A couple of days ago, we went to the market to buy fresh seaweeds, I couldn’t resist passing by the suman stalls and I ended up with a bag of suman larger and heavier than the bag of seaweeds. I bought two varieties — suman sa ibos and suman sa lihia. That is suman sa lihia in the photo. Suman is the generic name for steamed sticky rice cake wrapped in leaf and lihia is lye water.
As I was eating my suman sa lihia, I remembered a comment posted years ago that, to this day, still makes my eyes roll in disbelief. I mentioned “lye water” in the pichi-pichi (peachy-peachy is the OA spelling) recipe and someone said lye water was liquid sosa in English.
Here’s a screenshot.
Much later, I wrote something about unclogging drain pipes with lye and I revisited that comment again. I linked to it and clarified that “sosa” is Spanish for soda. Lye is also known as caustic soda but “sosa” is not a direct translation of lye. Liquid Sosa is a brand of liquid lye for unclogging drain pipes.
Food-grade lye, or lye water, is NOT Liquid Sosa, for goodness sakes. Lye water is a food tenderizer and curing agent. And it gives food that distinctive chewy texture. In Asia, lye water is added to zongzi (savory sticky rice cakes that most Filipinos refer to as machang), Chinese noodles, Japanese ramen, moon cakes and the Filipino pichi-pichi, kutsinta and suman sa lihia, just to mention a few.
Is the use of lye in food exclusively an Asian thing? No. In Europe, it is used in the preservation of olives and the Norwegian lutefisk. In fact, “lutefisk” literally translates to “lye fish.”
It really pains me when people sow fear with their mistaken beliefs but that happens more times than we can care to count. But, seriously, do you know of anyone who has died from poisoning after eating ramen?