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Baking Powder Wars: The Cutthroat Food Fight that Revolutionized Cooking

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  90 ratings  ·  43 reviews
First patented in 1856, baking powder sparked a classic American struggle for business supremacy. For nearly a century, brands battled to win loyal consumers for the new leavening miracle, transforming American commerce and advertising even as they touched off a chemical revolution in the world's kitchens. Linda Civitello chronicles the titanic struggle that reshaped Ameri ...more
Hardcover, 264 pages
Published May 22nd 2017 by University of Illinois Press
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3.92  · 
Rating details
 ·  90 ratings  ·  43 reviews

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May 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
I find history truly fascinating, from the changes we can read and see in people, culture, places. One thing that connects us more is none other then food. Food history is just as rich as it showcases the culture impact every day food such as Baking Powder had on us,that today we take for granted.
Linda Covitello packs in so much history from the 19th century to today in how Baking Power changed the way we cook and in some cases changed the world.
Covitello just doesn't talk about baking power
Evelina | AvalinahsBooks
As I've found out recently (re: The Radium Girls), non-fiction can be written with as much passion as any fictional story. But this one... wasn't. So I'm giving it a short review - 2.5 stars. Pros/cons:

+ There was a lot of interesting history facts that were completely new to me (how bread was made at home, how breakmaking shifted from the household to the factory, what baking powders are made from, even!)

+ I was introduced to some very interesting old recipes, and how baking was even understood
Apr 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fantasy Review Barn

A bit out of place on this humble blog as unless I missed something there were no dragons involved in this non-fiction book about the history of baking powder. Nor did any of the major companies involved prone to hiring any type of magical assistance. So feel free to skip this review if the riveting battle between companies trying to sell flavorless white powder does nothing for you.

The Baking Powder War caught my eye because I am fascinated by the history of marketing and the
I think that Linda Civitello must have dreams about biscuits and baking powder. Wow. What an incredible amount of research she has done for this book.

Baking Powder Wars was published by the University of Illinois Press. In my experience, books published by a university press can be a bit dry and more academic than a casual reader is looking for. This book starts out that way, as the first few chapters set up the cooking rituals of pre-baking-powder America, its not inaccessible but it's pretty
Beth Cato
Apr 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
I received an early copy of this book via Netgalley.

I have a deep interest in 19th century history. It provides the background for several of my novels. I'm also a food blogger and all-around foodie. I am endlessly fascinated by the role of food in book world-building and in our own history.

Therefore Baking Powder Wars is perfect for me. At times, it's confusing because of the sheer number of names, but it never ceases to be interesting. The book begins with a discussion of leavening ingredients
Bonnye Reed
May 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
GNab I received a free electronic copy of his history from Netgalley, Linda Civitello, and University of Illinois Press in exchange for an honest review. Thank you all, for sharing your hard work with me.

I am old, and I have always dearly loved to cook. I am so old that I remember when every country road we traveled had Clabber Girl ads painted on old barns. One of my main complaints when I was a new cook in the late '50's and early '60's was the lack of any sort of consistency in recipes that
Jill McGill
Mar 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
Let me start by saying that I have been in the culinary world for many years now - as a culinary student, professional baker, owner of an Italian restaurant and catering business. So when I had an opportunity to read Baking Powder Wars: The Cutthroat Food Fight that Revolutionized Cooking by Linda Civitello, I jumped at it!

I know that baking powder may not be at the top of your reading list, and you are probably saying to yourself, "what could be so fascinating about baking powder?". Believe me,
Aug 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
(Note - I received an early copy of this book courtesy of NetGalley)

I had absolutely no idea what on earth to expect when I began "Baking Powder Wars." So to put it almost criminally lightly, I was surprised to learn that the history of leavening agents in the United States is a tale more fascinating than I ever could have possibly imagined, with everything from ferocious competition across the country, to marketing and advertising innovations that are widespread today, to episodes of full-out g
Julie Davis
Jun 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Much more general history than I'd have thought winds around the baking powder history. Entertainingly written with a wealth of well researched information.

