Why You Should Use Aluminum-Free Baking Powder

baking powder

One of the least expensive, and most effective, things you can do to improve the taste of your cakes, quick breads, cookies, and muffins is to switch to aluminum-free baking powder right away.

Baking powder a leavening agent, and it’s usually called for in recipes where there are alkaline (as opposed to acidic) ingredients. In actuality, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is one of the ingredients in baking powder, which, when moistened, releases carbon dioxide, which causes baked goods to rise.

Even though no definitive correlation has been found regarding health problems arising from using regular baking powder and cooking with non-anondized aluminum pots and pans, I use it for the taste.


If you’ve ever experienced a bitter, “tinny” flavor when biting into a muffin, that’s because of the baking powder used—and often the overuse of it.

baking powder

When I lived in San Francisco, I simply went up to the manager one day at my local Safeway and said, “Why don’t you carry baking powder without aluminum in it? It’s readily available, and you should carry it.”

So he did!

The most popular brand is Rumford, named after Count Rumford, although there are likely others. (If anyone knows one that’s sold in small, airtight containers, I’d be interested in knowing about it. Leave any info the comments.) Oddly, it’s made by the same company that makes Clabber Girl baking powder. Baking powders without aluminum cost just a couple of cents more than standard baking powder, and the flavor of your baked goods will improve substantially.

You can also make your own single-acting baking powder: for 1 teaspoon of baking powder, mix 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar with 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda and 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch. This can be scaled up or down, proportionally. Or you can make a little jar of it, not too much, and use it as needed. If you do make your own baking powder, be sure to pop whatever you’re making right in the oven after it’s mixed as it’ll start to react once you’ve added the liquid to your muffin or quick bread recipe.

Baking powder can lose its oomph and doesn’t last forever. To prevent that, buy the smallest container you can find and store it with the cap firmly in place in a cool, dry place…but not the refrigerator, whose air is too moist. Although I’m always looking for ways to cut down on excess packaging, I find it best not to buy baking powder that’s sold in bulk, as it sometimes is at health food stores, since it loses its vigor quickly when exposed to humidity in the air.

When in doubt if your baking powder is still good, add a teaspoonful to a half cup of boiling water. If it boils vigorously, the baking powder is still good. If nothing happens, chuck it.


More information about baking powder:

Baking Powder vs. Baking Soda (About.com)

Rumford (Aluminum-free baking powder)

Leavens (Cook’s Thesaurus)

Baking soda and Baking powder (Fine Cooking)

All About Baking Powder (Culinate)

Rumford Baking Powder (Amazon)

Baking Powder (Eggbeater)

Trader Joe’s (Most stores carry aluminum-free baking powder)

Baking soda & Baking powder: Why use both? (The Kitchn)

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62 comments

  • I have seen extra small containers of Rumford in health food stores, so I know they make them, but I have never seen that size the grocery store. I use a sharpie and write the date when I open the container on top of the plastic lid.

  • Here’s a photo of the smaller 4 oz size on Amazon: Rumford baking powder

  • I’ve been using Rumford for a while because it is aluminum-free. I also like the small size of the can–I generally have to throw away baking powder because it reaches its expiration date long before I can use it up. It’s worked like a champ for me, and I can get it at Safeway in San Francisco.

    David, thanks so much for the recipe for homemade single-acting baking powder. Looking forward to seeing you on Saturday at Bi-Rite Creamery!

  • Wow. I had no idea there was aluminum in baking powder! I’ll look for the smaller containers of Rumford. (It is frustrating that the smallest size of, say, Clabber Girl is still way more than I will ever use before it expires.) Thanks for the tip!

    P.S. Conversely, you can get a two-pound bag of yeast at Costco here for $4, not much more than the cost of a wee jar of it at Safeway or those little three-packet strips. Much more economical if you’re making bread a lot.

  • Wow, David thank you so much for the tip. Now I know! Thank you….

  • For the longest time, I used Dr. Oetker Baking Powder. It’s single acting, it comes in little sachets so they don’t all go bad at once. Ounce for ounce, the sachets are more expensive, but if you don’t use it that often, the sachets of baking powder lasts years instead of months. The only reason I don’t use it anymore is because it’s not as easy to find in my new home city.

  • Hi David,
    i’ve been a lurker on your blog for the longest time. You often make me LOL – which is not very convenient in the office – but please keep the humour going!

