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Let’s discuss about one of the most confusing subjects in the entire realm of baking. Something that has confused the mind of nearly everyone on earth. Or at least those who love baking. What is the difference between baking powder and baking soda? Are they the same? Can I substitute one for the other without changing anything else?
This article speaks about how baking powder and baking soda are not the same. Baking powder and baking soda are both leaveners, however they are chemically different.
What is Baking Soda?
Aka bicarbonate of soda or sodium bicarbonate.
Stating with baking soda as it is the most confusing. First to understand, baking soda is a BASE. A basic science experiment conducted in school. Mix baking soda with vinegar and you would be able to see an eruption of bubbles. When you mix baking soda (BASE) with vinegar (ACID) you get a chemical reaction (eruption of bubbles). A product of this reaction is carbon dioxide CO2.
The same exact reaction happens in our cookies, cakes, breads, etc. When a recipe calls for baking soda (BASE), it usually calls for some type of ACID. Like buttermilk, brown sugar, yogurt, lemon juice, vinegar, cream of tartar, molasses, applesauce, natural cocoa powder (not Dutch process) or honey. You need one of these ACID in the recipe to react with the baking soda, which in turn creates carbon dioxide and allows your product to rise.
Baking soda is strong. In fact, it is about 3-4x stronger than baking powder. More baking soda in a recipe doesn’t necessarily means more lift. You should use just enough to react with the amount of acid in the recipe. Too much baking soda and not enough acid means there will be leftover baking soda in the recipe which will create a metallic, soapy taste in your baked goods.
Good rule of thumb: Usually around 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda per 1 cup of flour in a recipe. Baking soda can leaven a baked good when exposed to heat. However, unless it is neutralized with an acid, your finished product will likely have a metallic taste as mentioned earlier.
What is Baking Powder?
Baking powder contains baking soda. It is a mixture of baking soda, cream of tartar (a dry acid), and sometimes corn-starch. These days, most baking powder sold is double acting. This means that the first leavening occurs when baking powder gets wet– like when you combine the dry and wet ingredients in the recipe. (This is why you cannot prepare some batters ahead of time to bake later, because the baking powder has already been activated.) The second leavening occurs when the baking powder is heated.
Since baking powder already contains an acid to neutralize its baking soda, it is most often used when a recipe does not call for an additional acidic ingredient. However, this isn’t always the case. You can still use baking powder as the leavening agent in recipes calling for an acidic ingredient. Buttermilk (acid) can be used instead of regular milk for added moisture and a little tang also you may substitute a little brown sugar (acid) for granulated sugar; again, for added moisture.
Good rule of thumb: Usually around 1 teaspoon of baking powder per 1 cup of flour is used in a recipe.
Why do some recipes call for both?
Some recipes call for both baking powder and baking soda. These recipes contain some sort of acid (yogurt, brown sugar, etc), however the carbon dioxide created from the acid and baking soda is not enough to leaven the volume of batter in the recipe. That’s why baking powder is used as well, just to add a necessary lift. Basically, the reason for both is because sometimes you need more leavening than you have acid available in the recipe. It’s all about balance.
Another reason to use both baking powder and baking soda is because they affect both browning and flavour. Fine cooking breaks it down easily: let’s take a buttermilk pancake recipe. In this, buttermilk is used partly for its tangy flavour. If we use only baking soda, it could neutralize all the buttermilk’s acid. And we would lose that tanginess! However, by including baking powder as well (which has its own acid), some of the buttermilk’s flavour is left behind, and there is still enough leavening for fluffy pancakes.
How to Substitute?
If you have a recipe calling for baking soda, you might be able to substitute baking powder. However, you will need up to 4x as much baking powder to get the same amount of leavening. And, depending on the recipe, you might end up with a baked good that’s a little bitter with that much baking powder. You can substitute baking soda for baking powder only if you increase the amount of acid in the recipe– which likely changes the taste and texture of your baked good. You would also need less baking soda since it is about 3-4x stronger.
Don’t Forget– They Expire!
Replace your baking powder and soda every 3 months, just to be sure they are always fresh for your recipes. You may date them on the bottom of the container. If you don’t bake frequently, then you’ll have to test your baking powder and soda for effectiveness before using.
How to Test Baking Powder?
To test baking powder, pour 3 Tablespoons of warm water into a small bowl. Add 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder. Give it a light stir. The mixture should moderately fizz if the powder is fresh. If there is no reaction, toss the baking powder and buy a fresh package.
How to Test Baking Soda?
To test baking soda, pour 3 Tablespoons of white distilled vinegar into a small bowl. Add 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda. Give it a light stir. The mixture should rapidly bubble if the soda is fresh. If there is no reaction, toss the baking soda and buy a fresh package.