Appetizing, well-textured baked goods depend on proper leavening; however, bakers using chemical methods to raise cakes, muffins, cookies and other sweet goods face a daunting task. To give these indulgent products a healthier image, they may need to trade in their familiar baking sodas, leavening acids and baking powders for those much lighter in sodium content.

In other words, the baker’s leavening choices are themselves being leavened by changes in dietary advice from health authorities urging lower sodium intake.

The good news is that there’s time to work out the change. Sodium reduction — a hot button elsewhere in the world — has not excited American consumers. “In the chemical leavening field, sodium reduction is a big thing,” observed Nita Livvix, director of R&D, Ingredient Division, Clabber Girl Corp., Terre Haute, IN. “The take-up by the baking industry, however, has been a little slow because the push from consumers is not quite there.”

The situation is different in the UK, according to Christian Kroning, business development manager, baking, Budenheim USA, Inc., Columbus, OH. Regulators there gave its food processors — and bakers — a tight schedule for cutting sodium. “Food companies are getting a lot of push on the issue,” he said, “and we see this in other countries.”

Progress may speed up if front-of-pack nutrient labeling becomes widely adopted. “Consumer awareness is a must,” said Dinnie Jordan, director, Kudos Blends Ltd., Cleobury Mortimer, UK, about factors influencing chemical leavening decisions. “And ‘traffic light’ icons will help that awareness,” she added.

Big changes in chemical leavening choices may be slow today, but they are inevitable. “In the next 10 years, you will see a slow shift to calcium products,” said John Brodie, technical service manager, bakery, Innophos, Inc., Cranbury, NJ.

Sodium poses concerns

If sodium isn’t top-of-mind with consumers, why rethink chemical leavening ingredients? The simple truth is, the most popular and most economical all contain sodium. And it’s better to be prepared than to be caught without tested alternatives. “Leavening is a significant contributor to sodium content in some baked goods, yet 30% reductions are achievable in most instances,” said Kristine V. Lukasik, PhD, director, applications, scientific and regulatory affairs, food and nutritional ingredients, Balchem Corp., New Hampton, NY.

Chemically leavened foods are attractive because many can be eaten “on the go.” And when convenience bows to healthy, the sodium content of such leavening systems certainly will come under scrutiny.

“Individually wrapped baked items for snacks, breakfast and meal accompaniments can be found throughout grocery stores and quick serve restaurants,” observed Barbara Bufe Heidolph, principal, applications R&D technical support, ICL Food Specialties, St. Louis. “We often are in situations where we have just one hand to eat.” Chemical leavening systems, she noted, are ideal for delivering convenient “on the go” baked foods.

The structure of gluten-free baked foods depends on rapid aeration to develop air cells and viscosity, ­especially in initial oven stages to aerate the gelled starch structure. “Remember, in ­leavening gluten-free products, it’s about the starch and hydrocolloids that enable gas entrapment,” Mr. Brodie advised.

As consumers’ attention turns increasingly to health and wellness, they will seek healthier food options, even among indulgent and snack products. “Consumers are more and more aware of the healthier options within those indulgences,” said EB Russell, innovation manager, AB Mauri, Chesterfield, MO. She cited cakes as an example, noting high demand for cleaner labels, organic ingredients and healthier “add ons.”

This trend crosses all bakery product lines and will prompt different ingredient choices. “A healthier tortilla with a reduction in sodium is going to require a different leavening system than a healthier muffin with a similar reduction in sodium,” Ms. Russell observed. “But for all bakers, price and technical application are important — keeping things as close to the same so the product works in the same system is paramount.”

Rising tide lifts choices

When it comes to chemical leavening systems, most agree that there is no “one size fits all” solution. “Working hand-in-hand with the baker is the only way to provide new, innovative products that meet consumer demands,” Ms. Russell recommended.

It helps to think of chemical leavening as a system rather than an individual ingredient. Two sources of sodium are present: sodium bicarbonate that provides the source of the leavening gas and the sodium phosphates that release the gas.

When substituting for sodium bicarbonate, the potassium form enjoys more interest than ammonium bicarbonate, which can be used in low-moisture foods like crackers.

When potassium bicarbonate releases all its carbon dioxide, the physical characteristics (taste, texture and color) of the finished product will be no different than when using sodium bicarbonate. But if an excess of soda remains, color will darken slightly because of the marginally higher pH of the residual carbonate salt, according to Rob Berube, manager, technical service, Church & Dwight Co., Inc., Specialty Products Division, Performance Products Group, Princeton, NJ, who described the company’s Flow-K Potassium Bicarbonate. “Taste is not an issue as might be expected with other potassium salts,” he said.

