What’s the difference between baking soda and baking powder?

The difference between baking soda and baking powder is one of those things we all, at some point, have wondered about.

It is also a question many readers have asked us several times. They also ask some other things like: Can I substitute one and use the other instead without altering the recipe? Do they work the same? among others.

Baking soda and baking powder are definitely NOT the same. They both make batters and such rise but are chemically different.

It it also really important to not confuse them with yeast, since they are completely different things that do not work the same.

difference between baking soda and baking powder

What’s baking soda?

It is an alkaline compound that, when mixed with something acid, produces carbon dioxide. Which is why when used to make cake, cupcakes, etc. it makes them rise because of these small carbon dioxide bubbles that get trapped in the batter.

If you pay attention, you will see that a lot of recipes that call for baking soda also call for an acid ingredient such as yogurt, buttermilk, vinegar or lemon juice to cause this chemical reaction. Besides, baking soda also produces gas when decomposing because of the oven’s heat; you only need higher than 176º F (80º C) to achieve this.

Baking soda is 3 to 4 times stronger than baking powder. However, this does not mean the more you use the higher your cake or dessert will rise. In fact, you should only use the quantity the recipe calls for, taking into account the amount of acid in it too, otherwise a metallic flavor will come through when cooked.

What’s baking powder?

Baking powder is a mixture of baking soda, cream of tartar (dry acid) and sometimes cornstarch. It has two reactions: the first when mixed with liquid ingredients and the second when heated up. In the first and acid-base reaction is created and this releases carbon dioxide into the mixture. This causes bubbles that make the batter or mixture rise and expand when heated up.

This is why it is important not to make cake or cupcake batters in advance, because the baking powder has already been activated.

Since the baking powder already has an acid in itself (cream of tartar) to neutralize the baking soda, it is used mostly in recipes that don’t call for any acid ingredient. However, this isn’t always the case, since you can still use it for recipes with acid ingredients in it.

How to use them and why some recipes call for both

The basic rule to use them is the following:

  • 1/4 teaspoon (0.06 oz) (1.7 gr) baking soda for each (1) cup of all purpouse flour
  • 1 teaspoon (0.25 oz) (7 gr) baking powder for each (1) cup of all purpouse flour

Generally speaking, when using both is because the recipe calls for some type of acid ingredient (yogurt, lemon juice, etc.) but there isn’t enough carbon dioxide created from this acid ingredient and the baking soda for the mixture to rise properly. Which is why, some recipes, also call for baking powder.

Another reason why sometimes they are both used is because they affect differently the way they turn golden brown when in the oven and the resulting flavor of the recipe.

How to substitute or interchange them?

Substituting them can be quite the struggle since, as mentioned before, they work differently. When a recipe calls for only one of them or both is because the rest of ingredients’ measurements are calculated according to this, meaning, in harmony to get the perfect consistency and flavor.

The rule to interchange them would be the following:

  • 4 teaspoons of baking powder for each (1) teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda for each (1) teaspoon of baking powder

We have to be careful when using baking soda instead of baking powder because when increasing the quantity desseerts can turn bitter. You can only substitute it when you´re also increasing the acid quantity in the recipe, which can modify the final texture of whatever is being cooked.

Author: Andrea Gámez

Interior designer, Photographer, Food blogger and lover, painting entusiast and a sucker for art. / MEXICO

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