Healthy baking powder is a must in the kitchen of a savvy cook. Used as a leavening agent, baking powder lightens texture and increases the volume of baked goods such as muffins, cakes, pancakes, and cookies. It works by releasing carbon dioxide bubbles into the wet batter in a chemical reaction, thereby expanding and texturizing the mixture.
Baking powder can fast acting, slow acting, or both. Slow acting baking powders work with the heat of the oven to provide a late rise to the dough whereas fast acting baking powders work at room temperature and become effective immediately upon addition to the wet batter on the countertop.
Most commercial baking powders are double acting, meaning they work both on the counter and in the oven providing an extra measure of reliability and consistency to the final product. The problem with the double acting baking powders is that they usually contain aluminum in the form of sodium aluminum sulfate or sodium aluminum phosphate. Slow acting baking powders have the same problem unless the acid salt used is sodium acid pyrophosphate.
Fast acting, low temperature baking powders contain just monocalcium phosphate (cream of tartar), potassium bicarbonate or sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and starch and are typically the choice of health conscious cooks trying to avoid aluminum in all its forms.
Aluminum consumption has been linked with the development of Alzheimer’s Disease. Use of aluminum based acid salts to leaven the dough can also sometimes give a slightly metallic taste to the final product.
Choosing an “aluminum free” baking powder does not eliminate all health risk, however, as is commonly thought.
Starch is typically added to these fast acting, aluminum free powders to keep the baking powder from clumping over time. Corn starch is the starch of choice which unless organic, is most likely derived from genetically modified corn.
I did a survey of baking powders at my local healthfood stores recently and did not find one brand that used organic corn starch. I did find one that used potato starch, but if one is low-carbing it, this baking powder is not a great choice either.
It seems the best solution all around is to (you knew I was going to say this) make your own! Baking powder takes seconds to mix and is fresh and potent each time you make it eliminating another problem store bought baking powders have of losing strength over time (to test that yours is still effective, stir a teaspoon into a small cup of hot water – if it fizzes it is still usable).
Check out the recipe for making healthy baking powder below. It is so simple and so much cheaper to make it yourself, you might wonder as I did why you haven’t been doing this all along!
Aluminum Free, Starch Free, GMO Free Baking Powder
Do not make large amounts and store as it will absorb moisture and get hard. Make only as much as you need for each recipe.
Simply mix 1 tsp baking soda with 2 tsp cream of tartar to make a full tablespoon of baking powder. That’s it!
*Note that if your recipe includes yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, lemon juice or vinegar, there is no need to mix up baking powder. Just use baking soda and the acidity already included in the recipe will activate the baking soda to provide the desired dough leavening effect.
Update: Since this post was written, Rumford has apparently changed the label on its product stating that its cornstarch is GMO free.
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist