A small bowl of eggs and a bowl of flour

Leavening Agents: The What and How

What is the leavening process and agents?

The leavening process is when leaveners are used in baked goods to improve texture and visual appearance. Leavening agents are ingredients/conditions that help produce air bubbles that get trapped in the batter which in turn helps it raise. In general, leaveners can be divided into three categories: physical (air/steam), biological (yeast), or chemical (baking powder and soda). These leaveners create air pockets that give the final product a gorgeous, light texture.

Let’s look at the most common leaveners:

A bowl of Yeast


There are different types of yeasts depending on your requirement. There is instant dry ,active dry, and fresh yeast. Fresh yeast found at any baking supplies store is the most common form of yeast. While the other two need proofing and waiting for the yeast to activate, fresh yeast can do the same job almost instantaneously.

Yeast creates fermentation by reacting with the sugars in the dough. This releases carbon dioxide which gets the dough to rise. This also adds to the taste of the dessert. Adding more yeast will not change the reaction too much but it will alter the taste.

A bowl of Baking Soda

Baking Soda

Baking soda needs an acidic ingredient to get activated. That could be lemon, buttermilk, yogurt, sour cream, etc. Baking powder is almost invisible when dry but as soon as it's mixed with an acid, it reacts immediately.

A bowl of Baking Powder

Baking Powder

Baking powder is baking soda along with an acidic ingredient but in a dry powder form.

Similar to soda, it wouldn’t react when dry but it reacts more slowly than a baking soda when moistened. But it also has a double-acting quality which means it acts once when mixed and the second time when it hits the heat.

Baking powder and baking soda cannot be compensated for each other. Reading the recipe and measurements carefully is very important.

A cake in an oven surrounded by steam


Water’s volume expands immensely when it reaches the steam state. Steam is a strong way to create the process of rising in certain kinds of desserts. The main purpose is to get the dough to absorb the steam. Usually, the liquid ingredients in the dough along with the steam create a soft crumbly effect. Like in the case of a puff pastry or a momo. Steam is also the reason why you could try and bake a cake on the gas top, but it isn’t recommended for professionals.

Every recipe has a certain requirement when it comes to leavening agents. Sticking to the recipe and the exact quantity is very crucial for the right amount of rising and fluffiness. We hope this helps!

Also, check out the baking facts about baking fats here!