Baking Powder

Flour in a Jar

1. What is Baking Powder?

Baking powder is a chemical leavening agent. It is used to add volume and lightness to baked goods like cakes and breads. This create a more airy and tender finished product.

Baking powder is made of:

  • an alkaline base like sodium bicarbonate (baking soda)
  • an acid like monocalcium phosphate.
  • a filler like cornstarch

The alkaline base and acid do not react while dry, but as soon as the baking powder is stirred into a moist dough or batter, the two chemicals begin to combine and react. They release bubbles of carbon dioxide which are trapped in the dough and cause it to expand. This is known as chemical leavening (or rising) of the dough.

Some baking powders (known as “double acting”) include a second acid, which causes a second reaction when exposed to heat in baking process. [3]

Cornstarch is often added to baking powder as a filler. It helps prevent the chemical reaction from occurring during storage, and keeps the ingredients from clumping. It also adds bulk to the powder, allowing manufacturers to keep their product consistent from batch to batch.

2. Varieties of Baking Powder

Single Acting

Single acting baking powder is made of baking soda, with one acid added. This creates one chemical reaction, rising the dough or batter once when the baking powder is added to moist ingredients.

Double Acting

Double acting baking powder is made of baking soda with two acids added. This creates two reactions: the initial reaction from one acid when the powder is added to moist ingredients, plus a second reaction from the second acid when the dough or batter is exposed to heat (baked or cooked). The result is a finished baked good with more volume and air pockets, because of the second, heat activated rise.

Gluten Free

By default, baking powder does not contain gluten. It could be made in a facility that makes other products with gluten, though, and could contain trace amounts of gluten. Baking powder is used in such small amounts, that a tiny bit of trace gluten wouldn’t be a concern for most people.

However, you are really concerned about eliminating all gluten from your diet though, you might want to choose a brand that markets its product as gluten free. Bob’s Red Mills and Clabber Girl are examples of baking powders that market themselves as “Gluten Free”.

Aluminum Free

Some brands use sodium aluminum phosphate, which contains aluminum, as one of the acids in their powder. Sodium aluminum phosphate is a cheap, stable additive which is activated by exposure to heat.

It does have some downsides though. It’s known to be a neurotoxin [6], and can leave some recipes with a slightly metallic taste.

You can find brands that advertise as “Aluminum Free”, or check the ingredients carefully to make sure they do not list sodium aluminum phosphate on the label.

3. Uses for Baking Powder

Leavening Baked Goods to Improve Texture

Baking powder is used as a leavening agent in doughs and batters. It creates a baked good that is lighter and airier, with a more desirable finished texture.

When added to a moist batter or dough, the alkaline base (usually baking soda) and the acid (usually monocalcium phosphate) combine to create a chemical reaction. This reaction releases carbon dioxide gas bubbles into the dough or batter, expanding it and causing it to rise without the need for yeast.

Using baking powder is generally quicker than yeast, and more reliable than other leavening methods like steam or acidic buttermilk or lemon juice.

Cleaning with Baking Powder

People often wonder if they can use baking powder in place of baking soda for cleaning.

Baking powder is made of baking soda plus an acid (or two, in the case of double acting baking powder) and a filler like cornstarch. In a pinch, it may work for cleaning. However, baking powder is more expensive than baking soda and contains acid which may damage delicate surfaces.

For household cleaning, it’s best to stick to plain old baking soda.

4. Baking Powder Preparation

Baking powder is sold ready to use. No preparation is required. Simply measure it carefully and add it to your dough or batter according to the recipe you are preparing.

5. How to Store Baking Powder

Baking powder is usually sold in a plastic or metal canister or jar. It can be stored in its original resealable packaging, or any other dry, tightly sealed container.

Small glass canning jars with tight fitting lids are great for storing baking powder.

However it’s stored, don’t let it come in contact with steam, humid air, wet spoons, or any other type of moisture. If it comes in contact with moisture, the baking powder may react while it’s still in storage. If if the chemical reaction has already occurred in storage, it will not happen when you add it to a batter or dough. This means the baking powder would not cause your baked goods to rise at all, making them more dense and heavy than intended

6. Does Baking Powder Expire?

Baking powder has a maximum shelf life of 12 months.

Although it will not necessarily look or smell like it has gone bad, it will lose potency and be less effective at rising baked goods as it gets older.

To test if baking powder is still active, measure 1 teaspoon of powder into 1/3 cup of hot water. The mixture should fizz and bubble furiously. If it doesn’t, it’s no longer active, and you should replace it. [1]

7. Recipes Using Baking Powder

Display Recipes:

8. The Origin of Baking Powder

English chemist Alfred Bird is credited with creating the first product resembling baking powder in the late 1840’s. His product was made of baking soda and cream of tartar. Unfortunately, cream of tartar is a byproduct of wine making, and had to be imported from Europe at that time. It’s price and availability were erratic, changing with grape harvests year to year. This made it too expensive and undependable for many American households at that time. [2]

In the 1850’s, American chemist Professor Eben Horsford and businessman George Wilson established Rumford Chemical Works

9. The History of Baking Powder

In the late 19th century, baking powder companies competed fiercely through colourful advertising, state bribes and even lawsuits. [5]

10. How is Baking Powder Made?

Modern baking powders are produced in commercial food production facilities. The raw ingredients (usually baking soda, and corn starch


11. Baking Powder Nutrition Notes

Some brands of baking powder contain aluminum. If this is a concern for you, try to find an aluminum free brand.


19th century Baking Powder Advertisement
Advertising from the 19th century.

Fierce Competition

In the late 1800’s, companies competed fiercely with advertising, bribes and lawsuits.

More History

12. Source Citations

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