What is the difference between baking soda and baking powder? This is one of the confusing subjects in the entire realm of baking and in other to become a better baker, you have to learn the differences between baking soda and baking powder.
In this post, you will learn the difference between baking soda and baking powder, how both are used in baking, as well as learn how to substitute in recipes.
One sure thing you’ll learn from this post is that baking powder and baking soda are not the same. Though both are leavening agents which cause baked goods to rise as well as have similarities in look and texture, they are different from each other in chemical composition and how they interact with other ingredients.
Table of Contents
What is Baking Soda and How is it Used in Baking?
Baking soda is a bicarbonate of soda or sodium bicarbonate and a chemical leaving agent which is commonly used in baked goods.
Baking soda is a base alkaline compound meaning it is not acidic but when combined with an acid, it creates carbon dioxide gas. Do you remember the science experiment you did in elementary school? Mixing baking soda (base) with vinegar (acid) and watch it erupts in bubbles?
When you mix baking soda with vinegar, you get a chemical reaction (an eruption of bubbles) and a product of this reaction is called carbon dioxide.
The exact same reaction happens in our cakes, cookies, bread, etc. When a recipe calls for baking soda (Base), it usually calls for some type of “Acid” like lemon juice, brown sugar, buttermilk, yogurt, vinegar, molasses, cream of tartar, honey, etc.
You need this “Acid” in the recipe to react with the baking soda, which in turn creates carbon dioxide and lets your baked goods rise.
Baking soda is strong, it is about 3 to 4 times stronger than baking powder. More baking soda in a recipe does not necessarily mean more lift. Just use what is enough to react with the amount of acid in the recipe.
However, too much baking soda and not enough acid means that there’ll be leftover baking soda in the recipe which can create a metallic, soapy taste in your baked goods.
What is Baking Powder and How is it Used in Baking?
Baking powder contains baking soda and a dry acid like cream of tartar or sodium aluminum sulfate. Due to the fact that the acid in baking powder is dry, the baking soda does not react until when combined with a liquid.
Types of baking powder and how they affect recipes
There are two main types of baking powder i.e. double acting baking powder and single-acting baking powder.
1. Double acting baking powder
This is the most common type of baking and the one most widely available in supermarkets. In double-acting baking powder, the first rise occurs when baking powder gets wet at room temperature and the second rise happens when the baking powder is heated.
2. Single-acting baking powder
This form of baking powder forgoes the first rise of double-acting baking powder and reacts only once it reaches a high temperature. Single-acting baking powder is almost exclusively used by professional pastry chefs.
Due to the fact that baking powder already contains an acid to neutralize its baking soda, it is often used in recipes that do not call for the addition of acidic ingredients. For instance, in a simple biscuit recipe that only calls for baking powder, flour, milk, and egg, the baking powder reacts with the liquids and acts as the rising agent. If you’re experimenting in the kitchen, a good rule of thumb is to use 1 teaspoon of baking powder for 1 cup of flour.
What is the difference between Baking Soda and Baking Powder?
The main difference between baking soda and baking powder is that baking soda needs an acidic ingredient to create the rising reaction while baking powder already contains acid in the chemical mixture.
Baking soda is used in recipes that have acidic ingredients like lemon juice, vinegar, buttermilk, etc whereas baking powder is used in recipes that do not have acidic ingredients like cornbread, biscuits, pancakes, etc.
Why do Some Recipes Call for Both?
Generally, there are three instances in which a recipe will call for both baking soda and baking powder:
1. If the baking soda successfully neutralizes the acid but does not create enough carbon dioxide to leaven the batter completely, then the baking powder is used for extra lift.
2. If the recipe calls for acidic ingredients specifically for their flavor like buttermilk or lemon juice, then too much baking soda will completely neutralize that flavor. Using both will leave enough acid to give the final product a tangy flavor while providing a nice lift.
3. Baked products brown better in a highly alkaline environment. So in order to better brown, baking soda is added to recipes where the baking powder is the main leavening agent – this will create a more alkaline environment.
How to Substitute
While it is possible to interchange baking soda and baking powder in recipes, it is not as straightforward as simply replacing one for the other.
Substituting baking soda for baking powder
If your recipe calls for baking powder and all you have at hand is baking soda, you may be able to substitute but you will need to add extra ingredients.
Since baking soda is lacking the acid that baking powder would normally add to the recipe, you have to ensure to include an acidic ingredient like cream of tartar, to activate the baking soda.
Also, baking soda has much stronger leavening power than baking powder so, it is advisable to use at least one teaspoon of baking powder which is equivalent to ¼ teaspoon of baking soda.
Substituting baking powder for baking soda
Although substituting baking powder for baking soda isn’t widely recommended, you may still be able to make it work in a pinch.
Substituting baking powder for baking soda won’t require extra ingredients. However, baking soda is much stronger than baking powder so, you likely need about 3 times as much baking powder as you would for baking soda to create the same rising ability.
What’s more, this substitution may cause your final baked good to have a chemical or bitter taste.
What is a Good Substitute for Baking Soda and Baking Powder?
If your recipe call for both and you don’t have either baking soda or baking powder, you can use self-rising flour.
Self-rising flour contains flour, baking powder, and salt and it substitutes the all-purpose flour in a recipe one for one.
How Long Does Baking Soda Last?
Baking soda has an infinite shelf life – meaning that it is always safe to eat. However, baking soda losses its efficacy over time. For example, an unopened container of baking soda will remain potent for at least two years whereas an opened container should be replaced every six months.
How to know if baking soda is still good
To know if your baking soda is still good, add ¼ teaspoon of baking soda into 3 tablespoons of vinegar or lemon juice and if the mixture bubbles, then, the baking soda is still good.
How Long Does Baking Powder Last?
Baking powder is also always safe to eat, however, over time, it loses strength as a leavener. An unopened container of baking powder will last up to 18 months whereas an opened container of baking powder should be replaced every 3-6 months depending on how much it was exposed to air and humidity. Because baking powder contains an acid and a base, it is reactive to moisture in a way baking soda is not.
How to know if baking powder is still good
To know if your baking powder is still fresh, put ½ teaspoon of baking powder in a bowl with 1 tablespoon of hot water, and if the mixture bubbles, then, the baking powder is still good.
What is the best way to store baking soda and baking powder?
Baking soda and baking powder should be stored in a dry cupboard far away from the dishwasher, stove, sink, or other areas of moisture as any moisture or humidity will cause the baking powder to react in the can and if there’s any acidity in the water, it’ll do the same to baking soda.
Well, I’m certain the question “what is the difference between baking soda and baking powder” has been answered in this post.
Both baking soda and baking powder appear to be similar but they are certainly not the same. Baking soda is a bicarbonate of soda or sodium bicarbonate that needs acid or a liquid to become activated and help baked goods rise.
On the other hand, baking powder contains baking soda as well as acid and only needs a liquid to become activated.