    Thanks for shedding light on baking powder. I have a question if you could help me out: i’ve had a few scones and cakes ruined by this yucky yeasty (?) funny taste when i’ve used buttermilk and both baking powder and soda. Yet it’s also worked fine in other recipes. what’s going on here? what’s the function of each and what can i do to avoid that yucky taste?

    Thanks in advance and once again, you are one funny man. i count on your witticisms and spot-on insights on all things Parisian to get me through sometimes. Vive le David!

  • Not sure I can agree with the basic premise here, David. I think the risk of a metallic taste is inherent to all baking powders, so it’s not associated with the presence of aluminium (though perhaps it’s worse in those cases, dunno). However, if aluminium-free powders yield a tastier product, that’s great, of course.

    With regard to Alzheimer’s, given the miniscule exposure to aluminium as the result of eating chemically leavened foods, there’s probably little reason to exclude baking powder containing aluminum from one’s diet. There are many other pathways for more concentrated exposure to aluminium in our urban environment over a lifetime. It’s also not clear that aluminium has any *causative* link with Alzheimer’s anyway.

    I definitely agree that, whatever the type of baking powder, many recipes ask for too much! I guess it’s to make sure it works even if the reader’s powder is a bit old.

  • Just an fyi — the url for Rumford Baking Powder is http://www.rumfordworld.com. The link you have in your post leads to Rumford Fireplaces (which are very attractive in their own right, by the way). I used Rumford this morning in my daughter’s before-school breakfast of pancakes………………

    Oops! That’s what I get for blogging from outside the house. Luckily the other one I got right. Merci! -dl

  • This is the second time in two days I’ve seen info about aluminum free baking powder…looks like it is time to read my baking cupboard labels more carefully.

  • Rumford Baking Powder is all my mother ever used. I remember grocery shopping with her when I was young and if the store did not have Rumford, she would not substitute anything else. Because of my mom, that’s all I’ve ever used myself.

  • I am SOOOO excited you’ll be on with Gene tomorrow. We listen to his program religiously and I can’t wait to “meet” you…even if it just your voice.

  • Craig: Yes, I love those little containers and try to get those when I see them, but they’re a bit harder to find than the standard tins.

    Jennifer: I’m supposed to be on around 10:30, with hopefully enough time to race over to the Ferry Plaza market for some tacos : )

    Duncan: Most experts aren’t convinced there’s any danger from using aluminum utensils or using aluminum-based baking powder, but I do definitely taste the difference. I am pretty susceptible to bitter flavors (some of which I like) and used to make my own baking powder, but yes, too often people use too much baking powder.

    W: Often people call that taste ‘soapy’ and comes from too much baking soda, often used without an acidic ingredient to neutralize that flavor. Since you’re using buttermilk, that should do it (some recipes use coffee, cake flour, yogurt, or brown sugar) so I’m not sure what the problem may be. Perhaps there’s too much leavening in the recipe.

    Baking whiz Shirley Corriher says that for each 1 cup of flour in a recipe, there should be either 1 teaspoon baking powder, or 1/4 teaspoon baking soda used. So check your recipes and perhaps adapt them using those percentages.

  • When I was a kid, whenever my mom forgot something important or mixed up her words (suggesting we “go put those leftovers in the toilet, I mean basement, I mean fridge”), she would throw up her hands and go to the pantry, and take out the roll of aluminum foil. Then, she would fashion herself a little sailboat-shaped hat, and wear it around the house, calling it her Alzheimers Toque.

    Admittedly, this is funny and unfunny, all in one package, but every time I hear about the longterm cumulative effects of exposure to aluminum in antiperspirants, food additives, and so on, I think of my mom and her foil hats, and how my brother refused to invite his friends over, in case we were up to something like that when his fragile preteen ego walked in the room.

    : )

  • David you really have a delicious blog– on so many levels. The baking power tip is most appreciated. I recently checked out at the library your dessert book, fruit dessert book and perfect scoop ice cream book. I can see I’m going to have to make more room on my cookbook shelf in the coming months. Loved them all. Thanks!

  • another blogger referred readers to an Italian product available from Amazon called “pane degli angeli”, the pictured package said it was lievito. Do you know if it Is yeast or a leavener like baking powder or soda

  • This is a great post, very helpful! I especially appreciate the way to check for freshness. I usually just toss out baking powder once a year or so, but your way is better!
    Thank you.

  • Hi there, I just looked at my baking powder container and I don’t read ‘aluminum’ as any of the ingredients. It contains corn starch, monosodium phosphate, and sodium bicarb. (Magic Baking Powder-Canada). Does this mean it is aluminum free or is the aluminum in such small quantities that it doesn’t need to be listed? Thank you for your time. Jennifer

  • If you have a vacuum sealer system, you can preserve your baking powder much longer (up to 2 years) if you seal it in a vacuum canister each time you use it. Even in an airtight container with a lid, it’s only good for about 6 months usually; the vacuum sealer with increase that four-fold.

