Alfred Bird (1811 – 15 December 1878) was a British food manufacturer and chemist. He was born in Nympsfield, Gloucestershire, England in 1811 and was the inventor of a series of food products mostly now taken for granted. His son Alfred Frederick Bird continued to develop the business after his father's death.
Alfred Bird registered as a pharmacist in Birmingham in 1842, having served an apprenticeship to Phillip Harris of that city. He was a qualified chemistand druggist and went on to open an experimental chemist's shop in Bull Street.
Alfred Bird's first major invention was egg-free custard (1837). Alfred Bird used cornflour instead of egg to create an imitation of egg custard. It was originally intended only for his wife Elizabeth who had both egg and yeast allergies. Only when the custard was accidentally fed to guests did Alfred Bird realise that his invention had a wider use. Soon afterwards Alfred Bird founded 'Alfred Bird and Sons Ltd', which would go on to become the famous Bird's Custard company and brand.
Bird was not content to revolutionize custard but went on to invent a baking powder in 1843 so he could make yeast-free bread for his wife. This formula for baking powder is essentially the same as used in modern baking powders.
Baking powder is a dry chemical leavening agent, a mixture of a weak alkali and a weak acid, and is used for increasing the volume and lightening the texture of baked goods. Baking powder works by releasing carbon dioxide gas into a batter or dough through an acid-base reaction, causing bubbles in the wet mixture to expand and thus leavening the mixture. It is used instead of yeast for end-products where fermentation flavors would be undesirable or where the batter lacks the elastic structure to hold gas bubbles for more than a few minutes. Because carbon dioxide is released at a faster rate through the acid-base reaction than through fermentation, breads made by chemical leavening are called quick breads.
made baking powder very popular when he began selling his mixture to housewives. The recipe he created in 1891 is still sold as Backin in Germany. Oetker started the mass production of baking powder in 1898 and patented his technique in 1903.
Alfred Bird died on 15 December 1878 and is buried at Key Hill Cemetery in Birmingham. Famously his obituary in the journal of the Chemical Society(of which he was a fellow) discussed at length his skills and research but did not mention his other activity – the by then famous Bird's Custard.
His son, Alfred Frederick Bird, continued the work of his father. Bird junior went on to invent egg substitute powder in 1890, blancmange powder and jelly powder. "The Custard Factory" in Digbeth, Birmingham, is now a centre providing space to artists.