Baking Powder versus Baking Soda

November 5, 2018

There are two main chemical leaveners in the baking world: baking powder and baking soda. Quick breads are "quick" because they are leavened with a chemical leavener versus a yeast-leavener (yeast takes longer to leavened). What is a leavener exactly? Any ingredient that are used to increase volume, slightly lighten the texture, and cause carbon dioxide gas bubbles, which cause the batter/dough to GROW.





I will talk about the two main chemical leaveners: baking powder and baking soda. Think you intermix 'em? Maybe so. Once you know the details and "science" behind the two, your baking will become a success!






So what is the science of baking powder and baking soda? In simple terms?

BAKING SODA: aka bicarbonate of soda; It is a alkali, thus it is used in conjunction with an acid ingredient, such as: buttermilk, yogurt, and molasses. Baking soda neutralizes acidity and causes a nice "tender crumb" in a baked good.

Pro tip: Baking soda also reacts instantly when mixed with a liquid and/or acid, thus all baked goods that use baking soda, need to be baked immediately.


BAKING POWDER: is baking soda, an acid (like cream of tarter), and a moisture-absorber (like cornstarch). Why cornstarch? It keeps the soda and acid dry and makes sure they "do not react together" when properly stored. There are actually 3 types of baking powders in the baking world:

-Double acting baking powder: The most popular and common. Double acting baking powder begins to "act" when exposed to liquid and heat ( like from an oven).

-Single acting and phosphate baking powder: Very uncommon in American baking due to the popularity and ease of double-acting baking powder. Both of these start "acting" when exposed to a liquid ingredient.

Pro tip: Thus, batter made with baking powder do not have to be baked immediately.


What if I need baking powder, but only have baking soda?

Out of baking powder? Try mixing 1/4 tsp baking soda and 5/8 tsp cream of tarter together.


So, when creating a homemade recipe, how do you know if the recipe needs baking soda or baking powder? 

Baking soda needs an acid to "balance" it or it may give off a chemical taste, like buttermilk or molasses.

Baking powder, since it contains an acid and base, is often paired with netural ingredients like milk, cream, etc.


Can you substitute one for the other?

Since baking powder already contains baking soda, you can use baking powder when a recipe calls for baking soda. But DO NOT use baking soda when it calls for baking powder.


How do I remember the differences? I can't even remember to grab my coffee in the morning. 

Here is a little "tip" on how to remind yourself the difference:

Baking soda: Needs only one item (acid liquid) to activate

Baking powder: Needs two items (liquid +heat) to activate

Baking soda recipes: Use baking soda OR powder (you may need to add 1/4 tea more bakling powder when using it instead of baking soda.)

Baking powder recipes: Use ONLY baking powder


Make sure you properly store your chemical leaveners in a dry, cool, and dark place like your pantry. Double check the expire date to makes sure you are using quality baking powder or soda.


Happy baking,


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