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

University of Wisconsin-Madison 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 UW-Madison emeritus professor, along with researchers Marion Greaser, Ronald Russell and Ed Pospiech, 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 meat cuts from one side of a PSE hog while leaving cuts on the other side untreated. Kauffman says this method 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 also slightly raises the sodium levels in meat.

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