Is baking powder vegan?
Yes! Baking powder is vegan-friendly since no animal-derived ingredients or processes are used to make it.
Baking powder is a mixture of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), an acid, and an inert filler like cornstarch. The acid is usually in the form of monocalcium phosphate or cream of tartar, both of which are vegan-friendly.
While the cream of tartar was once the most common acid in baking powder, it’s only one of several that can be used and tends to be less common these days.
Why baking powder is considered vegan
Sodium bicarbonate is vegan
While the presence of other ingredients can range quite a bit, sodium bicarbonate is invariably used as an alkali in baking powder. The only possible exception would be potassium bicarbonate which is also vegan.
As the baking powder, pure baking soda is a white powdery substance used as a leavening.
It has other applications (besides leavening) and is used in common household items like toothpaste and cleaning agents.
Sodium bicarbonate is considered vegan because sodium carbonate from which it’s industrially produced is never derived from animals.
Specifically, it’s produced from mining. It’s usually obtained from trona, trisodium hydrogen dicarbonate dihydrate, which is mined in several areas throughout the US and provides almost all domestic consumption of sodium carbonate in the States.
It is also mined from certain alkaline lakes via dredging.
Barilla and kelp also provide a potential source. Several salt-tolerant (or “halophyte”) plant and seaweed species can be processed to produce an impure form of sodium carbonate.
Not all sodium bicarbonate comes from industrial production via sodium carbonate. Like sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate itself can also be mined from the earth (though it’s much less common).
Naturally occurring deposits of nahcolite are found in Colorado. Nahcolite is a soft, white carbonate mineral composed of sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3).
The acid component is vegan
To produce CO2, it’s not necessary to add an acidic ingredient (e.g. molasses) to a flour mixture when baking powder is used—as opposed to pure baking soda.
This is because an acid source has already been added, usually in the form of calcium phosphate or cream of tartar.
Cream of tartar, or potassium bitartrate, used to be more common and continues to be used for homemade baking powder.
Baking powder is often made at home by adding ¼ teaspoon of baking soda per ½ teaspoon of cream of tartar.
Cream of tartar is considered vegan, as it’s produced during grape juice fermentation. It’s made industrially as a byproduct of the winemaking industry.
Nowadays, it’s produced in larger quantities from industrial winemaking, and in the past, it was derived from the sediment that often collects on the underside of wine casks.
Again, nowadays it seems most commercial baking powders use calcium phosphate. At least, in my experience. Calcium phosphate can be obtained from animal sources, but it’s also commonly derived from phosphate rocks, plants, etc.
It’s generally considered safe for vegan consumption, and the Vegetarian Resource Group considers it a largely vegan ingredient.
Suggested read: Is synthetic leather vegan?
Why the acid? Well, when a liquid source is added to baking powder, the alkaline baking soda reacts with the acidic component resulting in the release of carbon dioxide gas. The gas then expands the dough to act as a leavener.
The inert filler is vegan
The inert filler in baking powder is typically cornstarch. It serves to absorb any excess moisture present in the air, which could otherwise cause the powder to cake and/or reduce its potency.
Again, cornstarch is the main filler. It’s simply the starch component of corn that’s been separated from the germ and endosperm.
Hence, it’s 100% plant-based and thus vegan.
Is baking powder gluten-free?
Yes, baking powder is typically gluten-free as well! But be aware that because some brands use a wheat starch buffer instead of cornstarch or the baking powder is processed in a facility with gluten-containing products.