How do ammonia smelling salts work

Deer horn saltSaltsDeer horn salt is a raising agent that is traditionally used for special baked goods such as gingerbread, beaver and biscuits. In practice today it is mostly ammonium hydrogen carbonate. When heated, it breaks down completely into the three gases carbon dioxide, water and the unpleasant-smelling ammonia, thus loosening the dough.

Synonymous: ammonium hydrogen carbonate PhEur, ammonium bicarbonate, driving salt, E 503, sal volatile


Deer horn salt is available as open goods in pharmacies and drugstores, for example. The specialist trade can order it from specialized suppliers.

Structure and properties

In a broader sense, staghorn salt is the ammonium salts of carbonic acid, ammonium hydrogen carbonate, ammonium carbonate or ammonium carbamate (SLMB). In practice, pure ammonium hydrogen carbonate is often used today.

Ammonium hydrogen carbonate (NH4HCO3, Mr = 79.06 g / mol) is a fine, white, crystalline powder that is slightly hygroscopic and readily soluble in water. It has a cooling, salty taste and an irritating, pungent smell of ammonia. It is in equilibrium with ammonium carbonate ((NH4)2CO3) in front.

Deer horn salt used to be obtained from organic materials by dry distillation. Today it is produced synthetically by introducing carbon dioxide into concentrated salmiac.


The remarkable thing about staghorn salt is that the crystals evaporate completely when heated without leaving any residue. The raising salt breaks down into the three gases carbon dioxide (CO2), Ammonia (NH3) and water (H2O) and loosens the dough. This process can start at room temperature when the substance is moist.

application areas

Deer horn salt is traditionally used as a leavening agent for pastries such as gingerbread, beaver, gastric bread, speculoos and other biscuits. It is not suitable for high baked goods.

If necessary, it can also be replaced by other leavening agents, e.g. baking powder, but it cannot be ruled out that the taste of the pastry may change slightly. It is also often used for experiments in chemistry classes and was used as a fragrance.


According to the present recipe. The usual dosage as a leavening agent is 1 g deer horn salt per 100 g flour.


Deer horn salt is not suitable as a raising agent for high baked goods such as bread or cakes, as the unpleasant smelling ammonia cannot escape from it! Ammonia can irritate the airways, which among other things leads to coughing and reddening of the mucous membranes. The escaping gases should therefore not be inhaled and the windows should be opened or the hood should be switched on when baking.

As a pure crystalline substance, deer horn salt is harmful to health and must not be ingested or come into contact with the skin, eyes or mucous membranes. When pouring the fine powder, dust can form that should not be inhaled. The complete precautionary measures can be found in the safety data sheet. Finally, it is known that ammonium hydrogen carbonate in baking is an important factor in the formation of the controversial acrylamide in food (Taeymans et al., 2005).

Storage and disposal

Store tightly closed, dry, protected from light and heat in a container and not in a bag. Staghorn salt has a limited shelf life. When it no longer smells, it is no longer of use. It is harmful to fish and should not enter the sewage system and should not be disposed of with household waste. Bring expired staghorn salt back to the point of sale.

see also


  • Bossi B. Guetzli book, old edition
  • Burger A., ​​Wachter H. (Eds.) Hunnius. Pharmaceutical Dictionary. Berlin, New York: de Gruyter, 1998
  • Dixa catalog
  • European Pharmacopoeia PhEur
  • Hänseler catalog, safety data sheet
  • Pharmacopoeia Helvetica Ed. 5 (PH 5)
  • Reynolds J. (Ed.) Martindale. The Extra Pharmacopoeia. London: The Pharmaceutical Press, 1989
  • Swiss food book
  • Safety data sheet (CH)
  • Taeymans D. et al. Acrylamide: update on selected research activities conducted by the European food and drink industry. J AOAC Int, 2005, 88 (1), 234-41 Pubmed
  • Thieme Römpp online

Conflicts of Interest: None / Independent. The author has no relationships with the manufacturers and is not involved in the sale of the products mentioned. Photo credit: © PharmaWiki.

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This article was last changed on December 8th, 2019.
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