Does baking powder contain aluminum?

On my How to Double a Cake Recipe post I had Shelly ask me:

“Back to baking powder…I bought aluminum free baking powder in the health food store. Does that mean regular baking power has aluminum in it? And if so, why?”

Here is a little more information on baking powder. Some baking powder brands do contain aluminum, but not all do. Baking powder was originally made from baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and creme of tartar (tatric acid). Creme of tartar is a by product of wine production and is expensive. Manufacturers sought out alternative acids like monocalcium phosphate (MCP), sodium aluminum sulfate (SAS), sodium aluminum phosphate (SALP) as alternatives to creme of tartar.

Acids like creme of tartar and MCP both react with the alkaline based baking soda when the liquid is added to the ingredients. This is called the “bench” rise, meaning that CO2 begins to develop as soon as the ingredients get wet before it goes into the oven, so if you want a good rise, batters can’t sit around for a long time before they are baked.

Aluminum based acids like SAS and SALP react with the baking soda when the compounds are exposed to heat. When the temperature of the oven rises above 120°F, the leavening power goes to work.

When these aluminum based compounds began being added to baking powder, the term double acting baking powder became popular. The double action refers to the “bench” rise (enacted by liquid) and then the “oven” rise (enacted by heat) that the two different acids produce. However, this does not mean that any baking powder labeled double acting contains aluminum. Advanced formulations of MCP have produced a slower reaction time so that there’s more of a rise that takes place in the oven. You may find baking powders labeled as double acting or continuous acting that do not contain aluminum compounds.

Using the two different types of baking powder really don’t make a difference in the end product. You may detect a slightly metallic flavour if you use an aluminum based baking powder. I have also noticed any baking powders that I have researched that are manufactured in Canada do not contain SAS or SALP, although I have seen and used them in the U.S.A. There might be regulations that control the aluminum compounds in food in Canada, but I can’t say for sure.

If you don’t want aluminum in your baking powder, you don’t have to go out of your way to find aluminum free baking powder. The ingredient list of baking powder should say sodium bicarbonate, monocalcium phosphate and starch and nothing else. If it has a compound with the word aluminum it, it contains aluminum. The brands you are probably most familiar with do not contain aluminum.

Feel free to ask me any of your food-related questions. I pick a question once a week and post the answer in my blog. You will find a lot more answers to cooking questions under the Foodies Ask category of my blog.

Don’t forget to submit your favourite grilled cheese recipes, I have two tickets to A Cheesy Soiree to give away and three beautiful cookbooks from West.

Posted in Uncategorized, Wed, 28/01/09

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