Whenever you come across raising agents, yeast usually comes to mind. Besides yeast, here are 5 other raising agents and their shelf life.
What are Raising Agents?
No, this is not a chemistry lesson! Needless to say, you will agree with me that cooking has a bit of chemistry.
A good example is how the addition of raising agents cause baked products to rise and aerate.
So, what are raising agents? Simply put, raising agents or leavening agents, work by releasing carbon dioxide bubbles. This gas then aerates whichever mixture, like cake or pancake batter.
Once the mixture gets heated, the air bubbles intertwine in the protein strands of ingredients used, resulting in a risen, fluffy and light end product. Simple, right?
You have probably used one or several raising agents. I can bet you have some in your pantry.
Raising agents can be classified into 3 major categories: chemical; biological and mechanical.
Common examples of chemical raising agents include:
- Baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
- Baking powder
- Ammonium carbonate (baking ammonia)
- Vitamin C
- Corn flour.
- Cream of tartar
On the other hand, biological leavening agents include:
- Yeast – dry or cake yeast
- Naturally occurring yeast used in sourdough starters.
Lastly, mechanical raising agents are methods used to incorporate air into mixtures.
- Creaming in
- Rubbing in
- Use of steam
- Folding in
- Laminating fat into dough
Nonetheless, our attention is on 5 raising agents. What is the difference between them? How do they work? Most importantly, how long do they last? Read on to find out.
Chemically known as sodium bicarbonate, baking soda is white, with crystal like powder. Its potency results from a combination of carbonic acid with sodium hydroxide. These two form an alkali base.
As a result, baking soda is effective when used on mixtures containing acid. This is because of carbon dioxide production. For example, batters that contain lemon juice or buttermilk rise well when baking soda is added.
Additionally, it supplements your sodium intake as it is high in sodium levels.
Besides being used as a raising agent, baking soda is a powerful household cleaning agent, odor neutralizer as well as stain remover. It also has a reserved space in beauty, hair care, skin care and cosmetics.
This is considered the all-in-one raising agent. This is as a result of it containing baking soda, cream of tartar, baking ammonia as well as cornstarch.
Other variations contain sodium aluminium sulfate. These ingredients work as a base, filler and acid which make the baking powder functional.
It is one of the most popular raising agents as it works instantly.
Baking powder has evolved as a double-acting raising agent. This means that it releases gas when mixed with the raw batter. It also releases gas during the cooking process, when heat is introduced.
This lesser known raising agent has actually been in use for centuries. In fact, besides yeast, it was the go to leavening agent, prior to the invention of baking soda and powder.
Also known as ammonium bicarbonate, this raising agent also goes by the name hartshorn or baker’s salt. Originally, it was obtained from deer horns, hence the name hartshorn.
Nowadays, it can be derived from reacting carbon dioxide with ammonia. Baking ammonia has been a popular raising agent in Scandinavian, Greek and German cuisines.
In ancient days, it was popularly used on cookies and puff pastry.
Cream of Tartar
What is the secret behind stable meringue peaks? Cream of tartar! This unassuming pantry item is actually versatile.
Did you know that cream of tartar is a by-product of wine making? It forms on the interiors of wine casks. After being refined, it becomes known as cream of tartar or tartaric acid.
It acts as a leavening agent, strengthened by the addition of baking soda. Apart from this, cream of tartar is a stabilizing agent, useful in any whipped item like eggs.
Additionally, it is added in syrups, frostings and icings to create a creamier consistency. It does this by mitigating sugar crystallization, which causes hardness.
You know it as vitamin C. How is a vitamin used as a raising agent? You may wonder.
Essentially, ascorbic acid has been used from early 20th Century to increase the volume of baked products, especially bread.
It has a lifting effect on the dough, resulting in more volume. Additionally, it creates a soft, but crumbly texture.
Its inclusion in bread has also been noted to be effective as a preservative agent. It not only extends the shelf life, it also minimizes mold growth.
For baking reasons, use the powder form which is readily available in health stores.
Shelf Life of These 5 Raising Agents
These raising agents have a fairly long shelf life. However, their potency can be compromised due to poor storage.
Moisture, heat and air are the greatest culprits in causing spoilage. As such, a cool, dry area is the most ideal for storing them.
Additionally, always seal the package or bottle tightly after each use. Another great storage tip is to fortify the packages with heavy duty wraps. This is because of odor-absorption.
Commercially packaged ones come with a ‘best by’ date. Nevertheless, you can still use them after, as long as they are potent. For instance, unopened packets remain in good condition indefinitely.
However, manufacturers recommend using them within 2 years. Ascorbic acid keeps well for up to 3 years. From then, it starts to lose potency through oxidation.
On the other hand, opened packages are effective for 6 months.
How to Test for Potency
Before discarding some unused packages stacked away in your pantry, test their effectiveness.
Simply add a few spoons of the raising agent to an acid – vinegar or lemon juice.
Potent agents frizzle and bubble almost immediately.
Ineffective raising agents will lack the bubbles and remain limp.
Spoilage is an eventuality even in raising agents. Some of the spoilage indicators include:
- Bitter taste
- Mold growth
- Stony caking of the powders. If sieving the powder does not dissipate the caking, it is better to replace it altogether.