Without leavening agents, the dough would not rise: bread, rolls, cakes, and pizza would be hard, inedible lumps. But what exactly are leavening agents and which ones are there?
What is a leavening agent?
Raising agents loosen dough by gas formation: The bubbles become pores under the influence of heat – this creates the typical crumb of baked goods that we love so much. A distinction can be made between chemical and natural leavening agents. Like preservatives, the synthetically produced variants often have a bad reputation, but are approved as food additives and therefore classified as harmless. It is therefore not true that chemical leavening agents are unhealthy. Nevertheless, there can of course be people for whom certain components of the loosening agents are not digestible. Anyone suffering from kidney disease should avoid foods that contain phosphate, such as conventional baking powder.
Chemical raising agents: baking powder, baking soda, staghorn salt, potash
Baking powder consists of three components: a leavening agent, a release agent and an acidifier. The latter consists of phosphates in conventional baking powder. Tartar baking powder uses natural tartaric acid instead. It is therefore called phosphate-free and is also gluten-free because it does not contain any starch as a release agent. Sodium bicarbonate, which is activated by the acid, provides the driving force in the baking powder. It is the sole ingredient in baking soda, which is called baking soda in American recipes. Want to know more about what baking soda is? In our expert knowledge we explain it to you in detail.
If you want to bake with baking soda, you need the acid as an ingredient in the batter. This can be lemon juice, vinegar, yogurt, and the like. You can also make your own baking soda and acid leavening agents by mixing 1/4 teaspoon baking soda with 1/2 teaspoon vinegar or lemon juice. That’s about the equivalent of a teaspoon of baking powder. While baking powder and baking soda are usually vegan raising agents and are used very universally for batter and bread dough, other chemical raising agents are available for certain baked goods. Flat pastries such as gingerbread, American, and speculoos can be made with deer horn salt or potash.
Leavening agents from nature: yeast, sourdough, and baking ferment
A natural leavening agent with a long tradition is yeast. The leavening agent consists of fungal cultures that ferment sugar and starch into alcohol and carbon dioxide during the rising phase of the dough. You have the choice between fresh yeast from the refrigerated section and long-life dry yeast. The latter is easier to process. Sourdough works in a similar way, but here lactic acid bacteria and sourdough yeast are responsible for the driving force. If you want to bake bread and rolls – the domain of yeast and sourdough – without yeast cultures, you can use baking ferment. The dry product consists of grain, honey, and a legume flour. It is used like sourdough in a multi-stage dough process.
By the way: Mineral water and beaten egg whites are also practical alternatives as a substitute for baking powder.