Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, is one of the most common household chemical leaveners—either on its own or as part of baking powder. It’s also an ingredient you’ll run across when scanning panels on food and product labels.
Baking soda is vegan because it (sodium bicarbonate) is produced from sodium carbonate which is mined from the earth or produced from other substances that have been mined or extracted (e.g. salt, limestone, kelp, etc.).1-3 Therefore, it’s 100% vegan.
But, what about baking powder? After all, it contains several other ingredients.
Yes, baking powder is considered vegan. It’s simply a mixture of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), an acid, and an inert filler like cornstarch.4 The acid is usually in the form of monocalcium phosphate or cream of tartar, both of which are vegan-friendly.
While cream of tartar was once the most common acid in baking powder, it’s only one of several that can be used, and tends to be less common these days.5
What we’ll do here is go over the various reasons baking powder and baking soda are considered vegan
Why Baking Powder Is Considered Vegan
Sodium Bicarbonate Is Vegan
While the presence of other ingredients can range quite a bit, sodium bicarbonate is invariably used as an alkali in baking powder. The only possible exception would be potassium bicarbonate which is also vegan.
Like baking powder, pure baking soda is a white powdery substance used as a leavener.4
It has other applications (besides leavening) and is used in common household items like toothpaste and cleaning agents.
Sodium bicarbonate is considered vegan because sodium carbonate from which it’s industrially produced is never derived from animals.
Specifically, it’s produced from mining. It’s usually obtained from trona, trisodium hydrogen dicarbonate dihydrate, which is mined in several areas throughout the US and provides almost all domestic consumption of sodium carbonate in the States.3,6
It is also mined from certain alkaline lakes via dredging.3
Barilla and kelp also provide a potential source. Several salt-tolerant (or “halophyte”) plant and seaweed species can be processed to produce an impure form of sodium carbonate.3
Not all sodium bicarbonate comes from industrial production via sodium carbonate. Like sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate itself can also be mined from the earth (though it’s much less common).
Naturally occurring deposits of nahcolite are found in Colorado. Nahcolite is a soft, white carbonate mineral composed of sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3).2,7
The Acid Component Is Vegan
To produce CO2, it’s not necessary to add an acidic ingredient (e.g. molasses) to a flour mixture when baking powder is used—as opposed to pure baking soda.
This is because an acid source has already been added, usually in the form of calcium phosphate or cream of tartar.8
Cream of tartar, or potassium bitartrate, used to be more common and continues to be used for homemade baking powder.
Baking powder is often made at home by adding ¼ teaspoon of baking soda per ½ teaspoon of cream of tartar.
Cream of tartar is considered vegan, as it’s produced during grape juice fermentation. It’s made industrially as a byproduct of the winemaking industry.
Nowadays, it’s produced in larger quantities from industrial winemaking, and in the past, it was derived from the sediment that often collects on the underside of wine casks.5,8
Again, nowadays it seems most commercial baking powders use calcium phosphate. At least, in my experience. Calcium phosphate can be obtained from animal sources, but it’s also commonly derived from phosphate rocks, plants, etc.
It’s generally considered safe for vegan consumption, and the Vegetarian Resource Group considers it a largely vegan ingredient.9
Why the acid? Well, when a liquid source is added to baking powder, the alkaline baking soda reacts with the acidic component resulting in the release of carbon dioxide gas. The gas then expands the dough or batter to act as a leavener.
The Inert Filler Is Vegan
The inert filler in baking powder is typically cornstarch. It serves to absorb any excess moisture present in the air, which could otherwise cause the powder to cake and/or reduce its potency.8
Again, cornstarch is the main filler. It’s simply the starch component of corn that’s been separated from the germ and endosperm.10,11
Hence, it’s 100% plant-based and thus vegan.
What About the Different Varieties? (Fast-Acting, Salt Substitutes, Etc.)
There are two main types of baking powder: the single-acting (fast) powder and the double-acting (slow) powder.8
Traditionally, the fast- or single-acting powder has only been available to commercial bakers, because a flour made with the fast stuff has to be handled quickly and efficiently (i.e. placed in the oven ASAP), because it produces CO2 right from the jump.
Any delay allows CO2 to escape which decreases the ability of the dough or batter to rise.
A variety of acids can be used to produce a fast- vs. slow-acting powder. Cream of tartar, calcium phosphate, sodium aluminum sulfate, etc.
Sodium aluminum sulfate is made from materials mined from the earth.12 So, it’s vegan.
Salt substitutes like potassium bicarbonate are sometimes used for folks on a low-sodium diet.13 Potassium and bicarbonate are both vegan, hence potassium bicarbonate is also vegan.
Let’s see… some specialized baking powders are used for certain applications.
For example, a baking powder containing ammonium bicarbonate is commonly used for cookies that require a high surface area and very little water—this allows the ammonia to evaporate completely, which prevents a bitter flavor.13,14
Ammonium bicarbonate is also vegan, as it’s just a combination of ammonia and CO2.15
Calcium lactate is another common ingredient. It’s a salt produced when calcium carbonate or calcium hydroxide reacts with lactic acid.16
It tends to be an ingredient in baking powders that contain sodium acid pyrophosphate. It’s used for slow-acting baking powders as it provides calcium which delays leavening.17
Unlike lactose, lactate and lactic acid are typically considered vegan. Sure enough, calcium lactate is generally considered suitable for vegans.18
Anyway, that’s it for the vegan status of baking powder. Thanks for reading.
You may also want to check out the following related articles:
- Christian Thieme (2000). “Sodium Carbonates”. Ullmann’s Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry. Weinheim: Wiley-VCH. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/14356007.a24_299
- Sodium Bicarbonate. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodium_bicarbonate
- Sodium Carbonate. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodium_carbonate
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 375). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011. ISBN-10: 0-538-73498-1
- Malgieris N. Nick Malgieri’s Perfect Pastry. Macmillan, 1998. ISBN 9780028623351
- Sodium Sesquicarbonate. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodium_sesquicarbonate
- Nahcolite. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nahcolite
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 378). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011. ISBN-10: 0-538-73498-1
- Vegetarian Journal’s Guide To Food Ingredients. By Jeanne Yacoubou, MS VRG Research Director. https://www.vrg.org/ingredients/
- Cornstarch, Manufacturing. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corn_starch#Manufacture
- International Starch Institute. http://www.starch.dk/isi/starch/tm18www-corn.htm
- Sodium Aluminum Sulfate. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodium_aluminium_sulfate#Production_and_natural_occurrence
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 379). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011. ISBN-10: 0-538-73498-1
- Heidolph BB. Designing chemical leavening systems. Cereal Foods World 41(3):118–126, 1996.
- Ammonium Bicarbonate. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ammonium_bicarbonate
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 493). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011. ISBN-10: 0-538-73498-1
- E.J. Pyler (1988), Baking Science and Technology, Sosland Publishing (Page 933).
- Questions About Food Ingredients. https://www.vrg.org/nutshell/faqingredients.htm#calcium