View Full Version : Is lye edible?!

02-03-2001, 01:47 PM
I recently came across a recipe for soft pretzels that said they were dipped in a water-lye solution--that's right--lye! It even said to wear a mask and gloves when working with it. After dipping, the pretzels were boiled in baking soda and water and baked. It said that the combination of boiling, baking soda and boiling makes the pretzels safe to eat. Has anyone ever heard of this, or does anyone know anything about this procedure?

02-03-2001, 02:56 PM
Tee hee!

Obviously you weren't here for our little lutefisk discussion. While certainly distasteful to a lot of us, this lye business has been around for a long time. Millions of Scandinavians still up and around after eating this stuff are testimony to the fact that it apparently doesn't kill ya! http://www.cookinglight.com/bbs/wink.gif See below:

lutefisk lutefisk; lutfisk
A Scandinavian specialty made with unsalted dried COD. The age-old preparation method is to soak the dried cod in regularly changed cold water for a period of eight days. The cod is then soaked for two days in a mixture of water and potash lye, after which it's soaked for two more days in fresh water. (Thankfully, for fans of this dish, ready-to-cook lutefisk is commercially available.) The final step is simmering the fish for 10 to 15 minutes, just until it becomes translucent. Just before serving, lutefisk is sprinkled with ALLSPICE, salt and white pepper. It's accompanied with white sauce (see BÉCHAMEL) and, typically, boiled potatoes

02-04-2001, 01:48 AM
Hi Gail,

Thanks for posting that good information about that wonderful dish, "Lutefisk."

I would have said that Lye was not edible, but evidently if it is used as a preservative, and then soaked out in plenty of fresh water it has no effect on Scandinavians anyway.

There's an old story around here about that Lutefisk, and Lye, and Ireland, and the Vikings.

The short version is that when the Vikings invaded Ireland the Irish weren't too happy about that, and that some of them snuk up on the storehouse of the Vikings late one night and tried to poison them all by putting Lye all over thier fish.

The Vikings noticed someone had messed with their fish, and that the fish was not rotting as fast anymore, and when they cooked it they liked the flavor, and they stayed in Ireland.

So that's the story.

Ad, if you make those Pretzels, let us know how they turn out, and how you turn out too after eating them.

Happy Cooking,


02-05-2001, 03:53 PM
Hey Ed!

Where've ya been keepin' yourself?? http://www.cookinglight.com/bbs/smile.gif
Thanks for the story. PS, although I've told him otherwise, my husband still has this strange idea that you're sending us a recipe for lutefisk.

By the way, I did attempt to go back and amend my comment slightly, but for whatever reason that night I was having major problems with this site. Obviously I wouldn't EAT lye, nor would I suggest the stuff is edible-- rather I was merely citing that there seem to be ways to process with it and then adequately remove harmful residue.

Julie O
02-05-2001, 11:15 PM
Is lye edible? It would depend on the concentration. With LOTS of water, I guess it could be eaten, although I'm not sure why you would want to. (Without lots of water, it could cause severe burns.) The recipe is intriguing. I'm going to check in "On Food and Cooking" tonight about how bases (lye, baking soda) react with gluten (the main protein in flour). For some reason, your recipe needs a stronger base than baking soda. Hmm...what does the lye do the flour???

In the olden days, people would wash children's mouths out with lye soap when they were bad. Lye soap is lye reacted with animal fats to make a soap. (So, it's not actually lye, although I bet there's some left behind during the soap-making process.) Lye does the same thing with the oils in your skin, i.e., make a soap.

Lye is very hard to find in stores anymore. In fact, I'd be surprised if you could find it at all.

Could you post the recipe? I'd like to take a closer look at it.

02-05-2001, 11:43 PM
Hi Gail,

I've been around here all winter so far, but we have certainly been busy, and I have not been able to be on the computer as much as I would like to be, at least not on the fun stuff like Cooking Light. I have been doing more writing though for another organization or two.

Well, Your Husband is living right because I happen to have a Lutefisk recipe for him, and here it is.

* Exported from MasterCook *

Baked Lutefisk 01

Recipe By :Ruth Edholm

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
-------- ------------ --------------------------------

Rinse and drain fish well. Cut into serving pieces.

Place fish one layer deep, skin side down, on a piece of heavy foil large enough to completely cover fish.

