Baking Lesson: Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder

o after yesterday’s muffin post, I am getting a lot of baking questions from people.  I am trying to answer all of them but figured since this was one of the more FAQ, I would address it here.

 Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder.  Kitchen-Tip-Baking-Powder-vs-Baking-Soda-1

Most people are wondering what the difference between baking powder and baking soda is? Are they interchangeable? Why do recipes call for one or the other and some call for both? What do they even do? You have probably used them before and most likely have both in your pantry right now, but may have never even paid much attention to them or what they do. If you want all your yummy baked goodies to work out, you’ll want to learn the difference because these are two little ingredients play a big role in baking.  And I will try to answer all of these questions (hopefully) without getting all “sciencey” on you!

What it comes down to is both baking soda and baking powder are leavening agents,  meaning they are added to baked goods to produce carbon dioxide and cause them to rise.  Baking powder contains baking soda, but the two substances are used under different conditions, and no, they are definitely not the same thing.

Baking Soda

Baking soda is also known as bicarbonate of soda or sodium bicarbonate (its scientific name). When baking soda is combined with moisture and an acidic ingredient (yogurt, chocolate, buttermilk, honey, vinegar, lemon juice), the resulting chemical reaction produces bubbles of carbon dioxide that expand, causing baked goods to rise immediately.  Think back to science class and the volcanoes we all used to make with baking soda and vinegar (you all know you did it). The reaction begins upon mixing the two ingredients (that volcano erupting).  Recipes which call for baking soda must be baked immediately or they won’t rise much or at all in the oven.

Also baking soda is strong. About 3-4 times stronger than baking powder. But that doesn’t mean the more baking soda in a recipe the more rise you will get. You want to use just enough to react with the amount of acid in the recipe. Too much baking soda and not enough acid or vice versa, leads to a bitter tasting product. Yuck!

Baking Powder

Baking powder contains sodium bicarbonate (aka baking soda) but it includes the acidifying ingredient already, in the form of cream of tartar. It can also contain a drying agent.  This is usually cornstarch. Baking powder is most commonly found as double-acting baking powder. This means that the powder reacts in two phases. In the first phase, leavening occurs when baking powder gets wet (combining the dry and wet ingredients).  This is why you cannot prepare some batters ahead of time to bake later– because the baking powder has already been activated and it won’t rise in the oven.  In the second phase, the leavening occurs when the baking powder is heated.

Since baking powder already contains an acid to neutralize its baking soda, it is most often used when a recipe does not call for an additional acidic ingredient.

Are you with me so far?

How do we determine when to use which?

Some recipes call for baking soda, while others call for baking powder and some recipes call for both. Which ingredient is used, depends on the other ingredients the recipe calls for.

Your ultimate goal is to produce a tasty product that has perfectly risen. Baking soda is a base (go back to science class with acids and bases) and will yield a bitter taste unless countered by the acid of another ingredient, for example, buttermilk.  You’ll tend to find baking soda in cookie recipes. Baking powder contains both an acid and a base already and has an neutral effect in terms of taste. Recipes that call for baking powder often call for other neutral-tasting ingredients, such as milk. Baking powder is a common ingredient in cakes, biscuits and muffins.

Some recipes call for both baking powder and baking soda. These recipes contain some sort of acid BUT the carbon dioxide created from the acid and baking soda is not enough to leaven (raise) the batter in the recipe. That’s why baking powder is used as well– to add the necessary rise.

Can you interchange the two?

You can substitute baking powder in place of baking soda you will just need to use more baking powder.  It could also effect the taste a bit.  However, you can’t use just baking soda when a recipe calls for baking powder. Baking soda by itself lacks the proper acidity to make your product rise completely.  Flat, dense cakes or breads are no fun.

A good rule of thumb:  use around 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda per 1 cup of flour and use around 1 teaspoon of baking powder per 1 cup of flour in a recipe.

In a pinch? You can make your own baking powder if you have baking soda and cream of tartar. Simply mix two parts cream of tartar with one part baking soda.

Hope this helps and I didn’t completely bore or confuse you!  Baking is a science, so word of advice for future bakers; PAY ATTENTION IN CHEMISTRY!

Author: Steph Potter

I am a wife and stay at home mother of two adorable little men. I'll spend a small fortune on the right pair of shoes or purse. Sometimes, I don't feel like a "real" adult. Sometimes, I feel like I'm getting old. Often at the same time. This is my space to share weekly dinner menus, healthy recipes, useful cooking tips and my fitness journey. So grab a cup of coffee, a cozy chair and enjoy!

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