Alum, also known as aluminum potassium sulphate, is a chemical agent with several culinary uses. You can use it in baking to leaven dough, keep pickles firm, and make bread spongy and crispy.
Besides its culinary uses, alum has several uses in leather tanning, skin products, vaccines, water purification, and styptic pencils.
Alum is a unique ingredient, but that doesn't mean it is impossible to substitute. If you need a substitute for alum, you can use lime, tartar cream, herbs, horseradish, lemon juice, vinegar, ascorbic acid, sour cherry leaves, oak leaves, or calcium hydroxide.
This article discusses the substitutes named above in detail, but first, let us look at what alum is and what it tastes like.
What is Alum?
As mentioned above, alum is a chemical substance. It comes in various forms, including hard rock, powder, and crystalline. Manufacturers use complex methods to extract it from natural minerals.
Many alum varieties are available, but the alum variety used in cooking is potassium alum. Potassium alum is a white powder commonly used in baking and pickling.
Alum has a distinct acidic taste. It gives dishes a unique tart flavor. Additionally, it is odorless, colorless, and dissolves in hot water.
Is alum good for you?
There are speculations that alum may harm your health if you use it in large amounts. However, scientists have no proof to back the claims.
To be safe, I suggest using the appropriate amount in your recipes.
Here are some alternatives to alum if you run out or need to substitute it for any other reason.
Lime is one of the best alum substitutes. Most people use it as a firming agent, and you can use it to replace alum in pickling.
The lime extract contains calcium oxide, which slowly dissolves into vegetables' tissue and forms calcium pectate.
The calcium pectate ensures that the pickles remain firm. Additionally, lime gives pickles an acidic flavor as alum does.
Substitute alum with lime in equal amounts.
Tartar cream is another ideal alternative to alum. Tartar cream and alum are pretty similar. Both are acidic and are used as leavening agents for starters. They also have a similar flavor.
When tartar cream reacts with baking soda, it keeps the dough leaven for longer than usual. Additionally, tartar cream makes the dough retain gas and, as a result, rise as it should.
If you are looking for an alum substitute in baking, tartar cream is your best bet. Tartar cream performs the same function as alum and tastes the same too. Therefore, you can use the two ingredients interchangeably.
As weird as it sounds, you can use herbs instead of alum in several recipes, including pickling recipes.
When pickling, you need an acidic ingredient to prevent bacterial growth and the growth of other harmful micro-organisms. The most common pickling ingredients that people use are vinegar, lemon juice, lime, or other citrus fruits.
Surprisingly, the acid you need can be made when lactic acid bacteria ferment. Lactic acid bacteria naturally live on herbs like cilantro, cabbage, bay leaf, nutmeg, and cinnamon.
Therefore, you can use the herbs in pickling to keep your vegetables crispy and firm.
Horseradish is a perennial plant that belongs to the Brassicaceae family. Other plants that belong to the same family are; broccoli, cabbage, wasabi, and mustard.
Generally, horseradish has a distinct spicy flavor and intense aroma. Most people use it in pickling recipes.
It complements vegetables and gives them an acidic taste. I highly recommend using it when pickling zucchini, peppercorns, and bell peppers.
If you choose to use this substitute in pickles, let them ferment before using them. If you use them too soon, the intense flavor and smell may be overwhelming.
You can use lemon juice in recipes that call for alum. I highly recommend using it in pickling recipes.
Lemon juice has a citrusy, sour flavor that works well in pickling recipes. Its acidic component is not as high as alum's, so you may have to use more in your recipe to achieve the same effect.
All in all, lemon juice keeps your pickled vegetables firm and crispy. Use it the next time you don't have alum on hand.
Vinegar is an ideal alum substitute. It has a distinct aroma and unique acidic flavor. Most people use vinegar in pickling because it extends vegetables' shelf life and makes them more firm and crispy.
Compared to alum, vinegar is milder. Therefore, you will have to use a little more in your recipe to have a similar effect.
For every milligram of alum that your recipe requires, use two teaspoons of vinegar.
Ascorbic acid is a water-soluble substance that naturally occurs in citrus fruits like lime, orange, and lemon.
It has a high acidic content similar to lemon juice and vinegar, so you can use it in recipes that require you to use alum.
I highly recommend using this substitute as a leavening agent. When you add it to yeast in bread, it intensifies the yeast's leavening effect. Adding ascorbic acid to your dough makes it rise better.
You can substitute alum with ascorbic acid in equal amounts.
Sour cherry leaves
Sour cherry is an acidic plant that has a high amount of tannin. The tannin keeps vegetables firm and crispy the same way alum does. Therefore, you can easily use it to replace alum in pickling recipes.
Although sour cherry leaves play the same role as alum, their effect is not as strong.
Therefore, it would be best to use at least four sour cherry leaves for every tablespoon of alum your recipe calls for.
This substitute works well in pickles. Like sour cherry leaves, oak leaves contain a high amount of tannin. The tannin boosts and creates phenol compounds that ensure vegetables remain crisp.
The role of alum in pickling is keeping the vegetables crisp. Since oak leaves can achieve the same results, you can use them in place of alum.
Use three oak leaves for every tablespoon of alum a recipe calls for. Your pickles will remain crisp and fresh for a long time.
Most people use calcium hydroxide as a pickling ingredient. It is prevalent in tomato and cucumber pickling recipes.
Unlike alum, calcium hydroxide is a base. However, it can still replace alum (an acid) because it reacts to the pectin in vegetables and fruits to form calcium pectate, keeping fruit and vegetables firm. Technically, it works the same way alum does.
You can use alum and calcium hydroxide interchangeably.
Alum is an exceptionally versatile ingredient that has several uses. If you need to use it in a recipe but don't have any on hand, you can use one of the substitutes above in its place.
Please note that the substitutes serve specific purposes, so they may not work in all recipes that call for alum.
Choose the replacement based on the role you want the alum to play in your recipe.
Try the recipes discussed above today, and let me know your experience in the comments below.