Lye Water

Pichi Pichi is another traditional Filipino dessert, it is made of grated cassava, flour water, and sugar, in some recipes that I have found over the internet, it says to use lihiya (lye water).

I wonder what lye water was and so I check it on Wikipedia

Do you know that lye water is actually poisonous? Yes, if not used properly. It must be used in controlled and small quantities. Read below as it is important that we know what we are adding to our food especially when we are serving it to our loved ones.

Lye is a corrosive alkaline substance, commonly sodium hydroxide (NaOH, also known as 'caustic soda') or historically potassium hydroxide (KOH, from hydrated potash). Previously, lye was among the many different alkalis leached from hardwood ashes.[1] Now, lye is commercially manufactured using a membrane cell method.
Solid dry lye is commonly available as flakes, pellets, microbeads, and coarse powder. It is also available as a solution, often dissolved in water. Lye is valued for its use in food preparation,
soap making, biodiesel production, and household uses, such as oven cleaners and drain opener.

Food Uses

Lye is used to curing many types of food, such as lutefisk, green olives, hominy, lye rolls, century eggs, pretzels, zongzi (Chinese glutinous rice dumplings), and Chinese noodles. In the United States, food-grade lye must meet the requirements outlined in the Food Chemicals Codex (FCC),[2] as prescribed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).[3] Lower grades of lye are commonly used as drain openers and oven cleaners and should not be used for food preparation.[3][4] Lye is a strong alkali, producing solutions of about pH 13.0.

Some manufacturing processes of lye include the processing of salts in mercury vats to create lye. Lye manufactured using this process has been used to make food, such as
High Fructose Corn Syrup as outlined in published reports.[5][6] The concern is that mercury from the vats would find its way into food products, which could lead to mercury poisoning.

Both solid dry lye and lye solutions are
corrosive and will degrade organic tissue.
Hazardous reactions
Chemical burn caused by exposure to a sodium hydroxide solution.
sodium hydroxide or solutions containing high concentrations of sodium hydroxide may cause chemical burns, permanent injury or scarring, and blindness. Lye may be harmful or fatal if swallowed. Solvation of sodium hydroxide is highly exothermic, and the resulting heat may cause heat burns or ignite flammables.

Avoid all contact with
aluminum. The combination of aluminum and sodium hydroxide results in a large production of hydrogen gas: 2Al(s) + 6NaOH(aq) → 3H2(g) + 2Na3AlO3(aq). Hydrogen gas is flammable; mixing lye (sodium hydroxide) and aluminum in a closed container is therefore dangerous. In addition to aluminum, lye (sodium hydroxide) may also react with magnesium, zinc (galvanized), tin, chromium, brass, and bronze to produce hydrogen gas and is therefore dangerous.
Lye may react with various
sugars to generate carbon monoxide, which is a poisonous gas; mixing sodium hydroxide and sugar in a closed container is therefore dangerous.
Lye intoxication can cause
esophageal stricture.

Personal protection for the safe handling of lye includes safety glasses, chemical-resistant
gloves, and adequate ventilation. When in close proximity to lye dissolving in an open container of water, a vapor-resistant face mask is recommended.[7]


Lye is a
deliquescent salt and has a strong affinity for moisture. Lye will deliquesce (dissolve or melt) when exposed to open air. It will absorb a relatively large amount of water from the atmosphere (air) if exposed to it. Eventually, it will absorb enough water to form a liquid solution because it will dissolve in the water it absorbs. Lye should be stored in an airtight resealable container. Hygroscopic substances are often used as desiccants to draw moisture away from water-sensitive items. Desiccants should never be placed inside a canister of lye because lye has much stronger hygroscopic properties than activated carbon and silica gel (the most common ingredients in commercial desiccant packets) and will pull and absorb the water from the desiccant packets.
Lye should be stored in air-tight plastic containers. Glass should never be used for storage as lye will slowly eat away at this material. The containers should be labeled to indicate the potential danger of the contents and stored away from children, pets, heat, and moisture.

OMG!!!! So after learning what lye water was, I am now contemplating whether to use it as an ingredient in the pichi pichi that I wanted to cook this weekend or simply omit it. I still do not know why it has to be added and how it affect the flavor, can anyone tell me? I’d better be careful about it. It is my first time cooking pichi pichi and I don't want it to go to waste, normally, we buy this delicious kakanin from the market whenever we crave it, honestly, and it is one of my favorite Filipino desserts.

Good luck to me...I hope it will be successful.

My Yellow Bells

Carla is a lifestyle blogger based in Dubai who's thankful to call this ever-evolving city her second home. The pages of this blog are filled with stories about her expat life in the sandpit. It features dining and travel adventures in and around the city and beyond. It also features food recipes, parenting tips, and fashion style.


Please feel free to share your own story or views here.


  1. I was surprised to hear that lye water is part of your pichi pichi recipe. Natakot ako bigla sa mga pichi pichi being sold sa karenderya or sa mga bangketa.

    Anyway I asked my wife about the recipe, and she never mentioned about lye water and she has no knowledge that it is part of the original recipe.

    Anyway, she passed me some sites where she used to check for her cooking recipes which I hope could help you out with your kakanin pichi-pichi.

    Good luck.

  2. @Pope: thanks a lot sa mga links na ibinigay mo. I'll sure check them out. According to the pichi pichi history, it originated in Quezon province, its part of the top ten best Filipino desserts, kaya nga mega hanap ako what is lye water, its too foreign for me, and what a surprise, it is actually being sold at Filipino supermarkets here in Dubai, which means it is actually being used by many...

  3. Pampaligat daw ng pichi-pichi un sabi ng kasama ko.

    Huwag lang 1 bote ang ibubuhos mo dun sa recipe ng pichi-pichi, I don't think makakasama ang lye water.

    Come to think of it: marami tayong kinakain na kapag pinag-aralan natin ang ingredients e hindi na natin kakainin. Hehehe.

  4. @ Nebz, ah so para maging makunat. Ok great so that means, its not really necesary to add it. great news.

    lol... cyempre hindi isang bote eheheeh..

    sabagay totoo yan, our food has too much preservatives kaya ang dmi na nagiging skit ng mga tao. and thats why I always make it a point that my family always eat home cooked meals ko.

  5. can lye water lacerate our throat?

    1. Jelyn, lye water have hazardous reactions that's why very little amount is added in food prep.

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