The chemical formula of ammonium carbonate is (NH 4 ) 2 CO 3 . It is a salt produced by dissolving carbon dioxide in liquid ammonia. Like table salt (NaCl), it can be in the form of powder or translucent crystals. In addition, like table salt, it is extremely soluble in water.
There are other names for ammonium carbonate, including becquer ammonia, volatile salt (note: "salt", not salt) and Hartthorn salt, or Hartthorn for short. Its first alias indicates one of its main uses in history: Bakers have traditionally used it as a leavening agent. In addition, since it has a slight irritation to the respiratory system, doctors may use it to wake up a fainted person. When used in this way, ammonium carbonate is called fainting salt or olfactory salt. You will also find this chemical in smokeless tobacco (also called snuff).
Application of ammonium carbonate in baking
When heated, ammonium carbonate quickly degrades into carbon dioxide and gaseous ammonia, which is why bakers traditionally use it to ferment baked goods. For centuries, the Greeks have used it to produce koulouria, a sweet bread made with honey and sesame.
However, ammonium carbonate is not suitable for making cakes or thick breads because ammonia gas can be trapped and cause unpleasant smells and tastes in food. This is one of the reasons why chefs rarely use it anymore. Instead, they use baking soda, which is sodium bicarbonate-NaHCO 3 .
Ammonium carbonate is irritating to the respiratory system, so it has traditionally been used as a way to wake up people who have passed out. This is done by placing a scented salt shaker under the nostrils of the fainted person. The feeling of inhaling ammonium chloride is so shocking, it makes people "suddenly realize".
The practice of using ammonium carbonate as an olfactory salt may predate the 19th century, but before this practice was established, people used ammonium chloride (NH 4 Cl), also known as salt ammonia. For its part, ammonium carbonate is called hartshorn salt because it is made from deer horn shavings.
The use of ammonium carbonate for fainting salt is not without its disadvantages. New Jersey lists ammonium carbonate as a hazardous substance and warns that it can cause coughing and shortness of breath. Repeated use may cause cancer.
Ammonium carbonate in smokeless tobacco products
Smokeless tobacco or snuff has a long history of use and is still popular today. Some commercial recipes include ammonium carbonate as an ingredient. It is added to increase the pH of the tobacco mixture, thereby increasing the amount of nicotine available for human absorption. Considering that ammonium carbonate is so irritating to the respiratory system that it is used to wake fainting people and even cause vomiting, this is an ironic choice for inhaling an ingredient in the product.