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sodium carbonate

Also Known As:  washing soda, soda crystals, soda ash What it is:  Additive
Sodium salt of carbonic acid. It most commonly occurs as a crystalline heptahydrate, which readily effloresces to form a white powder, the monohydrate; and is domestically well known for its everyday use as a water softener. It has a cooling alkaline taste, and can be extracted from the ashes of many plants. It is synthetically produced in large quantities from table salt in a process known as the Solvay process.
Further reading:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodium_carbonate