[Sca-cooks] chemical leavening

Phil Troy / G. Tacitus Adamantius adamantius1 at verizon.net
Thu Feb 26 06:15:44 PST 2009

On Feb 26, 2009, at 8:48 AM, Terry Decker wrote:

>> 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.

I'd been hearing about saleratus for years, and knew it was supposed  
to be a chemical leavening, but never really knew what it was, and  
just assumed it was something in the baking soda family. By the  
sheerest of coincidences (although I'm rapidly approaching what  
amounts to a religious belief that there are few to no coincidences),  
just yesterday I opened a copy of The National Cookbook, by a Lady of  
Philadelphia, c. 1863, and the chemical leavening of choice for that  
volume is saleratus, except it is spelled sal aeratus, which had me  
saying, "Duh." Oh, OK. Latin (sort of). Aerating salts. Gotcha.

>>> 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.

So the ammonia is a byproduct and not the actual leavening gas in this  

> 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.

Yes, that was my take, too. I truly believe that if actual powdered  
hartshorn (rather than a more processed distillate or a synthesized  
chemical version) appears in period recipes, it's not there as a  
leavening agent. From what little I know about chemistry (which I  
nearly failed in one of the finest schools in the country!), those  
jigsaw puzzle pieces simply don't fit together to produce a gas in any  

>  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 leavening.

It might be instructive to take another look at Hugh Plat's Secrets of  
Distillation. He seems to be burning a lot of salt, oyster shells, and  
what have you, in doing what he's doing. Now I've got a new reason to  
look more closely at that stuff.

>>> 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.

Ah, for the good old days, when I could give a toy Authenticity Police  
Car as an A&S competition prize, and people would go around pinning  
scarlet "A's" on each other (and why is it always the Laurels who seem  
to find this so amusing???)...


"Most men worry about their own bellies, and other people's souls,  
when we all ought to worry about our own souls, and other people's  
			-- Rabbi Israel Salanter

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