Tip of the Week: Unpacking Myths About Common Ingredients – Baking Powder

Exactly how many “hard truths” do we believe or have heard to be real about ingredients we use every day. Everyone has heard of the five second rule if food is dropped on the ground, but where did that originate? And, what is the GMP standard for food on the ground?

Our latest Tip of the Week series will cover industry myths we’ve collected. Some are half-truths, myths, or even complete fabrications. This week we’ll explore two baking powder myths.

Myth #1: All baking powders are the same

False! Baking powders are blends of starch, a base (usually sodium bicarbonate, commonly called “baking soda”) and at least one leavening acid salt. Because they are mixtures, the ratio can vary between suppliers. In addition, there are many different options for leavening acid salts. Not all countries allow all acids, so options may be limited by regulations.

The acids are generally classified by speed, using the generic buckets of fast or slow. Within each bucket are more variations in speed, which really means differences in rates of dissolving. Monocalcium phosphate is the most common fast acid. Slow acids include such ingredients as sodium acid pyrophosphate, calcium acid pyrophosphate, sodium aluminum phosphate, or sodium aluminum sulfate. Single-acting baking powders have only fast or only slow acids, while double-acting baking powders have at least one fast and at least one slow acid.

Myth #2: Baking Powders Last Forever

False! Baking powders create carbon dioxide gas when both the acid and base dissolve in water. Our goal is for this reaction to happen in your batter or your dough. Because they are dry powders, baking powders tend to absorb moisture from the environment. In fact, that is why starch or some other filler is included – to keep the acid and base separate.

No matter how carefully the container is sealed, the baking powder will slowly absorb water from the atmosphere. A small amount of the acid and base will slowly hydrate enough to generate a small amount of gas. Baking powder should be stored in a cool, dry place. If stored in a humid environment, this pre-reaction will happen more quickly.

The pre-reacted powder will still appear to be dry, although perhaps a little lumpy, but it will not produce the predicted amount of carbon dioxide, resulting in lower volume products. Home-bakers can test the baking powder by adding a small amount to hot water. If it bubbles, it is probably adequate for use. Professional or commercial bakers should rotate stock quickly enough to use the baking powder before the supplier’s expiration date.

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