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Nutrition

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What Is the Difference Between Baking Powder and Soda?

Not knowing the difference between baking powder and soda is whisk-y business in the kitchen. We sift through the confusion of baking powder vs. baking soda here.

What Is the Difference Between Baking Powder and Soda?


Baking powder and baking soda are leavening agents, substances that rise and expand doughs and batters. They work by releasing gases within these mixtures, which may be due to air, steam, carbon dioxide, or even a mix.

Even the most seasoned bakers can confuse the difference between baking powder and baking soda. This is because they have much in common, especially in regards to preparing favorite baked goods.

While they look and merely sound the same, there are distinctions between baking powder and soda. Knowing the difference between the two is key for baked goods to rise and come out the way they should.

What Is Baking Soda?

Baking soda is also known as sodium bicarbonate or soda bicarbonate. It is an alkaline ingredient, meaning it is a base with a pH level of more than 7.

Since baking soda is a single, basic ingredient, it becomes activated with the help of liquid and an acid. Common acids used with baking soda reacts with include:

• Buttermilk
• Yogurt
• Molasses
• Citrus
• Vinegar

The combination produces carbon dioxide, allowing the dough to rise and bubble. (Remember making volcanoes in science class? That chemical reaction amongst the ingredients is responsible for that exploding "lava!")

It is important to note the reaction begins once the ingredients are combined. That being said, Aim to get the dough or batter into the oven quickly for best results.

Baking Soda Uses

Baking soda is mostly used as a leavening agent for baked goods. But it has many functions beyond rising loaves of bread and muffins as well.

People also use baking soda to:

• Relieve itchy skin
• Soothe pain from a bee sting
• Clean pots and pans
• Remove stains, including from coffee mugs and clothes
• Unclog drains
• Shine stainless steel
• Eliminate scum in the bathroom
• Deodorize tennis shoes, carpet, etc.

What Is Baking Powder?

Baking powder is a complete leaving agent, meaning it contains both the acid and base for activation. It includes a combination of baking soda, acid salts, and starch. The starch

There are two types of baking powder, including single and double-acting:

Single-acting baking powder: Single-acting baking powders use acids that are primarily heat-activated, rather than released after being mixed with liquid.

Double-acting baking powder: Double-acting baking powder contains two acid salts and creates gas bubbles twice. These include once when added to liquid and another when exposed to heat. This is the most common type used amongst bakers.

Much like baking soda, baking powder uses vary. These include, but not limited to, culinary, cleaning, and personal hygiene.

Can baking soda or powder go bad?

With such unique uses of the two, you may wonder if either can go bad and lose their functionality. The answer is not exactly straightforward and likewise depends on the intended use.

From a food safety perspective, outdated baking soda and powder are not so worrisome. But using expired leavening agents can produce a flat baked good.

However, you can test these agents quickly to ensure their effectiveness before adding to a recipe. It only takes a few minutes, which is majorly worth the effort considering the time put into baking.

• Baking powder: Mix 1 teaspoon of baking powder with ⅓ cup of warm water. If plenty of bubbles form, the baking powder still has its potency.

• Baking soda: Mix 1/4 teaspoon baking soda with 2 teaspoons vinegar or lemon juice. Immediate bubbles means it is fresh and ready to go!

But when in doubt, do not automatically throw it out! Consider using them for cleaning purposes or other purposes beyond baking.

As a general rule of thumb, replace baking soda and powder within a year after opening.

Can I Substitute One for the Other?

If missing one or the other, it is common to question if baking powder and baking soda can be used interchangeably. Fortunately, there are steps one can take to preserve the integrity of the recipe.

Can baking soda be used instead if a recipe calls for baking powder?

If a recipe calls for baking powder but only have baking soda on hand, do not fret just yet!

Remember, baking soda requires the assistance of an acid to initiate the reaction. That being said, successfully subbing out baking powder requires the help of an acid such as cream of tartar. Also, mix 2 parts cream of tartar for every 1 part baking soda.

Once you have created a homemade baking powder, use it in equal proportions. So if the recipe calls for 1 teaspoon baking powder, use 1 teaspoon of the baking soda and cream of tartar blend.

It is important to note, though, the final product may come out with a bitter taste.

So, can baking powder be used instead of baking soda?

Yes! And because baking powder is a complete leavening agent, no additional ingredients are required.

However, baking soda has much stronger leavening power than baking powder. Thus, you will need to use about three times more baking powder than soda.

As a rule of thumb, about 3 teaspoons baking powder is equivalent to 1 teaspoon baking soda.

Take this holiday gingerbread cookie recipe for example. Instead of searching for a cookie without baking soda as an ingredient in the recipe, simply use baking powder. Since it calls for 1 teaspoon of baking soda, triple the amount and use 3 teaspoons of baking powder.

(Besides, who wants to have to pass up a gingerbread cookie sweetened with brown sugar, dark molasses, and warm spices?)

Baking Powder vs. Baking Soda: Summing It Up

All-in-all, baking powder and baking soda are used as leavening agents. They appear to be the same as mentioned, though have key differences:

• Baking soda is also known as soda bicarbonate and sodium bicarbonate. It requires an acid and a liquid to become activated and help baked goods rise.

• Baking powder is a complete leavening agent. It includes sodium bicarbonate and an acid. It only requires liquid to become activated.

• Single-acting baking powder is mostly heat-activated and used in food manufacturing.

• Double-acting baking powder reacts and creates gas bubbles twice, including when added to liquid and again when exposed to heat. Double-acting baking powder is primarily found on grocery store shelves and used amongst most bakers.

• With just a few adjustments, substituting one for the other is possible. Baking soda requires the addition of an acid such as cream of tartar. If subbing out the baking soda, use about three times more baking powder than what the recipe calls for.

If still having difficulty remembering the differences between the two, think of it this way:

Baking soda = single ingredient

Baking powder = premixed ingredient

Really, not knowing the difference between baking powder and soda can be whisk-y business in the kitchen. But all you "knead" to remember is the simple explanation and mnemonic for baking success!

Written By Sarah Asay, RDN. Published on March 04, 2020. Updated on March 04, 2020.

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