What Is a Leavening Agent?


Bakers bake goods such as breads, cakes and biscuits for the public. To create a light and fluffy texture for these products, bakers add leavening agents into the ingredients. These leavening agents allow doughs and batters to rise -- sometimes doubling in size.

Leavening Agent Types

  • Bakers have used many different leavening agents throughout the centuries. In the late 1700s, potash -- potassium bicarbonate -- was a common leavening agent. Baking soda replaced potash and is now the most widely used leavening agent today along with active dry yeast and baking powder. Some small specialty shops have access to other leavening agents such as baker's ammonia and sourdough starter. Each one of these agents gives a different texture, rise and taste to the baked good.

Baking Process

  • To make doughs and batters to rise, a baker adds the leavening agent with the other ingredients. Moisture, acidity and heat causes the leavening agent to produce carbon dioxide. This process is called fermentation, as gas bubbles form and are trapped in the dough as it rises. During the baking process, the dough sets in form as holes remain where the gas bubbles had formed. The baked dough has a flaky, soft texture.

Baking Method

  • Different baking techniques can cause a leavening process without adding any type of agent. For baked goods requiring the use of egg whites, the baker beats the egg whites as she adds air into the mixture. This air takes the place of the carbon dioxide for fermentation as baker heats the egg whites. The air becomes trapped inside the batter to create the raised, soft texture. Sponge cakes and angel food cakes are types of baked goods made by this method.

Religious Symbolism

  • Leavened breads have religious connotations. Judaism and Christianity believe that God sees the act of leavening as representing sin. Just as leavening rises and grows, God denotes sin as rising and growing spiritually within a person. Unleavened bread represents a sinless life that humanity must pursue. Many religious people avoid eating leavened baked goods.

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