We haven’t had baking powder in the house for over a month. When we ran out, we agreed to do some more research, actually try to find a purer form that aligned more with our food ethics. At PCC, the nearest natural foods store to us, there are four options for Baking Powder: Bob’s Redmill, Rumford, Frontier and Hain. The first three options all use cornstarch and do not have any sign of it being verifiable non-GMO, despite comments on Frontier’s site that it doesn’t contain GM ingredients. If it’s not verifiable, it’s not good enough for us. The Hain is the gluten free option and uses potato starch from inorganic potatoes, a possible GM food and, like corn, also produced with large amounts of chemicals when grown inorganically. We won’t eat non-organic corn or potatoes in any other form, so why buy it in this form? Whole Foods and the Central Co-op have similar options. Here is the first road bump to helping consumers make informed decisions on what they are purchasing. If it’s at a natural food store it is NOT necessarily organic or non-GMO. In fact, a large majority of the items in any of these stores are likely to be not only inorganic but also contain GM ingredients.
That led me to looking online. I searched for non-GMO organic baking powder. Lots of links came up with organic baking powder in the heading. Clicking on them took me to all of the above products listed available at the local PCC which we’ve already established as NOT organic or verifiable non-GMO. Here is where we hit yet another road bump in helping consumers make informed and accurate decisions about what they’re purchasing: searches online can be very misleading. If the word organic is anywhere on a site it can show up anywhere in the search, leading people to think that the products that are listed under that link are indeed organic or non-GM. You have to look closer, dig a little deeper – that’s inconvenient, takes time and is not done by the majority of consumers.
The next option, if a ready made product is not available, would be to make one yourself. This leads to looking up recipes for home-made baking powder. It seems pretty simple and straight forward – at first. According to most recipes you need three things: sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), cream of tartar, and a starch – usually cornstarch is listed. Cornstarch is available organic and is on the shelf at most natural food stores (usually sitting next to a non-organic option, which of course costs less, thus tempting the consumer to chose it instead – but that’s another post altogether.) So what about the other two ingredients? Sodium bicarbonate – baking soda – it’s most likely already in the cupboard of households all across the country. It’s the alkali ingredient in the baking powder and can be used on its own to raise baked products if an acid ingredient is in the recipe. How it is sourced and processed is more than I want to dive into in this post. So for the moment I’ll move onto cream of tartar.
Cream of tartar is an acid and, according to the sources I have found, is a bi-product of the wine making industry. How it is processed is still something I am researching, but in the mean time I just want to address that I have not been able to find an organic source for it. The wine industry is another chemical heavy industry. Pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, and inorganic fertilizers all play a part in the production of non-organic wine grapes. We don’t want to play any part in encouraging that and don’t in our everyday food choices, so why do so for this ingredient?
With all this taken into consideration, my husband and I sat down and discussed our options. The first thing to point out is that for me personally this isn’t that big of a deal. I hardly ever eat things that contain baking powder due mainly to the fact that I don’t (can’t) eat sugar and most quick raised baked goods contain sugar. So, it really came down to what my husband wanted to do. He really prefers to keep what comes into our house as pure as possible and said that for now, he would rather just go without the baking powder and find creative ways to live without it. We’ve already been having crepes instead of pancakes and enjoying them. We know from past experience that we love spoon bread, a variation of cornbread that uses a lot more eggs and no chemical leavening. I’m sure we can discover more foods to try in place of what would call for baking powder. In the past I’ve often made quick breads for my husband to add to his lunches, since we’ve been out of the baking powder he’s just been taking more whole grain breads and nut butters for his afternoon or mid-morning snacks. Due to my intolerance to yeast, baking with it in our house is not an option but we are fortunate to have two local bakeries with plenty of options – Tall Grass Bakery and Essential Baking Company. I suggested he look into some of their less savory breads as a replacement to the quick breads if he gets a craving. He’s looking forward to that. Really when it comes down to it, it’s a matter of the mind. We can think about what we can’t have when trying to make more conscious and informed choices about what we eat and be miserable or we can look at what we can have, even make it a fun adventure and feel good about making better choices for ourselves and our world.
If anyone is interested in a little trivia about the history of baking powder and similar products here are a couple of links to get you started.