Frosting: Why soda in caramel frosting?

I recently got an e-mail from Dean asking why some recipes for cooked Caramel Frosting (the kind without confectioners’ sugar, also called Caramel Fudge Frosting) call for baking soda and some don’t and wondering, “What is the reason for using baking soda and what is the difference in the outcome of both ways of making the icing?”

Although I know that you can add cream of tartar or white corn syrup to prevent crystallization in the finished frosting and when making peanut brittle you add baking soda to give the clear sugar syrup the characteristic porous texture, I also know from baking that if there isn’t enough acid in a mixture to neutralize the soda, it will leave a bitter, soapy taste. I couldn’t think of any positive reason for adding baking soda to Caramel Frosting so I asked my friend and mentor, Jean Anderson (author of From A Southern Oven) what she knew about baking soda in caramel frosting. She said, “I see no need for it.  You’re just adding more sodium. If a little cream of tartar has been added to the caramel syrup to prevent crystallization, this tiny bit of added acid may be why some recipes call for soda – “to temper it.”. . . I personally wouldn’t add soda.”

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