Martha White and I are on the outs.
If you’ve ever baked cornbread, you’ve probably used the fluffy, self-rising cornmeal from the staple brand, Martha White. But have you ever looked at the list of ingredients? It includes “sodium aluminum phosphate.” That’s right, aluminum!
But we can’t be too hard on Martha White because nearly every brand now includes aluminum in its baked goods as an effective and inexpensive anti-caking agent. How much do they use? Well, that’s the rub. There is no nutritional guidance for aluminum intake, so you won’t find the amount listed in the Nutrition Facts. However, I’ve read that some baked goods can contain as much as 400 mg per kg, which is staggering!
Because we don’t understand the effect that large amounts of aluminum has on our bodies. Studies continue to suggest there is a link between aluminum intake and neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s. Although causation has yet to be established, we do know that our bodies can struggle to eliminate large amounts of aluminum, which can then become toxic.
Aluminum is one of the most plentiful elements found in nature, so we come into contact with it through our soil, water, and air. This natural state of aluminum is still in minute amounts, however, which pail in comparison to the volume we consume in products like toothpaste, aspirin, and antacids, or absorb in our deodorant. Aluminum cookware and cans also leach aluminum into our food and drink. Health-conscious people agree, when it comes to aluminum, the safest bet is to reduce our consumption wherever possible.
I’ve known these facts for awhile. That’s why I use all-natural deodorant and toothpaste, stainless steel cookie sheets and sauce pots, and cast-iron pans and Dutch ovens. I even included a section on the dangers of aluminum pans in my book, Modern Cast Iron. But it all came to a head this Thanksgiving when I had to make three batches of cornbread for dressing.
This was the first time I had made a big Thanksgiving dinner, and the first time I had attempted to make my grandmother’s famous dressing. I crave this dressing all year round, and it is the cornerstone of our Thanksgiving dinners. Just give me a plate of dressing and pumpkin pie, and I’m all set. But I couldn’t bring myself to make it with the same old self-rising cornmeal I had used in the past. Martha White was out.
Somehow, I would have to make cornbread from plain ol’ cornmeal. After all, that’s what people used to do, right?
Fortunately, I found a recipe on Pinterest from Food.com, and it didn’t disappoint! I made a big batch of self-rising cornmeal, said a prayer, and then made three cast-iron pans full of cornbread. The result was fantastic! The cornbread was just as fluffy—if not more so—than the usual cornbread I make, and it tasted great! I might try Martha White’s plain cornmeal next time, but I’ll never go back to their self-rising mix again.
If you’d like to keep your cornbread aluminum-free, here’s the recipe for homemade self-rising cornmeal.
- Whisk or fork
- 1 Tbsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- ¾ cup cornmeal plus
- 3 Tbsp cornmeal
- Add all ingredients to a large bowl and mix together well.
- Then make cornbread as desired.
Check out my Cast Iron Research page for some good articles on this topic and following me on Pinterest for more inspiration and cooking tips. If you haven’t already, be sure to pick up your copy of Modern Cast Iron wherever books are sold. (If you’d like to support independent bookstores, click the link below to BookShop.org. Please note, I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org and I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase—so thank you!)
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