The Great Baking Soda Anti-Hoax
I like to imagine it went something like this:
Five women were sitting around a table eating sprouted whole grain scones, talking about the latest in health scandals. Martha turned to Jody and with a sly smile whispered into Jody’s perfect curly-q ear, “Did you know baking powder has aluminum in it? I bet Janice used baking powder in her scones! We’re all going to get Alzheimer’s now. Thanks a lot, Janice.”
Jody squinted her eyes and gave it a bit of thought, and turned to the manicured Steffi and whispered, “Did you hear? Baking powder has aluminum in it!”
Steffi, not quite sure what to make of this information, leaned over and whispered to Maggie, “What’s the deal with baking soda containing aluminum? I thought that was BAD!” And Maggie, ever the first to know of shameful health trends, stands up, flips over the table and says, “YOUR BAKING SODA HAS ALUMINUM IN IT, JANICE! WE WILL NOT BE LUNCHING HERE TODAY.”
Then all the ladies, except for poor, confused Janice, march out the door and into their nearest Whole Foods to find aluminum-free baking soda.
What's up with all that aluminum in baking soda?
And that, my friends, is how the myth about baking soda containing aluminum became a widely held misconception.
Baking Soda Does Not Contain Aluminum
Much like my time spent researching borax and olive oil, it really wasn’t all that easy to get to the bottom of this baking soda anti-hoax. Everywhere you turn, there are people proudly claiming they only buy Bob’s Red Mill Aluminum-Free Baking Soda, because, by gosh and all, if it doesn’t say aluminum-free, then it must contain aluminum.
FYI, I buy Bob’s Red Mill or Frontier baking soda, too, but for other reasons we’ll talk about in a minute.
First, let’s just get one thing straight, baking soda does not contain aluminum. Regardless of whether it says aluminum-free or not on the packaging. Even good old Arm & Hammer, with their otherwise questionable products, does not contain aluminum.
Bob’s Red Mill, for as much good as they’ve done, haven’t really done any of us a service by popping that aluminum-free label on their bicarbonate of soda. It’s only led to a whole lot of confusion. But it sure did make a genius marketing strategy, didn’t it?
Baking soda ... sans aluminum. It's all that way.
Anyway, the confusion happened, it seems, because baking powder, which is produced in very different ways from baking soda (though it does contain some baking soda), often does contain aluminum. So if you’re going to look for the words aluminum-free, look for it on baking powder.
If the health benefits of using aluminum-free baking powder isn’t good enough for you, do it for the taste. Aluminum-free baking powder produces infinitely yummier treats.
But we’re not talking about baking powder. We’re talking soda here. S-O-D-A.
There IS a Difference, Though
So, now that we know there’s no aluminum in baking soda (but that there often is in baking powder), what’s the difference between, say, Bob’s Red Mill and Arm & Hammer baking soda?
Why on earth would you want to pay dollars more per pound for something like Bob’s Red Mill when you can get Arm & Hammer for a stick of gum?
It has to do with the way the two things are procured. A brand like Bob’s Red Mill (or Frontier or various other natural brands of baking soda) are mined directly from the ground in their natural sodium bicarbonate state (also known as nahcolite). In fact, Bob’s Red Mill is mined right here in Colorado, so for me it’s kind of like buying local. Which is nice.
There are no chemical reactions, nothing added or fiddled with. It’s just pure sodium bicarbonate, the way the earth made it.
On the other hand, Arm & Hammer baking soda uses a chemical reaction process through which trona ore is mined, then heated until it turns into soda ash. Then the soda ash is treated with carbon dioxide, and baking soda pours forth through the glorious brilliance of science.
It’s just a lot of effort to go through to procure something that’s abundantly available at this point.
However, I do not look down on the use of Arm & Hammer (or similar brands). In fact, it’s the only baking soda I use for cleaning. It’s okay enough, for me, to use on counter tops and bathtubs and more.
I choose, though, to only use naturally mined sodium bicarbonate (like Bob’s or Frontier) when I cook, make my own skincare items (like deodorant or exfoliant), or take it internally when I have the occasional heartburn.
This Clears Up the Confusion, Yes?
In a nutshell, if you just skimmed all my words and ended up here at the bottom hoping for a quick and easy wrap-up:
- Baking soda does not contain aluminum, regardless of whether or not the package says “aluminum-free.”
- Arm & Hammer (and other similar brands) use a chemical process that turns trona ore into soda ash and then reacts carbon dioxide with the soda ash to produce baking soda. This is not necessarily bad, per se, but it’s not the same as …
- Brands like Bob’s Red Mill and Frontier procure their sodium bicarbonate directly from the ground, in its natural state.
- I’m not going to judge you based on your baking soda buying choices, because I am not Maggie.
Lastly, let me just say this: If you were confused by the baking soda and aluminum situation, do not fret. It’s easy to get really confused in the game of whisper words, especially when it’s played on the internet.
But now you know, and now you have one less thing to worry about.