Scientists have found a new use for sodium bicarbonate, more commonly used for baking and treating indigestion.

University of Wisconsin researchers and colleagues  in Poland discovered this compound improves pork quality. Taste tests show that consumers like the tender, juicy meat treated with sodium bicarbonate.

Robert Kauffman, meat scientist and University of Wisconsin emeritus professor, along with researchers Marion Greaser, Ronald Russell and Ed Pospiech, a visiting scientist from Poland, developed and patented a technique to control the rapid acidity that develops when pork becomes pale, soft and exudative.

They injected sodium bicarbonate into pork cuts from one side of a PSE hog carcass, while leaving cuts on the other side untreated. Kauffman says the treatment slows the rate and extent of acid development in the muscle, which could allow it to hold more water.

This process doesn’t change the meat’s flavor, only its color, texture, tenderness and water-holding capacity. It does raise sodium levels in the meat slightly.

Hormel Foods already has adopted this technique as a way to improve the consistency of its pork products. The company currently owns the exclusive license for the process.