  • I’ve been using the double acting Calumet for years and just this year started using the Rumford which is a single acting powder. I’ve noticed that cakes rise differently with it. I worked it out by adding 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar per cup of flour without rounding up for fractions. I don’t understand why this would work except that it adds more acidic leavener, but it seems to do the trick for me. Thanks for addressing this as I’ve gotten into cake baking this past year and it’s been a trial at times!

  • I recently switched to Hain’s featherweight baking powder. Not only is it aluminum free, but it’s also corn free, and certified gluten free.

  • I grew up watching my mother use Magic Baking Powder and its the only one I use. I think its very popular here in Newfoundland. It is an all-phosphate type and aluminum-free (I have now discovered).

  • I can’t always find Rumford here so I buy Bakewell Cream Double Acting Baking Powder (non-aluminum) from King Arthur Flour’s site. Even if there’s no evidence at this point that aluminum is a health issue, why eat it when there are alternatives out there?

  • am i mistaken in seeing you and your bacon ice cream on a new episode of bizarre foods?

  • David, I’m an anti-corn activist. Just kidding, but I really do try to avoid corn, especially refined corn products like cornstarch. Have you run into any problems substituting arrowroot for the cornstarch? I just wrote a post based on your post on my blog Local Forage and would like to be aware of any problems if you have experienced any. Merci!

  • David, I have been making my own baking powder using cream of tarter and baking soda for almost a year now. It totally makes all the difference in the world and I wouldn’t buy canned again.

  • Thanks for the tip! I took it to heart and made a batch of pancakes this morning. I substituted your recipe for baking powder instead of my usual Clabber Girl baking powder, which contains aluminum.

    I don’t yet know if it’s a real change, or if it’s a placebo effect, but both my wife and I were startled at the flavor difference. The pancakes were definitely better.

    We plan to try biscuits tonight and see if it makes a difference for them too.

  • Carla: I love corn, especially on the cob with butter and salt! I didn’t realize it was something to be avoided : (

    I’ve never used arrowroot, but I think you can swap it out. Potato starch would work well, too.

    Alain: I can taste a difference, too. That’s why I made the switch!

    Susan: Rumford is considered double-acting, but it does work faster than traditional baking powder. Whatever baking powder you use (even traditional baking powder) once mixed, one shouldn’t dawdle when things are ready to go in the oven.

    Joi: Yes, thanks! I forgot that Hain makes baking powder as well. You can get it online, although I’m sure most natural foods stores carry it as well.

  • Hi David,

    Funny thing you wrote about this since I have been meaning to do the same thing. We always use aluminum free baking powder, but for commercial baking purposes, we were surprised to discover that Rumford and their other brand Clabber Girl, in commercial size containers for professional bakers, both have aluminum in them. Now why do the small containers for people in grocery stores exclude aluminum, and the same brands in bigger sizes for professional bakers have aluminum? That is a good question I have been meaning to call the company and ask. So, next time you go to a bakery, chances are you will be eating a baked good with aluminum in it.

    Eric

  • You made me look! It sure does say double acting..in teeny, tiny print. What was I thinking? It has two leaveners in it..so of course it’s double acting! But the addition of the cream of tartar seems to give more lift..so I guess I’ll stick with it. Thanks for straightening me out!

  • You made me look! It sure does say double acting..in teeny, tiny print. What was I thinking? It has two leaveners in it..so of course it’s double acting! But the addition of the cream of tartar seems to give more lift..so I guess I’ll stick with it. Thanks for straightening me out!

  • Really great information. I’m not an experienced baker so I very much appreciate tips like this!

  • Well crap I just bought a new can of BP (Clabber Girl) so now I have to throw it away and get more. I wonder if Whole Foods carrys Rumford. I had no idea BP had aluminum in it. Just goes to show you we need to read labels better.

  • They have the extra small size Rumford ones at my local Fred Meyers in the nutrition area. Kroger is the parent company. Since you are in the states, maybe other stores under the Kroger company carry it as well??? They have sold the tiny size for as long as I can remember.

  • I have usually used Rumsford in the past not knowing it didn’t contain aluminum and had a better taste. Thanks for the baking soda primer! Now I’ll stick to that brand, at least in the US.