It may have helped that I've baked for many years and so could empathize with bakers' struggles before baking powder. And I've also read lots of food history. But this is so well told that I think you don't have to be a baker to appreciate this book.
Jul 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book was fascinating! I had no idea how contested the baking powder market was so hotly contested and viciously fought over. This book was full of information and I know more about baking powder's history than I realized there was to know. It was interesting to see the rise and fall of the different companies and types of baking powder and how they fought for their share of the market.
Jan 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Food-related microhistories are my jam. Loved the anecdote about abolitionist cookbooks.
Dawn Betts-Green (Dinosaur in the Library)
I got this as an e-arc from Netgalley for an honest review. I enjoyed it...I mean, I freaking LOVE microhistories, but it did drag a bit in some places. If you like microhistories or food history, you need to pick it up though. Who knew the baking powder biz was so cutthroat?
Margie Gibson
May 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If baking powder doesn't seem substantial enough to merit an entire book, that's only because its history and background have not been widely explored and remain generally unknown. Linda Civitello's carefully researched book has finally opened a window onto a fascinating subject and era in US history. The book is interdisciplinary in nature, shedding light on the science and chemistry behind baking powder, the international exchange of ideas and scientific knowledge that enabled the powder's dev ...more
Dec 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Years ago, at a party, when a friend of a friend, as a comment on the ridiculous minutia of academia, related that a friend of that friend was writing a dissertation on the history of the bouillon cube, I said, "How can I get a copy?"

So you will not be surprised to hear that within the past year, I was flipping through a newly-acquired 1938 edition of the Rumford Baking Book and remembering that I also had Royal's 1920s Any one Can Bake, a 1917 Ryzon Baking Book, and a 1930s volume from Golden R
Oct 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Before there baking powder was invented, there were no fluffy cakes, no cookies, no muffins, no biscuits, and no quick breads. Everything had to be leavened with yeast, and since there was no dried yeast available at the grocery store, the baker had to capture and store their own live yeast, as one does sour dough starter these days. It was a lot of work- building up a starter, kneading, and allowing bread two or three rises took a day and a half. There were yeast raised pancakes and biscuits, j ...more
Eustacia Tan
Jul 25, 2017 rated it liked it
I admit to not knowing much about baking powder because I am not a big baker. I like to eat baked goods, but if I'm going to bake something, there's a good chance that a mix will be involved (not even a baking class helped). But, I like reading and eating so food history is something that I am interested in reading. The only thing is, I don't really find many books about this topic.

Baking Powder Wars fills a little gap in my huge chasm of ignorance about the history of food. Although it starts o
Mar 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
NetGalley ARC | This was interesting, but hampered by a clunky style and some poor presentation of good research. | The story being told here is definitely worth the time Civitello took to research and write about it. I had read about previously about Pure Food fights in Swindled: From Poison Sweets to Counterfeit Coffee—The Dark History of the Food Cheats, but this was focused on just baking powder, which is a draw all on its own. The further I read the more I enjoyed it, as the author seemed t ...more
Jun 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If you bake, then you’ve probably used baking powder at some time or another. If you are a serious baker then the story behind baking powder is a fascinating one. I know, I know… I see the look you are giving me. But trust me, it really is.

I wasn’t prepared for such a fascinating tale. I thought I’d get a dry, hard to swallow, I need some milk to wash this down type of book…but instead I was delighted by its layered goodness.

