[Sca-cooks] chemical leavening

Terry Decker t.d.decker at att.net
Wed Feb 25 20:51:50 PST 2009

> On Feb 25, 2009, at 6:30 PM, Terry Decker wrote:
>> As I recall, ammonium carbonate as a leaven definitely turns up in  the 
>> 18th Century along with a number of other chemical leavens.   There are 
>> some 16th and 17th Century German references to hartshorn,  some of which 
>> are definitely deer antler and some which might be  either.
> The BASF site gives a date of something like 1823 for heavy 
> experimentation into chemical leavening; it could have taken place 
> earlier, or it could be someone interpreting "some time around 1800",  or 
> some similar phrase, somewhat loosely.
> What has me a little concerned is that although I keep seeing  references 
> to chemical leavening in 17th century Germany and  Scandinavia, it's like 
> I'm seeing references to the references, "we  all know that" such-and-such 
> is the case, etc. We do know that  chemical leavenings appear in recipes 
> for some baked goods that are  very old indeed, but it's not always clear 
> that the recipes are all  that old. While I'd love to be more edumacated 
> on this subject, at the  moment it does seem conceivable that we might be 
> looking at a slightly  more benign version of the Big Lie political 
> tactic, an untruth which,  if repeated often enough, becomes widely 
> accepted as the truth.
> Can anybody cite some specific, clear, primary or near-primary source 
> reference to hartshorn as a leavening? It would presumably have to be  the 
> ammonia salt, and not simply the ground-up horn, which, as I  recall, does 
> appear in jelly/leach recipes as a gelling agent, like  pig's feet, cow 
> hooves, isinglass, etc.
> The fact that we've been talking about this here on SCA-Cooks for a 
> billion years (give or take) doesn't count as a primary source ;-).
> Adamantius

An excellent considration.  Somewhere among my papers, I have what purports 
to be a translation of a recipe from the 1590's that uses hartshorn as 
leavening.  I have yet to find the source to determine if it is an accurate 
translation or modern fudging of an older recipe.  If I can locate it, I'll 
post it.  Beyond that, my personal collection of recipes has mostly mid to 
late 19th Century recipes with chemical leavens.

Root suggests that actual hart's horn was used as a leaven in the 16th 
Century and was replaced by ammonium carbonate.  I'm not sure how to produce 
an edible leavening gas from bone, so this statement is questionable, until 
proven or disproven.

The Oxford Companion to Food, under baking powder. give a 1790 date for the 
use of pearl ash as a leavening agent prior to the creation of baking 
powder.  No reference to hartshorn.

It is worth noting neither source provides a primary source for the 


More information about the Sca-cooks mailing list