Sometimes you come across an old cookbook from the bygone days and see a cookie recipe that calls for baker’s ammonia. Not to be confused with household cleaning ammonia or the stuff that forms in urine, baker’s ammonia is safe to use in baking. But what happens when you mix ammonia and baking soda together? What’s the reaction? And would you cake or cookies be safe to consume?
Let’s get to the bottom of this.
Ammonia and Baking Soda Reaction
Is it okay to mix ammonia and baking soda? Yes. In most cases, people will mix ammonia and baking soda as a cleaning agent. Together with a bit of water, ammonia and baking soda can form a paste that will remove tarnish from housing fixtures and cast iron pans. However, that is not the kind of ammonia you want to put in your baking recipes.
Ammonium carbonate (also called ammonium bicarbonate) is another leavening agent that can be used for baking. Like baking soda, baker’s ammonia will react when blended with an acid and liquid. Except, inside of releasing carbon dioxide, ammonium carbonate lets off ammonia.
Usually, using ammonium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) together will have no noticeable effect. Both of them cook out of the batter or dough in the proper conditions. However, ammonia may linger in any remaining salts if the recipe is high-moisture, like a cake. You will smell it in the final product.
What Happens When You Use Baker’s Ammonia?
So, how does baker’s ammonia work by itself? Before the 19th century when baking powder and baking soda were introduced, baker’s ammonia was the go-to. In fact, many low-moisture recipes, such as English and Middle Eastern biscuits and crackers still use ammonium carbonate to this day.
The drawback is the smell. In fact, during the Victorian era, baker’s ammonia was put under women’s noses to wake them up after swooning. Yikes.
If you can get past the smell, you’ll find that baker’s ammonia produces very crunchy, crisp snacks. This is because, as the gases escape, it leaves behind smaller air bubbles than carbon dioxide. Also, according to science, ammonium bicarbonate doesn’t leave any residue, so the pH isn’t affected.
Can Ammonia and Baking Soda Be Used Interchangeably?
Yes, you can mix ammonia and baking soda (but only the baking kind of ammonia). Ammonia gets stripped off alongside released carbon dioxide. You can use the products interchangeably in recipes—but only those that are low-moisture. Anything above 5% moisture will cause the ammonia gas to dissolve into the water.
If you’re worried about ammonium salts forming because of a reaction with the sodium bicarbonate, don’t be. In the right conditions—like baking wafers or thin, crunchy cookies—the salts that form are the first to decompose in the heat.
Remember, we’re not talking about household ammonia, a poisonous liquid. Never consume that. If you have ammonium carbonate, though, you can certainly use it alongside baking soda or as a substitute if you have ran out of baking powder. Just make sure your recipe doesn’t require a lot of moisture.