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February 10, 2012

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Katie, you are right. I didn't mean to imply that it's unsafe to eat, yet I am fascinated by the other, non-cooking applications of the lime. I have eaten loads of masa, and yes, it's just fine to eat. I'm going to see if I can find slaked lime at the local store. Thanks for your research!

So, I did a little more investigation, and I found this article published by the government of Uruguay: http://www.consumidor.gub.uy/informacion/index.php?Id=1359&ShowPDF=1

Here's the most salient information:

"La cal viva se consigue en droguerías, y es un ingrediente fundamental, ya
que es el responsable de formar esa cascarita crocante tan agradable en el
dulce de zapallo.

Podemos lograr el mismo resultado utilizando cal aérea hidratada en polvo
para construcción, que es un polvo blanco y que no quema, como la cal viva.
Es un material menos agresivo y más accesible. Sólo 3 cucharadas alcanzan
para 5 litros de agua."

For those of you who don't speak Spanish, the gist of this information is that calcium hydroxide (slaked lime) can be used instead of calcium oxide (quicklime), with the same results (i.e. the crunchy exterior).

Not to get too technical, but when the quicklime is added to water, as called for in these recipes, it produces a chemical reaction that yields slaked lime (also called pickling lime because it's used to pickle foods/make them crunchy). So, although the cal viva/quicklime itself is caustic and dangerous, once it comes in contact with water, it changes into the pickling lime, which is safe. I know it sounds scary, but just because the material also has construction or industrial applications, doesn't mean it's not safe to consume.

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