Choosing a Healthy Baking Powder

by Sarah TheHealthyHomeEconomist July 20, 2011

rumford baking powderHealthy 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

Picture Credit

 

Comments (52)

  1. Pingback: Why Is Baking Healthy | I Make Good Food

  2. Hello,
    I red all comments and still did not understand is Monocalcium phosphate have health risk or not? I bake a lot, and found flower ( which give perfect result every time) but it is contain this ingredient. May somebody please explain to me if it is safe to use it?

    Reply
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    Reply
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  5. Hi Sarah,

    One error in the above article, you say that “low temperature baking powders contain just monocalcium phosphate (cream of tartar), potassium bicarbonate or sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and starch”. You are right that they contain monocalcium phosphate but that’s not cream of tartar.

    Actually cream of tartar is potassium bitartrate aka potassium hydrogen tartrate, it has no calcium and no phosphate. (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cream_of_tartar) Traditional baking powder (which does contain monocalcium phosphate aka calcium acid phosphate), was developed by Rumford in the 1850s as a replacement for cream of tartar because cream of tartar could not be packaged with baking soda as the reaction would occur in the package. (http://acswebcontent.acs.org/landmarks/bakingpowder/development.html)

    Another alternative is Bakewell Cream, which contains acid sodium pyrophosphate aka sodium acid pyrophosphate aka disodium pyrophosphate. Bakewell Cream normally contains cornstarch but can be obtained from the manufacturer (The New England Cupboard) as pure acid sodium pyrophosphate. Normally, it used in conjunction with baking soda but It is also sold with the baking soda already mixed in, as Bakewell Cream Baking Powder, either with or without the starch. Bakewell Cream and Bakewell Cream Baking Powder do not contain aluminum.

    Reply
  6. I wrote to the company that makes FeatherLight to get a confirmation about any corn content in their process of making it. Here is there vague reply:
    (Thank you for taking the time to contact us regarding our Featherweight® Baking Powder.
    If a corn ingredient is directly added to a product, it will be specified in the ingredient list. Corn is widely used as a carrier and processing aid in the manufacturing of foods and may be present in trace amounts in natural flavors, spices, or added vitamins. We encourage you to consult with your health care provider to determine if this product is appropriate for you.)
    Now I ask you, how can a Doctor know anything about a product unless the company making that product if upfront with the information? I don’t trust this company and would not recommend anyone with a corn allergy dealing with them.

    Reply
  7. Pingback: What’s in my breakfast bar? | POTATERS

  8. It is my understanding that those on a yeast-free diet may use baking powders which contain monocalcium phosphate, but not those that contain cream of tartar because of the yeast content. I see above you have “monocalcium phosphate (cream of tartar). Are you defining them as the same thing? I’m trying to find some documentation that they are not the same thing in order to use baking soda in a one of my gluten free recipes safe for those with yeast allergies. Any help would be appreciated.

    Reply
  9. Hi , I’d like to thank you for the informations and I want to tell you that I have seen recently a baking powder made with organic rice starch, monocalcium phosphate, sodium bicarbonate. The name of the brand is “Bakers” made in Surrey, BC.Canada.

    Reply
  10. I just got Rumford. It says Non GMO, no GMO corn on the can. I guess that’s better than making no claim, huh? What is monocalcium phosphate – is it bad? I ate a bunch of Jovial cookies – they’re supposed to be healththier – and then got a headache.

    Reply
  11. Hi Sarah,
    I am a silent admirer of your blog. Your blog has enlightened me on so many critical and intangible evil things about food and health. Thank you.
    Reg. baking powder, what do you think about ‘Frontier Naturals Organic Baking Powder’? It claims to be Aluminium-free and uses organic corn starch. Thanks again.