  • I have been making my own powder for a while now and wouldn’t have it any other way as it makes such a difference.

  • Amazing to find this entry in my reader, as I am currently living in Europe and have not been able to find baking soda. I did find Dr. O’s baking powder, but no one seems to know what I mean by baking soda. I ran up against this once before in Europe wishing for baking soda to relieve heart burn (just a teeny bit) during a pregnancy. Is is not used as often as in the States?

    I am so very glad to have this information, on how to substitute – and how to properly use both!

    Merci!

  • I was looking for baking powder in Paris. I could only find single serving packages, not the tins. Perhaps I was looking for the wrong thing. I thought it was a clever idea to avoid the aging of bp.

  • eko: Maybe baking soda is sold under a different name in Europe? Try asking for “bicarb,” “bicarbonate of soda,” “cooking soda,” or “bread soda.” If your grocer is familiar with baking, maybe you can ask for “the leavener used in Irish soda bread.” :)

  • We only get one kind of baking powder here in Estonia, and that doesn’t contain aluminum, as far as I know (I was confused for ages when I saw “aluminum-free baking powder” in US recipes:))
    In the dark old Soviet times, when baking powder was a real deficit, we used to make up our own. For 1 tsp of baking powder, we mixed 0.5 tsp of baking soda and 0.5 tsp citric acid. Did the trick :)

  • Thank you for the boiling water test. I had my baking powder (Rumford’s 4oz) in the rubbish (even though it wouldn’t expire until July ’09). I was blaming it for my apple cake not leavening. I still don’t know about that cake – I did substitute guavas for apples and macadamia nuts for the walnuts, though wouldn’t think that would make such a big difference.

  • Claudia: Some tropical fruits (like perhaps guavas) contain a substance that prevents proteins from forming, hence cake batters might not bake correctly. Cooking the puree can remedy that situation. That might’ve been your problem.

  • Wow. Who knew. Thanks for the tips DL!

  • i know fresh pineapple keeps gelatin from firming up, unless cooked first to kill the enzymes. but fresh pineapple is great for marinating tough cuts of meat.

    david,
    i’ve read somewhere that it’s not a good idea to prepare dry cake mixes at home(for quick mixing), since baking soda or baking powder tends to lose their leavening agent. how true is this?

    if i prepare a cake batter in advance(say, the night before) to keep for the morning, can i just reserve some flour and add the leavening agents to this, to mix in just before baking?

    how would this topic affect cookie dough where jacques torres recommends keeping them for a couple of days chilled before baking to “develop” the flavor?

    thanks!

  • David, this is great information; thank you!

    May I summarize (with credit of course) on my blog so that readers who have not yet seen your space here can get this great info?

    Thanks!

  • Any advice for those of us who live in France? Does “levure chimique” contain aluminum?

    Hi Rosa: I don’t know, since I don’t use it. It should say in the ingredients if it does. I bring over tins of baking powder from the states! -dl

  • ACH Foods Company puts out an Aluminum-Free Baking Powder. It comes in a plastic container with a twist off top. It’s a great air tight container. The cost is less expensive than both Rumsford and Clabber Girl.

  • Is the Argo (ACH) baking powder new? I don’t think I’ve seen it before. Also, is the smallest size a 12-oz. container? That seems to be a lot of powder, and I’d be concerned over having to toss most of it before it expires.

    Well, I just finished a baking powder post on my blog yesterday. I might need to go amend it.

  • Why is aluminum in baking powder anyway ?

  • O-M-G! I love the DOF in the second photo. Awesome! Thanks for the info about baking powder.

  • I’ve been using Rumford baking powder for many years and my baked goods always come out great and taste good too. I recently purchased the Argo baking powder and have only used it twice in my baking. To early to make a decision.

  • Mystery solved! Thank you, David, for your valuable clues. The last two times I baked cream scones (with the recipe I have used reliably for decades) I had to throw the entire batch out after a few bites convinced me of an unrecoverable error. This is a very unusual situation in my kitchen and I’ve been going over every step to discover the reason. Each batch had the same sickening, bitter, chemical and salty taste that could not be overcome by the quality of the other ingredients. The rising action and crumb were just fine, but the chemical aftertaste was simply not palatable. You helped me figure it out. About a month ago I ran out of baking powder and purchased, for the first time, the local grocery store’s new branded baking powder as it was half the price of what I had been using. Expensive mistake! Better informed now, it will be aluminum-free or homemade baking powder for me!

  • Argo has a double acting alum free baking powder that is in a small plastic “stay fresh” container with a twist top. They sell it at Safeway or Giant on the east coast (Maryland).