Potassium bicarbonate effectively cuts the sodium load in a formulation. “Clearly, we are promoting use of KUDOS Potassium Bicarbonate HP as a means to reduce sodium,” Ms. Jordan said. This substitution ­allows retention of highly functional sodium-based acidulants such as ­sodium acid pyrophosphate (SAPP).

Today’s potassium bicarbonate is a better alternative than it used to be. “Recently, there have been technical improvements with the solubility of potassium bicarbonate,” Ms. Livvix reported. “These make it almost identical to sodium bicarbonate in solubility, enabling the same usage level and reaction rate.”

Substitution of potassium bicarbonate is the simple solution to sodium reduction, according to Ms. Jordan. “Technically, it’s straightforward, and you can achieve up to 50% sodium reduction, depending on salt in your recipe.”

Another way to limit the sodium impact of the bicarbonate is to protect it during prep stages so it generates carbon dioxide only during baking. That’s how Dr. Lukasik described the control provided by Bakeshure encapsulated sodium bicarbonate. The company recently introduced Bakeshure Complete, a baking powder blending sodium ­bicarbonate with encapsulated monocalcium phosphate (NCP). It also has a zero-sodium version.

Clabber Girl also offers encapsulated sodium bicarbonates, branded InnovaBake.

Acids expand options

On the acid side of the equation, not all are created equal in sodium content. They differ in chemical makeup, including sodium content. Ms. Heidolph pointed to ICL’s Levn-Lite sodium aluminum phosphate (SALP) as an example.

Even though low in sodium, SALP faces challenges outside the US (see “Tarnish forming on aluminum, too?” on Page 66). “In countries that allow sodium aluminum compounds, the formulator has many options,” Mr. Kroning said. The company introduced LEVALL AS this fall as an alternative to SALP. It is based on calcium phosphates and provides the rate of reaction bakers seek for cake items.

Replacing the industry’s standby sodium acid pyrophosphate (SAPP 28) with Innophos’ Cal-Rise, which contains calcium acid pyrophosphate (CAPP) and anhydrous monocalcium phosphate (AMCP), cuts overall sodium content by 20 to 35%, according to Mr. Brodie.

Much progress has been made with calcium phosphates. For example, CAPP is used by ICL in its Levona family of zero-sodium, calcium-rich leavening agents. When used along with sodium bicarbonate, CAPP cuts the leavening system’s overall sodium content by 20 to 25%, according to Ms. Heidolph. The company tailored the time-delayed-release acids to replace SAPP.

These calcium acids are showing up in blends with early and late gassing power activity. Innophos produces Actif-8, a formulated mixture of Levair (SALP) and anhydrous MCP. It is a white, free-flowing powder having a calcium content of approximately 6.2%. When Actif-8 HiCal is used in the blend, it raises calcium to 11.4%.

Baking powders, too, are taking advantage of ­potassium- and calcium-containing leaveners. Clabber Girl developed its InnovaFree baking powder using Innophos’ Cal-Rise sodium-free leavening agent. This baking powder can reduce sodium levels in baked foods by 50%, Ms. Livvix noted.

At AB Mauri, the newest developments in chemical leavening systems address tortilla production: The Suprimo Tortilla System encompasses leavening, conditioning, preservation and extensibility in “dial up” and “dial down” fashion. The company offers a full menu of bicarbonates, leavening acids and baking powders.

Changes benefit nutrition

Replacement of sodium-bearing ingredients improves the health profile of the finished goods. “The baker needs to realize that while reducing sodium, you can get the additional benefits of other ingredients with calcium and potassium,” Ms. Russell said.

This change can be reflected on product labels. “For many applications, the calcium contributed from the leavening system may also allow a calcium claim such as ‘good source,’ ” Ms. Heidolph said. This applies not only to CAPP but also MCP and dicalcium phosphate.

The mineral-rich nature of di- and tricalcium phosphates may also prove valuable for fortifying bakery foods, according to Mr. Kroning.

Although cutting dietary intake of sodium dosen’t command high attention from Americans at the ­moment, the issue may become more important as more popular health-and-wellness themes mature. Plenty of alternative ingredients now exist for bakers willing to experiment now.