    Reply
  12. Pingback: 12 Things I've Always Wondered About Processed Food - The S-J's

  13. Dear Sarah,

    I have been following you for a few months now. I have learned so much and am grateful for your website. Keep up the good work and thank you for de-mystifying so many things. Baking powder-who knew? I have been using baking soda and some food grade peroxide to make my own toothpaste. It saves a lot of money too.

    I always pass on the info i learn from here! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!

    Reply
  14. Cream of Tartar is potassium acid salt, not monocalcium phosphate. It is a by product of the wine making industry….wine barrel scrapings.

    Definitely cheaper by the pound too, it keeps…just like salt does. I buy it for about $6/lb instead of those little containers at over $1/oz.

    Reply
  15. too bad i didn’t have this information a couple days ago! i just spent WAY too much money on a special brand of baking powder because i’m allergic to corn and i couldn’t find ANY that didn’t contain it. this is so helpful! thanks!

    Reply
  16. Hi all,

    I wanted to chime in especially for the GAPS crowd. Cream of tartar isn’t allowed (I have the new addition). But one of the reasons it’s not allowed might be because it forms in wine casks during the fermentation of grape juice. Other than that I don’t know, but thankfully in GAPS/SCD cooking baking soda is usually all that’s needed.
    Also for those of you that are worried about Aluminum being in your baking soda I wrote an article on my blog, Gapalicious, that you can read here: http://bit.ly/qSEi9Y
    I hope that helps! :)

    Reply
  17. Sarah,

    How much baking soda would you add to a recipe that does have an acid in it as mentioned on your *NOTE?

    Laura

    Reply
  18. Hi Sarah,
    I just want to thank you for all of your work. You have refreshed me and encouraged me to keep going with soaking grains and the why of what I do. It can feel overwhelming at times. I enjoy trying the new recipes that you have. The pumpkin pie turned out well on taste but a little too liquidy. I may just need to cook some of the liquid off from my pumpkin. The cold cereal is a hit with my husband who is a white bread kind of man. So I am encouraged that there are things he likes! Omitting the egg white from the mayo and using 2 egg yolks really thickened it to a consistency that my husband liked and is willing to use. Yippee!!

    Reply
  19. Pavil, the Uber Noob July 20, 2011 at 9:04 pm

    OK, I have a noob question. Since we are supposed to soak our flour the night before in a mild acid (whey, lemon juice, etc), why not just go with the baking soda and skip trying to make the baking powder?

    Ciao, Pavil

    Reply
    • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
      Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist July 20, 2011 at 9:37 pm

      Sure, that works fine. If you are using sprouted flour though, then you need baking powder as you don’t soak sprouted flour (at least I don’t). You also need it if you are using non grain based flours that you aren’t going to soak such as almond flour, coconut flour etc.

      Reply
  20. We had to find other options after my daughter found out she had a corn sensitivity. Not to mention the major GMO issue. If you don’t want to make your own and still want the double acting BP, Bakewell makes a starch free version of their baking powder as well as a starch free Bakewell cream. No aluminum either. I used to special order it but the shipping was prohibitive since it was coming from east coast to west coast. Maybe I can get my local store to order it for me… I picked up the potato starch BP from Hain last refill since it was available locally.

    Reply
  21. Even if the recipe doesn’t include an acidic agent, you can just squeeze a little bit of fresh lemon juice in with the baking soda and it should work really well, right? That’s what I’ve been doing. I did buy some Bob’s Red Mill, but I’m guessing it has the GMO cornstarch issue.

    Reply
    • Rachael I had that before with Rumford. What helped me was shaking up the can a few times mixed the powder up and it helped. I went through 2 cans a few years back when I decided to shake the 2nd can up and it worked. Hope that helps!

      Reply
  22. Sarah, TheHealthyHomeEconomist

    By the way, I really do not know why baking powder that you make yourself is not GAPS legal. If you make it yourself, the starch is removed yet Cream of Tartar is still on the no-no list which I do not understand. Perhaps in the latest edition of GAPS (I have the first edition) cream of tartar is allowed?

    Reply

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