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What is Leavening

What Products Contain Leavening?

During Unleavened Bread we are to have no leaven or leavened products in our home (Exodus:12:15; Exodus:12:19; Exodus:13:7).

Leaven is a food additive, which causes bread or bread products to rise. The apostle Paul used this property of leaven to teach Christians that a “puffed up” attitude is sin (compare 1 Corinthians:5:2 with 1 Corinthians:5:6-7).

Leaven includes yeast, a biological leavening agent that produces fermentation, and chemical leavening agents such as baking powder, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), and potassium bicarbonate.

Items such as bread, cake, crackers, cookies and prepared cereals and pies that contain leavening must be put out. Doing this is symbolic of putting both the visible and hidden sins out of our lives.

Homemade cream puffs, angel food cake, popovers and sponge cake, while light and fluffy, need not contain any of the above ingredients. Most pie crust recipes (except for graham cracker crusts) are unleavened. However, these products, when purchased from stores or bakeries, frequently do include leavening. Check the ingredient list.

Even though pita bread, flour tortillas and graham crackers are flat, they do contain leavening. Even some brands of matzos marked “kosher for Passover” can also list baking soda or baking powder in the ingredients! So be careful.

Although the following ingredients are associated with leavening products; they are not, by themselves, leavening agents: brewer’s yeast, yeast extract (a flavoring), cornstarch and cream of tartar (a dry acid). Cream of tartar, being an acid, merely neutralizes the alkaline nature of baking soda and does not, by itself, cause dough to rise.

Leavening Agents

Leaven is any agent that produces fermentation and causes dough to rise, by causing the formation of carbon dioxide gas to bubble into and spread throughout the dough. This is accomplished either chemically (as with baking soda) or biologically (as with yeast).

Baking Soda: a crystalline alkaline salt that gives off gas when an acid is added. The following are different types of baking soda:

  • Sodium bicarbonate, also known as “Saleratus.”
  • Potassium bicarbonate, or potash.
  • Ammonium carbonate, or “baker’s ammonia.”
  • Ammonium bicarbonate, also known as “hartshorn.”
  • Baking Powder (baking soda + acid-forming ingredients + starch filler).
  • Sourdough starter (a wild yeast colony that is maintained with flour and moisture).
  • Yeast (a single-celled fungi, used to leaven).

Not Leavening

  • Autolyzed yeast: A yeast that has ‘self-destructed’ and is sterile – incapable of leavening.
  • Brewers Yeast: A dead form of yeast that cannot leaven bread; a ‘nutritional’ yeast.
  • Torula Yeast: A dead yeast that cannot leaven bread, considered a ‘nutritional’ yeast. Also hickory smoked torula yeast. Used as a savory seasoning that imparts smoky aroma to foods.
  • Yeast extract(s): Derivatives of yeast, which are sterile and cannot leaven bread.
  • Cream of Tartar: Tartaric acid – potassium bitartrate or potassium hydrogen tartrate. This is an acid used to combine with baking soda. By itself, this is not leavening.
  • Tartrate powder: Phosphate powder or sulfate powder – usually added with cream of tartar. By itself this is not leavening.
  • Alum: A metallic double salt, usually added with cream of tartar. Most common is sodium aluminum sulfate (SAS or sulfate powder), and potassium aluminum sulfate (or potash alum). By itself this is not leavening.
  • Sorbitan monosterate: A flavor and texture enhancer. Not leaven of itself.
  • Sodium Caseinate: A milk protein, not a leaven
  • Sodium Silicoaluminate: A fine powder that is used to keep cocoa, salt and other products dry, not a leaven
  • Polysorbate 60: A preservative; not a leaven.
  • Egg whites: Not a leavening agent. While beaten egg white can be stirred into dough, it does not spread through dough as leavening does and is not leavening.
  • Steam or air (such as in popovers or angel food cake). The same principle as egg whites (above) applies; there is no leavening agent mixed through the dough.
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