Baking soda is the common name for sodium bicarbonate, a salty, alkaline chemical compound that has a wide variety of uses. Baking powder, which consists of baking soda and acid salts, is a leavening agent used to lighten and soften the texture of baked goods. With the right measurements and ingredients, it is possible to make homemade baking powder, and, in some cases, baking powder can be used as a substitute for baking soda. Using the wrong amount of baking powder or baking soda, or using the wrong one in a recipe, can significantly alter a baked good's texture.
|Baking Powder||Baking Soda|
|Definition||Baking powder, which consists of baking soda and acid salts, is a leavening agent used to lighten and soften the texture of baked goods.||Baking soda is the common name for sodium bicarbonate, a salty, alkaline chemical compound that has a wide variety of uses.|
|Ingredients||Three dry ingredients: an acid, such as monocalcium phosphate; a base, which is baking soda; and a filler, such as cornstarch, that will serve as a drying agent.||Sodium bicarbonate.|
|Substitution||Can be used in place of baking soda. However, figuring out how much baking powder to use as a substitute can be tricky and greatly depends on other ingredients.||Cannot be used instead of baking powder. However, it is possible to make homemade baking powder with baking soda, cream of tartar, and (optionally) cornstarch.|
|Paired With||Since baking powder includes an acid and a base, it is used in recipes that have other relatively neutral ingredients, like milk. It is commonly found in cake and muffin recipes.||Baking soda, which is alkaline, is more common in recipes that have acidic ingredients that it can react to, such as yogurt, citrus juice, or buttermilk. Baking soda is used for foods like cookies and quick breads, such as banana bread.|
|Calories Per 100g||53g.||0g.|
|Carbohydrates Per 100 g||28g.||0g.|
|Sodium Per 100g||10600mg (441% of daily value).||27360mg (1140% of daily value).|
Use in Baking
Before baking soda was discovered to be useful in cooking and before baking powder was invented, few leavening agents existed. Leavening baked goods with ingredients like yeast, which produces the carbon dioxide bubbles needed for leavening, takes hours compared to baking powder's instantaneous results.
Baking powder consists of three dry ingredients: an acid, such as monocalcium phosphate; a base, which is baking soda; and a filler, such as cornstarch, that will serve as a drying agent. Adding water to this powder causes a chemical reaction wherein the acid and base produce carbon dioxide bubbles, just like yeast does. These bubbles are what help baked goods, like bread, rise and lighten to fluffy textures.
Unlike baking powder, baking soda is not a leavening agent. It is simply an alkaline chemical compound that reacts to a number of liquids it comes into contact with. For instance, baking soda will react to batters that use acidic liquids, like buttermilk or lemon juice.
To learn more about the history and science of baking breads with baking soda and baking powder, watch the video below.
Single vs. Double Acting Baking Powder
There are two kinds of baking powder: single-acting and double-acting. The "single" and "double" in these terms refers to how and, even more importantly, when the acid or acids in the baking powder react to wet mixtures and heat.
Single-acting baking powder contains one acid that reacts to moisture upon contact by creating carbon dioxide bubbles. Timing is everything when it comes to single-acting baking powder. If a wet mixture is applied too soon, the bubbles will come and go before cooking begins, which will result in a flat, overly-chewy baked good. Single-acting baking powder is difficult to find in grocery stores and is more appropriate for commercial purposes, such as in the case of professional bakeries and restaurants.
Double-acting baking powder is more appropriate for baking at home, is easier to find, and is what modern recipes are referring to when they call for baking powder. With double-acting baking powder, the powder has two acids that activate at separate times, once when the powder comes into contact with moisture and again when it cooks in the oven. The biggest reaction occurs during cooking. This is a more forgiving solution for casual baking.
Which Recipes Use Baking Powder vs. Baking Soda?
Baking soda, which is alkaline, is more common in recipes that have acidic ingredients that it can react to, such as yogurt, citrus juice, or buttermilk. Baking soda is used for foods like cookies and quick breads, such as banana bread.
Baking powder can be made with cream of tartar, baking soda, and (optionally) cornstarch:
- Use 2 parts potassium bitartrate (also known as "cream of tartar") with 1 part baking soda. (Optional: Add 1 part cornstarch to help keep stabilize the powder. It will absorb any moisture in the air and keep the homemade baking powder from beginning its chemical reaction.) For example, 2 teaspoons of cream of tartar mixed with 1 teaspoon of baking soda (and an optional 1 teaspoon of cornstarch) will make baking powder.
- Make sure to use the exact amount of homemade baking powder that the recipe calls for. Do not use more, just to use up the powder mixture from step one, as this can drastically alter a baked goods' consistency.
Baking soda cannot be made from baking powder. However, baking powder can be used in the place of baking soda. Whatever a recipe calls for in baking soda, using 2-3 times more baking powder will likely suffice. However, this is not an exact conversion; depending on other ingredients, more or less baking powder might be appropriate for replacing baking soda. As such, substitutions of this nature are generally not recommended.
Other Uses for Baking Soda
Baking powder is used strictly for baking purposes, but baking soda has a multitude of uses. Some of baking soda's most popular uses outside of baking include using it as a powdered cleaning solution, using it in personal hygiene products (e.g., toothpaste), using it as a deodorizer, and using it as an antacid against heartburn. For a list of baking soda's many applications, see this Care2 article.