  • Hi David. Thank you for a funny and intelligent blog. I’m in London and not sure if baking powder often contains aluminium, but will be investigating! I haven’t noticed a metallic taste but I have noticed recently that I get a really dry mouth after eating muffins, scones ar anything made with baking powder. It’s made me try and avoid using all together. Has anyone else experienced this?

  • David,
    New to Paris and been trying for the past few days (seems like weeks!) to make your banana upside down cake but cannot for the life find baking powder anywhere in Le Marais! Do I need to hit La Grande Épicerie de Bon Marché or what? I realize the importance you write of here with respect to baking powder and ensuring it is aluminum-free. I also realize I can “make” my own baking powder using cream of Tartar provided I can find that, also.

    Please inform if you have any ‘hints’ of places to go for baking powder, or any other odd “No American” items that will hamper cooking/baking.

    Cheers!
    LC

  • Lynanne: La Grand Epicerie used to carry Rumford, but I haven’t been in there recently to check if they still do.

    I have not seen cream of tartar in France but you might be interested in my post–Ingredients for American Baking in Paris, and some of the stores catering to expats, listed at the end of that post, may carry it.

  • David,

    You’re a life saver! Thanks for the info on your other article with respect to American Baking ingredients. The husband is no fan of FranPrix so I never go in there, but I may just check it out now for the purpose of the Anglo section! That’s show him :) No luck today at La Grand for Baking Powder but I was on serious sensory overload, too, circling and circling the isles.

    Thanks again,
    Lynanne

  • David,

    You’re a life saver! Thanks for the info on your other article with respect to American Baking ingredients. The husband is no fan of FranPrix so I never go in there, but I may just check it out now for the purpose of the Anglo section! That’s show him :) No luck today at La Grand for Baking Powder but I was on serious sensory overload, too, circling and circling the isles.

    Thanks again,
    Lynanne

  • Just a quick note to say that the Grande Epicerie has baking powder in various models (French sachets, tubs. small Rumford containers in the American aisle) – last checked a couple of hours ago

  • Count Rumford made your life possible-he invented baking ovens,cook tops(and the French cuisine piano was developed from this and more. He irrevocably changed commercial kitchens too. Read all about it at:

    http://www.rumford.com/RumfordKitchen2.html

    And his fireplaces are the best.

    Thanks for everything-my housekeeper has been telling me about chocoflan-it’s the rage in the Latino community here in Salt Lake City. She likes your Mexican wedding cookies best-I had to bake them with her so she could learn to make them at her home. Toasting the nuts was the secret step that made all the difference.

  • David,

    I know this article is a couple of years old, but if I may add my two pesos worth — I live in an extremely humid climate in the summertime, and I always keep my baking powder in the fridge (salt, also). It stays dry, because today’s modern fridges are self-defrosting. They are constantly pulling moisture out of the fridge and its contents. At least that’s my theory, and the baking powder (Rumford) stays effective long past its expiration date as long as it is refrigerated. When I take it out to use it, I can’t keep the lid off for any more time than it takes to measure it. Otherwise, the moisture in the air condenses on the cold surface of the powder.

    Salt stays dry in the fridge, too, while my supposedly air-tight container of salt that sits out on the counter starts to become a mini water maker.

    We have a fairly new fridge, and maybe older ones would not make good baking powder and salt repositories.

  • David……………

    I enjoy your writing and blog. You are informative and amusing.

    Do we know each other, are we acquainted? Did you work for Joyce Goldstein at Square One in San Francisco? It was back in the earlier 1980’s or so. I worked for her as a prep cook. You look familiar to me.

    I also cooked at Glendale Springs Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina and later with Dan Wormhaudt at Gulf Coast Oyster Bar in Oakland, CA, after I returned to California

    And I used to spend a fair amount of time in Paris when I was doing a book on Centre Pompideau. I spent my time with the late Gene Fenn @ 72, or was it 42, rue Florentin. It was near the corner of rue de Rivoli and rue Floentin. It was an apartment he had since his days in the US Army at the end end of WW II, when he came back to study with Fernand Leger. He was a good friend of m Poullain, the baker, around the corner.

    I now live in Mill Valley. Although there was a period of time, in the late 1970’s, when I was teaching at Cornell, and lived at the De Witt apartments above Moosewood. (I think everyone has some connection to Ithaca, usually Cornell.) And my second wife had a loft in SOHO in NY, where I lived for a while after she died.

    Good luck to you and keep up the writing.

    Jerry Bragstad