I think we can all agree…
… that baking soda is pretty magical stuff. Of course it’s what makes our baked goods rise and get all fluffy, but it’s also good for deodorizing stinky stuff, cleaning carpet spots, making DIY cleaning pastes, and scrubbing messy ovens too.
Lately when I’ve posted recipes calling for baking soda, (such as this DIY Coconut Oil Deodorant) I’ve been getting comments from folks concerned about the presence of aluminum in baking soda and the possibility of it absorbing into the skin.
When I hear the word ‘aluminum’ in regards to my food or personal care products, I definitely start paying attention, because aluminum is not something I want to be using or consuming on a regular basis.
What’s the Big Deal with Aluminum?
Aluminum is a common addition to some processed foods (especially certain baking mixes) and hygiene products (such as anti-perspirent deodorant).
Aluminum is a neurotoxin that may lead to neurological disorders (1), and certain studies have even linked it to Alzheimer’s disease (2).
There’s still some controversy in the scientific community over the exact health dangers of aluminum, but the available evidence is enough to make me say ‘No thanks.’ Therefore, I make a point of avoiding aluminum cookware and any food or personal care products that contain the metal.
Since I don’t cook with processed food items, avoiding aluminum in that space is pretty easy. BUT, there is an ingredient that I frequently use in my kitchen that can be a big offender when it comes to aluminum—>
Good ol’ baking powder.
The Difference Between Baking Soda and Baking Powder
This is where it can get a little confusing–since baking soda and baking powder are both white, powdery substances that we use in baking. But there IS a difference:
Baking soda is 100% sodium bicarbonate. It comes from soda ash, which can be produced synthetically or harvested from natural sources. Generally, recipes that call for baking soda also call for some sort of acid, which helps to boost the leavening process and remove the slightly bitter taste that baking soda sometimes lends to recipes. If you are interested in the science behind the manufacturing process, this page is jam-packed with info.
On the other hand, Baking powder contains some sodium bicarbonate, but also has other ingredients that act as acidifying agents. This means that you don’t have to add extra acid to your recipes to get the leavening action. The acidifying agents can come in the form of cream of tartar or an aluminum-based acid (3).
**Ding Ding Ding**
And that’s where aluminum makes its entrance.
Thankfully, not all baking powders contain aluminum-based acids–it just depends on the manufacturer. It’s easy to avoid the aluminum varieties– simply look for the “aluminum-free” designation on the label.
There are several varieties of aluminum-free baking powder at my local health food store, or sometimes I grab it off of Amazon.
But what about baking soda?
Baking Soda was Framed
The concern over baking soda is actually a case of mistaken identity.
Baking soda, by definition, is sodium bicarbonate, and there is no reason for it to contain an acidifying agent–aluminum-based or otherwise.
Lemme say that one more time–
Baking soda does not contain aluminum.
I even called the Arm and Hammer (the “famous” baking soda company) to double check, and they stated very definitively that their baking soda is 100% sodium bicarbonate and contains zero aluminum.
Whew. It’s kinda nice to have one less thing to worry about, huh?
It seems that this whole confusion started because certain manufacturers have labeled their product as “aluminum-free baking soda.”
That would lead one to believe that there IS indeed varieties of baking soda that do contain aluminum, however, that is not the case. I believe the reasoning behind this labeling was because they were probably getting a bazillion calls each day from people who were confused by the difference between baking soda and baking powder–so they stuck the label on there to put everyone’s mind at ease.
However, all baking soda is aluminum-free, even if it is not labeled as such.
So to Answer the Question…
No, baking soda does not contain aluminum, but some varieties of baking powder can.
So look for aluminum-free baking powder the next time you are at the store, but don’t worry about the baking soda. You can buy the big bags of the cheap stuff–no problem.