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Binders and Leavening Agents 101

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Binders and Leavenings 101

(Certain ingredients, such as starches, are used in particular to bind foods or to assist in dough-rising (like yeast). They are often simple powders added to food preparation)



Arrowroot is used in the same way as cornstarch or flour, which it can replace (use half as much). Unlike cornstarch, arrowroot retains the transparency of clear liquids and cooks in a shorter time; it does not change the taste of a sauce. It is also used in the production of low-protein foods for those with liver or kidney problems, or with certain allergies.

STORING ARROWROOT: Always store at room temperature in an airtight container.


Arrowroot thickens soups, sauces, puddings, creams, and flans.

Blend it with a small amount of cold liquid before mixing it into a hot dish.

It is used in cakes and cookies, especially cookies for infants.

Baking Powder

Baking powder is a fine white powder that reacts in contact with liquid and heat, forming carbon dioxide, which makes batters and other mixtures rise. It consists of a combination of alkaline and acid salts. Baking powder is more effective that baking soda, as it acts at a lower temperature and does not leave any aftertaste. There are several types of baking powders on the market:

                Quick-acting baking powder: This type starts acting as soon as it comes in contact with liquid, producing carbon dioxide. The mixture should be worked with quickly and cooked as soon as all of the ingredients are incorporated. It is used for angel food cake, crackers, donuts and pizza doughs.

                Slow-acting baking powder: This type produces maximum gas in the oven, through the effect of heat. The mixture can be kept in the fridge until the next day.

                Double-acting baking powder: This contains two acids; one that starts acting very quickly, especially at room temperature; the other that acts slowly and only in the oven. It is useful for angel food cakes and donuts, as well as for mixtures that need to be refrigerated before cooking.

                Low-sodium baking powder: This type contains potassium salts instead of sodium salts; it is designed for those who need to limit their sodium intake.



At Room Temperature: Keep baking powder away from moisture and heat.  To find out if it is still effective, pour 2 ⅓ Tbsp. of hot water over 1 ½ tsp. of baking powder. If the powder is fresh, it will form lots of bubbles; if not, it will not react very much or at all.

Preparing Baking Powder: Baking powder can be made at home by combining the following ingredients:

2 parts Cream of Tartar

1 part Baking Soda or potassium bicarbonate (containing no sodium, this product is of interest to that who need to monitor their salt intake; it is bought in the pharmacies)

1 part Cornstarch or Arrowroot


Baking powder is used to make cakes, puddings, muffins, pancakes, waffles and cookies rise. One usually adds 1 ½ tsp. of baking powder per 1 cup of flour.

Cream of Tartar

Cream of tartar is used as a raising agent; tartar is a by-product of wine-making. Cream of tartar reacts quickly in the presence of baking soda when it comes in contact with a liquid, making the mixture rise quickly. This mixture loses its volume in a short time if it is not baked immediately.


Keep cream of tartar away from heat and moisture.


Cream of tartar is often used to stabilize beaten egg whites in angel food cakes, sponge cakes, chiffon cakes, meringues and soufflés, and to prevent the sugar crystalizing in confectionery. It is also used in omelettes and cookies.

Baking Soda

Baking soda is a fine white powder formed from a mixture of alkaline salts that works as a rising agent. Baking soda or “bicarbonate of soda” only contains 1.370 mg of sodium per1 teaspoon. It breaks down into sodium carbonate, water and carbon dioxide when it is dissolved in water and heated, which makes the mixture rise, but these sodium carbonate residues are not very desirable as they leave a bitter aftertaste. The use of an acid ingredient allows the sodium carbonate residue to be eliminated.

Molasses, honey, malt, fruits, cocoa, lemon juice, yogurt, sour cream, buttermilk, and vinegar are the most commonly used acidic ingredients. It can happen, however, that despite everything, the sodium carbonate residue leaves as aftertaste in the food.

Depending on the type of recipe, 2 tsp. of baking soda can be replaced by ½ tsp. of baking powder and 1 cup of molasses, or by 1 rounded teaspoon cream of tartar and ½ teaspoon baking soda. The proportion of baking soda to the acid ingredient used is very important. Thus, if one used ½ tsp. of baking soda, it must be paired with 1 cup of buttermilk, sour milk or yogurt, or 1 Tbsp. of an acidic substance such as lemon juice or vinegar.



At Room Temperature: Keep baking soda away from humidity.

Cooking with Baking Soda

Added to cooking water for vegetables and legumes, baking soda protects the color of the vegetables and reduces the cooking time of legumes. This practice, however, leads to a loss in nutritional value and easily results in waterlogged and overcooked vegetables.

Serving Ideas for Baking Soda

Baking soda is often used when fruits are incorporated into a mixture, as it neutralizes their acidity.

It is usually sifted and mixed in with other dry ingredients

When using an acid ingredient, the baking soda should be incorporated with the dry ingredients, then the acidic ingredient should be added just before baking the mixture.


A microscopic mushroom used mainly in bread-making. Brewer’s yeast or baker’s yeast as it is sometimes called; is the most frequently used yeast.

When active yeast is added to gluten-rich flour, the carbon dioxide stays trapped in the gluten, which makes the dough rise. Non-active yeast is taken as a dietary supplement: brewer’s yeast (very strong tasting) is a by-product of making beer. It is mainly used as a supplement, whereas torula yeast is specifically cultivated as a dietary supplement. It has a better taste than brewer’s yeast.



Live yeast is sold fresh and compressed or dried.

Compressed yeast is generally sold by weight.

Dry yeast is individual yeast or a mixture of several fast or regular-acting yeasts. It is found commercially in granulated or powder form.

Yeast used as a dietary supplement is non-active and sold in powder form or as tablets.


At Room Temperature: Keep dried yeast for 1 year in a cool place.

In The Fridge: Fresh and compressed yeast, 1 week; maximum



Fresh, compressed yeast and dried yeast are used in identical ways. They are most effective at temperatures of 75˚-80˚F.

Yeast is used as a dietary supplement is not used as a raising agent.  This powder is blended with juice, water or stock, or added to soups, stews, breads and salads. Start with only a small quantity, especially in the case of brewer’s yeast, to get used to its taste.



(This information was taken from the Culinary textbook; “The Visual Food Lover’s Guide”)



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