The amount of research that went into this book is beyond comprehensio
Jun 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Baking powder has been such a staple in our modern lives that we might easily forget that there was a time without such a small luxury. Author Linda Civitello has obviously done the time and research when it came to writing this book. That being said I found it a bit difficult to dig through. I’ve noticed that when it comes to nonfiction books I still enjoy the narrative approach to the type that reads like a text or essay one might do at school. The sheer amount of research and information tha ...more
Judy Plymyer
The book was shock full of fascinating history and recipes from 1800's and 1900's American cookbooks. I learned about the differences among baking powder, baking soda, and cream of tartar as well as the American inventions and manufacturers. These American culinary inventions changed the nature of baking in our country, from the use of yeast, which required lots of time and
kneading, to almost instant production of bread, cake, and biscuits. These American inventions have influenced baking in Eu
Aug 02, 2017 rated it it was ok
Serious bakers all say, "Baking is chemistry!" and given the title of this book, that would seem to be relevant to this book. Unfortunately, Linda Civitello seems to have a science phobia as she nearly completely ignores how scientific advancements affected the history of cooking and the development of baking powder. There is great information in this book and I loved much of it, but I grew frustrated finding major parts of this story glossed over while Civitello spent too much time describing o ...more
Michele Benchouk
Jul 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book presents an in-depth history of baking powder from Europe to the new colonies to 21st century America. What an interesting product, with historic and current recipes provided. The author's statement that it created a paradigm shift and then dropped out of pubic consciousness is so true. I had to go check my cupboard to find out what brand of baking powder I have (Clabber Girl) and can not recall having made a conscious choice to purchase that brand. Industrial espionage, advertising wa ...more
Eileen Hall
Oct 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Who knew that a little tin of (innocent) white powder could cause such a stir in the culinary world.
It involved unscrupulous business men, out to make a fast buck, Presidents and even the Ku Klux Klan.
It's amazing that anything that is of help to people most times gets hi jacked by others wanting a piece of the action (and a piece of the cake!).
The Brands mentioned in the book I don't know of as I don't think they made it to the UK, but I might be wrong there.
Next time I make my scones etc., i w
Alan Earhart
Jun 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
I don't recall how I happened upon this book but I'm glad I did. When I saw a book about baking powder I had no understanding of its history. Civitello does a good job walking us through the history of the importance and use of baking powder and other leavening agents through the years.

We find out about the link between bread making, morality, religion, and how tied women were to that work. Money and political bribery. How women's lives and perceptions of the change by the power brokers behind t
Jan 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult, nonfiction
Fascinating look at the history of something many of us take for granted. It really blew my mind to recognize that baking powder is a non-food chemical, since I don't usually give it more than a few seconds thought. The book was very interesting for a number of reasons, but one of the things I liked best was the parallels to the modern world, and watching the emergence of so many familiar things such as misleading advertising, pure food concerns, using lawsuits as business practices, and many ot ...more
May 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is an extraordinary example of well-reseached approach of food history. Either you consider the anthropological, economic and even culinary aspects of the history of baking powder, each layer is extraordinary reach. The author's merit is to offer a fantastic overview and in-depth analysis of an everyday topic. A recommended book to anyone interested in the history of mentalities and food historians.
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review
May 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: netgalley, e-books
Overall, I enjoyed this book, and would recommend it.

What I liked about the book:
I love books about the history behind everyday things you take for granted (e.g. Salt and Cod). This is one such book, and the author does a very good job of in this extremely thorough book. A wide number of issues were looked at from some interesting vantage points, including native American, advertising, industrial espionage, chemistry, and legislative. All in all, a very thorough piece of work.

What I didn't like
Jul 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this. It can be a little dry, but it uses baking powder as a lens to discuss the experiences of women in American history -- from housewives who didn't want to spend all day baking, to how racism was codified in our food. Baking powder also manages to be involved in lawsuits that went to the Supreme Court, overthrew a governor, and involved at least two presidents. Really interesting.
Mar 18, 2018 rated it liked it
Another well-researched academic work with crossover appeal to the popular audience. Although I was interested in the topic and learned a great deal, if I had been the editor, I would have cut or trimmed several sections and consigned more of the details to endnotes. Not compelling enough for the average reader.
Jan 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An intriguing history of a household staple. Scandal, bribery, espionage, fake news, cutthroat advertising, racism, the Supreme Court, the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, and the Indy 500, all packed into that little can in your pantry.
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