Baking soda v. baking powder

When to Use Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder

What is Baking Soda?

Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate, which is a base and a leavening agent. It is used to incorporate air into a baked good to make it rise and is often used in recipes for quick breads, cookies, pancakes, and muffins. Quite importantly, it is also a weak base that can react with acids to produce carbon dioxide as a product. The reaction is immediate, so often times when these ingredients combine, mixing and/or cooking must usually follow soon after.

What is Baking Powder?

Baking powder is a mixture of baking soda, a powdered acid, and starch. Most store-bought baking powders are double-acting, which means that they release carbon dioxide twice during the baking process. The first time is when liquid or moisture is added to it and the second reaction requires heat. The twice-acting nature means that baking powder usually adds more “air” to a baked good than just baking soda alone.

When Can I use Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder?

In addition to carbon dioxide, baking soda also has sodium carbonate as a byproduct, which has been described as a “metallic” flavor. Luckily, adding acid to a recipe helps neutralize this effect. Acidic ingredients are also necessary for the baking soda to react in order to have the intended leavening effects. Therefore, it’s common for you to see baking soda with recipes that call for lemons, vinegar, buttermilk, etc.
Baking powder on the other hand already contains the acid, so it does not need acidic ingredients to react with. Baking powder also tends to lead to fluffier and cakier results. It is often see with recipes for biscuits, cupcakes, cakes, muffins, and brownies.
In terms of substituting, there is a method and standard ratio recommended for substituting one for the other, but doing so will most likely alter the flavor profile of your finished baked good.

How do I Substitute Baking Soda vs Baking Powder

Substituting Baking Soda for Baking Powder:

for one teaspoon of baking powder, combine ¼ teaspoon baking soda, ½ teaspoon cream of tartar, and optionally you can include ¼ teaspoon of corn starch to make substitute baking powder. Note that this will be a single-acting baking powder.

Substituting Baking Powder for a Recipe that Calls for Baking Soda:

use 3 measures of baking powder for every measure of baking soda to substitute baking powder for baking soda in your recipe.

How do I Test Baking Powder and Baking Soda for Freshness

For baking soda, add a weak acid like vinegar. Bubbling should occur as carbon dioxide is being released. If it is fresh, the reaction should be fairly potent if you add enough vinegar.

For Baking Powder, get a bowl of water, put some baking powder in it. If the water foams up and generates bubbles and gets fizzy, the baking powder is still good to use.

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