Sprinkle with salt and fold edges of foil together to make a complete seal.

Place in a large shallow baking pan.

Bake in a slow oven (325°) for 35 to 50 minutes or until Fish flakes easily.

serve with melted butter or creamy white sauce.

Gail, if you make this for your Husband let me know how you like it. I kind of think that you folks might like it, because Ruth, as Scandavavian Cooks go, was one of the best.


Julie O
02-06-2001, 10:12 AM
Sorry. I didn't explain myself very well earlier about tasting the lye. I understood your question. I was having a flashback to a chemical education workshop I was once at where they wanted people to taste diluted acids and bases to understand how chemists once tested chemicals. Ugh! I refused to participate. Partially because I was afraid to but more importantly because I thought it was a very poor example of the work chemists do. (Most of the people in the workshop weren't scientists & they got the impression that chemists still go around tasting everything in their beakers! UGH!)

Anyway, I did some researching & the reason behind the lye is quite neat. This is actually practiced commercially. (According to "On Food and Cooking" by Harold McGee) The pretzels are dipped in a 1% lye (aka sodium hydroxide) in water solution. (He suggests a baking soda solution for soft pretzels & home bakers. It doesn't specify a concentration, though, so you should be cautious because if it's too concentrated it will taste bitter or salty.) The lye aids the browning of the outside of the pretzel. (Is the recipe at a relatively low baking temperature?) The base reacts with the starch on the outside of the pretzel dough to make it brown more readily. (Does the dough have any sugar? Sugar normally is what allows food to brown.)

As for what becomes of the lye, it reacts with carbon dioxide in the air to form a completely harmless carbonate. (examples of carbonates include Tums, limestone, carbonic acid in soft drinks) So, it's completely safe to eat a pretzel dipped in lye. And, if you've ever eaten a pretzel, you've probably eaten one dipped in lye.

Hope this helps!

02-07-2001, 01:32 PM
Thanks, Ed!

But, what kind of fish do I use??

...and where's the lye? http://www.cookinglight.com/bbs/wink.gif

02-07-2001, 03:43 PM
I make pretzels this way at home, and if you have never made soft pretzels, oh they are wonderful!!!

I only use about 1 Tablespoon of lye in about 4-6 cups of water and dip the risen pretzels into the solution. WEAR GLOVES because it is caustic to the skin and will burn you, even in that small of amounts, and you have to put the pretzels on parchment paper so it doesn't react to the metal sheet pans.

You dont' need a special recipe, just use a day old lean french bread recipe and make pretzels.

I learned this technique while attending a Pastry Chef/Bakers Learning Weekend some years ago. A German or Swiss baker was explaining how to use up day old french bread and make profits.

Also, not only does the lye give a special dark brown crust with a nice chew to it, but it has a very special flavor that baking soda can't give.

Happy Baking!!

02-07-2001, 04:23 PM
Hi Gail,

You use Lutefisk, That's a Cod Fish that has been soaked and preserved in Lye. So when You get that Lutefisk, it needs to be soaked, and rinsed, then soaked again until the Lye is all soaked out.

Being that you live in California you might not be able to get Lutefisk there, you might need to order it from the Olsen Fish Company in Minneapolis, here's their web site, they have some recipes etc.

Olsen Fish Co. http://www.olsenfish.com/recipes.htm]

There are a few Lutefisk sites on the web, one of them is:

The Sons of Norway, they have some recipes and some good information. http://www.sofn.com/recipes/lutefisk.htm]

Gail, if you and your Husband are lucky enough to get some Lutefisk, It will be a meal you'll never forget.

I've tried, as you can see by the number of edits, to post a photo of the world's largest Lutefisk at Madison Minnesota, but it just wont work, so I'm just going to send the post without it.

Best Wishes and Happy Cooking,


[This message has been edited by Ed (edited 02-07-2001).]

02-07-2001, 04:53 PM
Originally posted by Ed:
Gail, if you and your Husband are lucky enough to get some Lutefisk, It will be a meal you'll never forget...

That's what I'm worried about! http://www.cookinglight.com/bbs/tongue.gif I still remember that poem.

Thanks for the links. Looks like I'll have to go mailorder if my husband really wants to try it. Even our specialty stores have been lutefisk-free.

Thanks for the advice.

02-07-2001, 04:57 PM