is more water soluble than sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and nearly as basic as sodium hydroxide (lye) while being much easier to obtain. No really, you just bake baking soda. Whenever I make bagels I bake some baking soda in the oven while I'm preheating the stone, then I add that to a pot of boiling water.
posted by fedward at 9:29 PM on November 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

Give Spun Sugar in Berkeley a call. They're a baking/decorating supply shop that's always had the weird stuff I need when it comes to confectionery. They might also carry food grade lye, or know where to refer you.
posted by rhiannonstone at 11:20 PM on November 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

Preserved in Temescal seems to have it on their website. I have never actually been to their store as I live on the east coast but I’ve mail ordered flour and sourdough supplies from them on the recommendation of a friend who has been in persons and they offer either contactless pickup for online purchases or appointment based limited contact in person shopping.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 4:37 AM on November 28, 2020

Link to Preserved in Oakland.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 4:38 AM on November 28, 2020

I just making washing soda by baking baking soda. Dead easy and cheap! It works the same as lye in the recipes.
posted by ananci at 8:54 AM on November 28, 2020

Washing soda, and baked soda are only like 8-9 ph, and food grade lye is like what, 14-15? It makes a pretty signifiant difference when it comes to baking. Higher the PH, the lower the temperature needed for maillard to take place. I will sometimes use baked soda or washing soda in certain recipes (like, alkaline noodles), but for something like bagels or pretzels, I go with lye.

Your risk tolerance may vary, but as long as the label says "100% lye" and doesn't contain anything else, it pretty safe, it's going to be as damn near close to food safe as lye can get, even if it is labeled for use on drains. I use Rooto lye, it is 100% sodium hydroxide; it's not labeled as 'food grade' but when you're dealing with chemicals like this, that's a pretty subjective zone. That said, lye isn't really a 'safe' material to play around with. My wife makes fun of me for wearing goggles when I make bagels, but...wear googles. I can't imagine the string of profanities that would spew forth from my mouth if I got a speck of lye on an eyeball.

I have also used it for making soap, and unclogging drains. It works, seemingly, in all applications without any ill effect.

Etsy, shockingly, has lots of chemicals for sale that are baking adjacent. Here's one. That manufacturer also sells through their own website at Belle Chemical.
posted by furnace.heart at 10:27 AM on November 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

Thanks all! I already went ahead and ordered from Essential Depot but will go check out Preserved soon! I had no idea it existed. And the safety tips are appreciated!
posted by latkes at 2:03 PM on November 28, 2020

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