[Sca-cooks] chemical leavening

Terry Decker t.d.decker at att.net
Thu Feb 26 05:48:24 PST 2009

> That was more or less my understanding, too. We seem to be sorta
> dancing around in circles and never actually getting to the point of 
> proving the point one way or the other, but because we keep talking  about 
> it...

I did a little digging in the collection and turned up a rather gaudy 
reprint of what is supposed to be an American cookbook from 1787.  I haven't 
chased down the manuscript history, so I'll accept the 1787 date with 
caveats.  It mentions soda in a bread recipe, which may or may not be a 
leaven.  It also mentions a new product, saleratus.  Saleratus is sodium or 
potassium bicarbonate used as a leaven.

>> 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.
> OK, but if we're looking at the alkaloid properties of bone, why use 
> horn? Does processed horn include the bone, or just the proteinaceous 
> outer layer? -- I thought the latter. If the natural descendant of the 
> process is ammonium carbonate, you'd need that nitrogen atom, right,  and 
> if it's coming from an animal, doesn't that suggest protein,  collagen, 
> keratin, that sort of thing?
> How do you get CO2 or another leavening gas directly from protein? I 
> think the answer is you don't, that you have to turn it into ash and 
> distill from that an ammonia salt.

The critical component of the ammonium carbonate is the CO3 molecule which 
releases CO2 when broken down with a weak acid.

I did a quick search for the chemical composition of antler and came up with 
this:  http://www.deertracking.com/library/aug2002_antlers3.html .  From 
what I see there would be nothing that would react in the appropriate manner 
in unmodified antler.  Your suggestion about burning the bone makes a great 
deal of sense.  Burning the bone and leaching the ashes should produce a 
form of potash, of which potassium hydroxide would be the most reactive 

>> 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.
> I seem to recall the BASF essay pointing out that potash, pearl ash,  and 
> finally soda ash, were used early on (and 1790 sounds about right)  in 
> conjunction with sourdough, to increase aeration.
>> It is worth noting neither source provides a primary source for the 
>> information.
> Jeez, it's a couple of authenticity cops we are, aren't we? But for  those 
> who become exasperated when others natter on on listservs about  primary 
> sources, well, this is why ;-).
> Adamantius

Authenticity cops, nah.  Accuracy cops, maybe.


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