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E503 - Ammonium carbonate / Ammonium bicarbonate

Food additives

Group: E500–E599 (acidity regulators, anti-caking agents)
E503i Ammonium carbonate is a salt with the chemical formula (NH4)2CO3. Since it readily degrades to gaseous ammonia and carbon dioxide upon heating, it is used as a leavening agent and also as smelling salt. It is also known as baker's ammonia and was a predecessor to the more modern leavening agents baking soda and baking powder. It is a component of what was formerly known as sal volatile and salt of hartshorn. Ammonium carbonate may be used as a leavening agent in traditional recipes, particularly those from northern Europe and Scandinavia (e.g. Speculoos, Tunnbröd or Lebkuchen). It was the precursor to today's more commonly used baking powder. Originally made from ground deer horn and called hartshorn, today it is called baker's ammonia. It is prepared by the sublimation of a mixture of ammonium sulfate and calcium carbonate and occurs as a white powder or a hard, white or translucent mass. It acts as a heat activated leavening agent and breaks down into carbon dioxide (leavening), ammonia (which needs to dissipate) and water. It is sometimes combined with sodium bicarbonate to mimic as a double acting baking powder and to help mask any ammonia smell not baked out. It also serves as an acidity regulator and has the E number E503. It can be replaced with baking powder, but this may affect both the taste and texture of the finished product. Baker's ammonia should be used to create thin dry baked goods like crackers and cookies. This allows the strong ammonia smell to bake out. It should not be used to make moist baked items like cake since ammonia is hydrophilic and will leave a strong bitter taste. Its use as a leavening agent, with associated controversy, goes back centuries: In the third kind of bread, a vesicular appearance is given to it by the addition to the dough of some ammoniacal salt (usually the sub-carbonate), which becomes wholly converted into a gaseous substance during the process of baking, causing the dough to swell out into little air vessels, which finally bursting, allow the gas to escape, and leave the bread exceedingly porous. Mr. Accum, in his Treatise on Culinary Poisons, has stigmatized this process as "fraudulent," but, in our opinion, most unjustly. The bakers would never adopt it but from necessity: when good yeast cannot be procured, it forms an admirable and perfectly harmless substitute; costing the baker more, it diminishes his profit, while the consumer is benefited by the bread retaining the solid matter, which by the process of fermentation is dissipated in the form of alcohol and carbonic acid gas.

E503ii Ammonium bicarbonate is an inorganic compound with formula (NH4)HCO3, simplified to NH5CO3. The compound has many names, reflecting its long history. Chemically speaking, it is the bicarbonate salt of the ammonium ion. It is a colourless solid that degrades readily to carbon dioxide, water and ammonia. Ammonium bicarbonate is used in the food industry as a leavening agent for flat baked goods, such as cookies and crackers. It was commonly used in the home before modern-day baking powder was made available. Many baking cookbooks, especially from Scandinavian countries, may still refer to it as hartshorn or hornsalt, while it is known as "hirvensarvisuola" in Finnish, "hjortetakksalt" in Norwegian, "hjortetakssalt" in Danish, "hjorthornssalt" in Swedish, and "Hirschhornsalz" in German (lit., "salt of hart's horn"). Although there is a slight smell of ammonia during baking, this quickly dissipates, leaving no taste. It is used in, for example, Swedish "drömmar" biscuits and Danish "brunkager" Christmas biscuits, and German Lebkuchen. In many cases it may be replaced with baking soda or baking powder, or a combination of both, depending on the recipe composition and leavening requirements. Compared to baking soda or potash, hartshorn has the advantage of producing more gas for the same amount of agent, and of not leaving any salty or soapy taste in the finished product, as it completely decomposes into water and gaseous products that evaporate during baking. It cannot be used for moist, bulky baked goods however, such as normal bread or cakes, since some ammonia will be trapped inside and will cause an unpleasant taste. It has been assigned E number E503 for use as a food additive in the European Union. It is commonly used as an inexpensive nitrogen fertilizer in China, but is now being phased out in favor of urea for quality and stability. This compound is used as a component in the production of fire-extinguishing compounds, pharmaceuticals, dyes, pigments, and it is also a basic fertilizer, being a source of ammonia. Ammonium bicarbonate is still widely used in the plastics and rubber industry, in the manufacture of ceramics, in chrome leather tanning, and for the synthesis of catalysts. It is also used for buffering solutions to make them slightly alkaline during chemical purification, such as high-performance liquid chromatography. Because it entirely decomposes to volatile compounds, this allows rapid recovery of the compound of interest by freeze-drying. Ammonium bicarbonate is also a key component of the expectorant cough syrup "Senega and Ammonia". Ammonium bicarbonate is an irritant to the skin, eyes and respiratory system. Short-term health effects may occur immediately or shortly after exposure to ammonium bicarbonate. Breathing ammonium bicarbonate can irritate the nose, throat and lungs causing coughing, wheezing and/or shortness of breath. Repeated exposure may cause bronchitis to develop with cough, and/or shortness of breath. Health effects can occur some time after exposure to ammonium bicarbonate and can last for months or years. Where possible, operations should be enclosed and the use of local exhaust ventilation at the site of chemical release is recommended. If local exhaust ventilation or enclosure is not used, respirators are necessary. Wear protective work clothing and change clothes and wash thoroughly immediately after exposure to ammonium bicarbonate. Ammonium bicarbonate from China used to make cookies was found to be contaminated with melamine, and imports were banned in Malaysia following the 2008 Chinese milk scandal.

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