Baking Powder vs. Baking Soda – Are They The Same?
At first glance, baking powder and baking soda look pretty much the same. When I began my baking adventures, I thought both baking powder and baking soda were the exact same thing, but I never really questioned it much when a recipe would ask one or the other. Some people also confuse the two with cornstarch, but that’s a whole other can of worms which you can find out about here!
Both are fine white powders, they have similar names and come in similar containers. So I can understand why a lot of us think they are the same! But little did I know, that baking powder and baking soda are completely different to one another and are used differently.
Both baking powder and baking soda are used as leavening agents in baking. Leavening agents (or rising agents) are what gives lift and airiness to most baked goods, releasing carbon dioxide as your batter bakes. Leavening agents are essentially what gives your cakes a beautiful rise.
This process causes the tiny little bubbles you see when you cut into your final product. But baking soda and baking powder are not the same and can not be substituted one-for-one in recipes. Many home-bakers are often confused: But what is this difference between baking powder and baking soda? Let’s find out!
What is Baking Soda?
Baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate, it’s chemical name, or bicarbonate of soda, is a leavening agent used often to make cakes, cookies, cupcakes, muffins, and other baked goods.
Since baking soda is single acting, meaning it is activated as soon as it is exposed to the wet ingredients in the recipe, it is important not to overmix or to wait too long before popping your baked goods in the oven, regardless of what you’re baking.
Besides moisture, baking soda needs an acid to properly activate its leavening powers. Remember elementary school science classes?
The most popular experiment by far was the volcano that ‘erupted’ a mixture of white vinegar, an acid, and – you guessed it – baking soda!
The little bubbles of carbon dioxide released in the volcano experiment is exactly what makes your goodies rise in the over as well.
This is why baking powder contains cream of tartar, and recipes calling for baking soda call for an acidic ingredient, often cream of tartar, but not always.
Brown sugar, buttermilk, kefir, yogurt, lemon juice, vinegar, cream of tartar, molasses, applesauce, natural cocoa powder, and honey are all acidic ingredients that can be used to neutralize the basic property of baking soda and start the leavening process.
Beware – more baking soda doesn’t necessarily mean more lift. If there isn’t enough acid to neutralize it, you might end up with too much baking soda, giving you baked goods a soapy or metallic aftertaste. Ew.
What is Baking Powder?
Baking powder is a leavening agent that contains baking soda and other ingredients to give rise to baked goods.
Besides baking soda, it also contains cream of tartar to activate the baking soda, and often also contains a starch or flour which acts as a buffer. This helps the mixture to not activate before it’s used.
Ran out of baking powder? it’s really easy to make your own baking powder at home. Just mix baking soda and cream of tartar together in a small bowl at a ratio of 1 part baking soda to 2 parts cream of tartar, and use it as directed in cakes, cookies, biscuits, breads, and more!
Unless labelled otherwise, baking powder is double acting. In contrast to baking soda, baking powder is activated twice, first when the powder gets wet, and second when the mixture is heated. Baking soda is activated once, when it gets wet.
Also unlike baking soda, baking powder does not need to be used with an acid as the baking powder mixture already contains an acid: cream of tartar. I can tell a few of you are already confused, but we are getting there!
Can Baking Soda And Baking Powder be Used Together?
Some recipes call for both baking powder and baking soda to be used. This is to achieve a high amount of lift and still avoid bitterness that comes from using too much baking soda.
Recipes may also include both leavening agents to take advantage of that double-rise action, allowing baked goods to rise once when mixed with the wet ingredients, and once more when exposed to heat in the oven.
Yes, we know baking powder by itself is already double acting, but we don’t question the recipe masters of the internet realm. Due to its relative strength, baking soda is likely used with baking powder for a little extra oomph in the first rise.
Can You Use Baking Powder And Baking Soda Interchangeably?
Yes, but results may vary. Even with the background knowledge provided in this post, proceed with caution and the expectation that your baked goods may not turn out exactly as intended. If you do decide to substitute one for the other, keep in mind that baking soda is 3-4 times stronger than baking powder.
When subbing baking powder for baking soda, use 4 times the amount of baking soda called in the recipe. If the recipe also calls for cream of tartar, you can omit it.
When subbing baking soda for baking powder, use ¼ the amount of baking powder called for in the recipe.
Check the rest of the ingredients for anything acidic that might help activate the baking soda. Also check for ingredients you might substitute with a more acidic counterpart.
For example, you might substitute part of the sugar in the recipe with brown sugar, or substitute buttermilk or kefir for some of the milk.
You could try adding some yogurt (great for moisture, by the way!) while slightly reducing the amount of fat to counter the added moisture.
If you aren’t confident subbing one for the other, just stick to what you know. Heck, I’ve been baking all my life and subbing baking soda for baking powder or vice versa still gives me the fear.
What Is The Differences Between Baking Powder And Baking Soda?
The bottom line is, baking powder and baking soda are similar in appearance and function, but different in content, activation, and strength.
Content: Baking soda is pure sodium bicarbonate. Baking powder is a mixture of sodium bicarbonate and other ingredients.
Activation: Baking soda needs moisture + an acid to activate it, and is single acting. Baking powder is double acting, activated first by moisture, then by heat.
Strength: Baking soda is 3-4x stronger than baking powder.
Uses: Baking soda is used in anything that uses an acid, like buttermilk, lemon juice etc. Baking powder is used in muffins, cakes, biscuits and many more of our favourite desserts.
We’ve explained their differences in more detail above, but in case you don’t have the few minutes needed to read the entire thing, these are the main differences between baking soda and baking powder.
Never substitute one for the other without enough background knowledge of how the components of the recipe work together.
Baking is a science, but this doesn’t mean you should be afraid to experiment! Learn by living, and, armed with this information, go forth and live your best baking life!