Food Facts: Baking Powder

What's Cooking America is quickly becoming my go-to resource for all my food science questions. A couple weeks ago, I was having some trouble with my baking. A batch of pancakes and an apple cake had bitter bits scattered throughout.  I was worried about which ingredient could be behind these results, and quickly narrowed it down to the flour and baking powder. 
Rumford Baking Powder
Aluminum-Free
A quick google search brought up similar questions from fellow bakers. It seems that the bitter taste was the result of the wrong kind of baking powder. That is, baking powder made with aluminum sulfate.

David Tamarkin, editor at Epicurious, breaks down why baking with aluminum-free baking powder is the way to go. Essentially it comes down to when the baking powder begins reacting. Aluminum-free baking powder reacts faster, which means if you are slow getting your batter or dough into the oven you run the risk of a poor rise. (Note: I haven't run into this, so I suspect you really have to delay putting the batter in the oven). Aluminum baking powder is slower to react, often reacting after you have placed your baked good in the oven.

Calumet Baking Powder
Contains Aluminum Sulfate
Without even knowing it, I had always used the aluminum-free version. But when I sent Chris to pick up baking powder, he selected a different brand, which happened to contain aluminum sulfate. Once we returned to our normal brand the bitter baked goods disappeared. Just goes to show the importance of understanding every ingredient you use. As we get into the holiday baking season, I'm glad I learned this lesson now.

Here is Tamakin's article on the subject.

For a complete analysis of baking powder, visit the What's Cooking America article, here.

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