Baking Soda vs Baking Powder: Learn the basics of baking powder and baking soda, the two most common chemical leaveners in the kitchen. You might already be using ’em in recipes. But some recipes call for baking soda and others call for baking powder. When can you substitute one for the other? Keep on reading to learn the details in simple language.
BAKING POWDER VS BAKING SODA: The basics
First thing: baking powder and baking soda are different. To answer the question: No, they cannot be substituted for one another in recipes.
Simply, if you have a recipe that calls for baking soda, you gotta use baking soda. If you have a recipe that calls for baking powder, you gotta use baking power.
BUT! Both are made from a chemical compound called sodium bicarbonate. When that is reacted with an acid, it makes carbonic acid. THEN! Carbonic acid decompresses into good old fashion plain water and carbon dioxide gas, or CO2 (yes, the same gas that we breathe in and out). After CO2 is produced, it expands and causes the baked good to expand, rise, and basically form its shape.
Both require some sort of acid or acidic ingredient. The most common acids in the kitchen are: lemon juice, buttermilk, yogurt, and molasses.
Baking soda and baking powder are the two most common chemical leaveners in what bakers call “quick breads,” which are anything made with baking powder or baking soda. Think: muffins! scones! banana bread!
Baking soda is 100% pure sodium bicarbonate. It only needs an acid to react, produce CO2, and start giving the baked good its shape.
Recipes that DO include an acidic ingredient will use baking soda.
Baking powder is sodium bicarbonate with powdered acid, most likely cream of tarter, and sometimes cornstarch. Because it has an acid, it only needs two things to start working.
Baking powder is called double-acting: it needs moisture, from liquid ingredients like eggs or milk, and heat, from an oven, to start making CO2 and give the baked good its shape.
Recipes that DO NOT include an acidic ingredient will use baking powder. It already has an acid in it, cream of tarter.
WHY USE BOTH IN A RECIPE?
There are LOTS of recipes that call for both, baking powder and baking soda. But why? Two answers.
First answer: that tangy flavor. Sometimes you want that acidic taste, like buttermilk. If you only used baking soda, all of its power will go to shaping the baked good. That is why baking powder is used.
The baking soda will combine with the acidic ingredient (like buttermilk) and produce CO2. The baking powder will also help with producing CO2. BUT! It means a bit less baking soda can be used. Which is a good thing. That tangy flavor is preserved from the baking soda and the baked good gets properly shaped.
Second answer: “lift” of the dough. The recipe needs more chemical leavener to shape the baked good. If baking soda is needed for flavor, there needs to be baking powder to help shape and “lift” the dough. Baking powder can be used to “lift” and shape.
Ready to start baking? Check out my latest recipes that use baking soda or baking powder
- Chocolate Buttermilk Cupcakes
- Red Bean and Chocolate Muffins
- Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chip & Oatmeal Cookies
Looking to dive deeper into the science? Check out these articles