My Favourite Baking Powder
You've probably been in a situation where you've needed "something" now, but you didn't have time to shop around for it. Or, it just happens that your local grocer stopped carrying, or ran out of your favourite product, and you're left with using another brand. But what happens when that product is baking powder, an essential ingredient in most cakes and cookies, and you don't know what effect brand X may have on your recipe? Well, you take a chance on using brand X thinking it will do.

There are many brands of baking powder available to us, but not all are the same. It doesn't make a difference to most people, whether it's brand A or brand X, but to the discerning cook it does. It only takes a few teaspoons of a poor quality baking powder to alter your favourite food that you so greatly had invested time, effort and money in making; therefore use the most effective baking powder to your advantage.

Baking powder is a leavening agent that is used in many baked goods: cookies, cakes, pastries, pies, quick breads, etc. It makes these types of food products voluminous by allowing gas formation when an acid comes into contact with it and/or when it's heated; tiny air bubbles become trapped in the coagulating protein of the flour during baking. It's not just one single chemical, but a combination of a few. If you read the labels of various brands, you'll see that different manufacturers use different "recipes", so to speak, to make their product.

Most baking powders contain: sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), cornstarch or wheat starch (added to keep it running free). There are some brands that just stick to a few chemicals, which produce so-so results. THEN there are other brands that use a combination of these and other ones, which produce much better results. Below are listed 4 types of baking powders, 3 of which I have used. Their brand names are omitted, because they might not be available in your area, so it's not fair to you. Each brand is listed with its ingredients as printed on their respective labels:
Brand A Brand B Brand C Brand D
Sodium acid pyrophosphate,
sodium bicarbonate,
corn and/or wheat starch,
monocalcium sulphate,
calcium sulphate
Sodium bicarbonate, cornstarch,
aluminium sulphate and sodium sulphate,
monocalcium sulphate,
calcium sulphate
Sodium acid pyrophosphate,
sodium bicarbonate,
cornstarch,
monocalcium sulphate,
calcium sulphate
Corn starch,
monocalcium sulphate,
sodium bicarbonate
As printed on their labels
Chemicals Brand A Brand B Brand C Brand D
aluminium sulphate and sodium sulphate       
calcium sulphate  
corn and/or wheat starch
monocalcium sulphate
sodium acid pyrophosphate      
sodium bicarbonate
Common ingredients found among the 4 brands
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If you compare the brands, you'll see striking similarities among the first 3 brands, but not with the fourth one. Brands A, B, and C also contain some or all: sodium acid pyrophosphate, aluminium sulphate and sodium sulphate, calcium sulphate, whereas Brand D only contains: corn starch, monocalcium sulphate and sodium bicarbonate.

The first ingredients in both brand A and C is sodium acid pyrophosphate. I don't know exactly how it works, but I presume that this chemical has the power to make cakes and cookies rise. Think of the word pyrotechnics (fireworks) and you'll get a good mental image of what pyro means.

My favourite baking powders, in my humble opinion, are brands C and B, because of the additional chemicals that are used. I've never gone wrong with using them, because they are dependable and reliable all the time. I haven't tried brand A, though, because I just recently came across it. Chances are, if I were to try brand A, I would most likely consider it to be a part my first choice; because it too contains sodium acid pyrophosphate, as well as other chemicals that are needed to make foods rise.

Brand D, from my experiences, isn't worth it, because it doesn't have much rising power. It only has 3 ingredients and the first one is cornstarch, which is a thickener (not a leavening agent). You have to use about one and a half times more of it to obtain a "rising action", which isn't economical and therefore not worth it. Lastly, as a result of using more, it isn't appealing when it leaves an after taste in cakes, and tiny black speckles in most cookies.

As for buying and stocking up on baking powder, I try to find the most current one available by looking for a manufacturing or expiration date on the product. You should keep in mind when it was manufactured and how long it has been sitting on the store's shelf, because time weakens its potency. Just because "I" bought it last week that doesn't mean it was made last week and is as fresh as possible. I buy small bags (300 - 400 grams) that usually last me about 2 - 3 months or so. I don't use baking powder that has been sitting in my pantry for 6 - 9 months, even though it's been stored in a tightly sealed container (canning jar), which maintains freshness. If you keep it for a longer period of time (more than 9 months), it will become weaker and results may be disappointing, which again, isn't worth it.

Take a few moments, before buying a new brand of baking powder, to read and compare labels ingredients from various brands when you go shopping. Buy a small amount, if possible, and see how you like baking with it. If you don't like it, then don't use it and keep on searching for one that meets your needs; and don't feel guilty about throwing away a baking powder that doesn't "cut it". Just think of the money and time needed to buy the ingredients and to prepare the food that you had wasted simply by using a small quantity of a poor quality ingredient. If, on the other hand, you like it, then great! Go ahead and buy more according to your usage. There's nothing wrong in looking for something better and experimenting with new brands. Use a brand that produces excellent results and meets your satisfaction.
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