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. This process expands and helps to add optimal texture to 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. Fast acting baking powders work at room temperature and become effective immediately upon addition to the wet batter on the countertop.
Double Acting vs Fast Acting Baking Powder
Most commercial baking powders are double acting. This means that 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.
Aluminum Free Baking Powder – Better Not Best
Choosing an “aluminum free” baking powder does not eliminate all health risk 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 on a low carb diet, this baking powder is not a great choice either.
Update: Since this post was written, Rumford baking powder has a new formulation using GMO free corn starch. Many other brands are still using GMO ingredients, however, so read ingredients carefully!
It seems the best solution all around is to make your own! Baking powder takes seconds to mix and is fresh and potent each time you need it. This eliminates another problem with store bought baking powders that lose strength over time. To test effectiveness, 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 to make yourself and cheaper too! You might be wondering bakinwhy you haven’t been doing this all along!
Healthy Baking Powder (aluminum Free, starch Free, nonGMO)
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.
Mix 1 tsp baking soda with 2 tsp cream of tartar to make a full tablespoon of baking powder.
*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 alone and the acidity already included in the recipe will activate it to provide the desired dough leavening effect with no cream of tartar.
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
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