Easy Nacho with DIY Sodium Citrate!


If you're a fan of melted cheese, in the form of nacho, chili cheese fries, or movie theatre pretzels with cheese dips, you've probably heard of Sodium Citrate, the emulsifier that makes American cheese melt so wonderfully.  If you haven't heard of it, don't get scared away by the "chemical" name. If table salt doesn't worry you, swapping out the chloride for citrate really shouldn't make the salt more alarming. If you ever buy the product in its purified powdered form, it just tastes like sour salt. 

The downside of this trendy kitchen helper is it's near impossible to find in regular grocery stores. As always, buying on amazon can cost a premium, and if you're like me, you had your doubts on whether you want to commit to a 2lb bag of this stuff when you already know how to make a roux. I have good news for you. You can make your own sodium citrate with ingredients you can find in any ordinary chain grocery. Combine baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) with citric acid (find them next to the mason jars), and you have sodium citrate, carbon dioxide, and water. Simple chemistry. 

Keep in mind the molar weight:

  • NaHCO₃: 84.007 g/mol
  • C₆H₈O₇: 192.124 g/mol
  • Na3C6H5O7: 258.06 g/mol
You'll want 3 x 84g, or about 252g of baking soda to react with 192g of citric acid.  I used a precision scale to weigh out 1/10 of each. If you don't have a precision scale, just use a teaspoon, or better yet, a quarter-teaspoon for smaller portions. The ratio is about 5 part baking soda to 4 part citric acid. Note that the product from the reaction isn't all sodium citrate - when you account for the weight of water and carbon dioxide, you're really getting roughly 5 part of sodium citrate back from 9 part of input.

Be sure to whisk the powder thoroughly, to avoid any off-taste from too much acid or base if you're just spooning out a portion of the mixture to use. One easy way to ensure good mixing is measuring out small portions and dissolving the whole thing in water. You will see fizzing from the water right away as you add the powder in. That is effervescence from the carbon dioxide. You might wonder if this is a good way to make your own soda or effervescent drink. I tested this out as well - yes for the fizz, but it will taste mildly salty, so maybe for a margarita-style drink, but it can't quite replace soda stream yet. I dearly wished it could. 


sodium citrate blend:

  • 25.2g baking soda (~ 5 tsp)
  • 19.2g citric acid (~ 4tsp) 
    • yields effectively 25.8g sodium citrate (~5tsp)

cheese sauce:

  • 1/4tsp sodium citrate blend
  • 1tbsp water
  • 2tbsp liquid (beer, wine, milk, or stock - any combination)
  • 1~3oz grated cheddar (or cheese of your choosing)

optional spice & topping

  • 1/4 tsp paprika or chipotle
  • 1/4 tsp garlic or onion powder
  • pinch of ground mustard
  • diced jalapeno
  • diced tomatoes
  • chopped red onions 


  1. Whisk together baking soda and citric acid. 
  2. Add to 1tbsp water, if using milk; you can directly add to all liquid if using clear liquid.
  3. Whisk & microwave the mixture for 20 second, or until bubbling mostly settles down.
  4. Grate the cheese and add to the microwaved solution, along with the remaining liquid. 
  5. Microwave the whole thing for 20~30 second, until cheese melts. 
  6. Whisk until mixture is even and smooth. 
  7. Stir in spice and toppings, if using. 
  8. Serve with tortilla chips. 


Check out my YouTube Channel for Step-by-Step Video! 


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  2. This is genius! I bought the bag of citrate but you have set me free! I already have baking soda and citric acid (dough conditioner) on hand. In fifty years when I’ve used the bag up I’ll make my own.

  3. This is genius! I bought the bag of citrate but you have set me free! I already have baking soda and citric acid (dough conditioner) on hand. In fifty years when I’ve used the bag up I’ll make my own.


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