If you have ever wondered if you can use baking soda instead of baking powder, you are not alone. Many people have asked this question and it is a good one! After all, what is the difference between baking soda and baking powder anyway?
Are they interchangeable? What function do the play in baking? All of these questions (and more) will be answered right here!
What Is Baking Soda?
Baking Soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate, is an alkaline compound that is commonly used in baking as a leavener. When baking soda mixes with something acidic (vinegar, cream of tartar or lemon juice, for example), it will begin to bubble and produce a carbon dioxide gas.
If this reaction happens when the baking soda is in a batter or dough, the gas will get trapped inside the batter, causing the batter to puff up, rise and expand. That is why baking soda is often used as a leavener.
Baking soda also will produce a gas solely from being heated. When baking soda is exposed to heat above 80 degrees, it will emit gas without the assistance of an acid.
This is another reason why it is often used to help batters and doughs rise in baking- the moment that the food goes in a hot oven, the baking soda will begin to react!
When to Use Baking Soda
Baking soda is often used to help leaven soft batters like pancakes, muffins, or cakes. If a batter is on the runnier side and doesn’t hold its shape, that is when you are most likely to see baking soda in the list of ingredients.
Since baking soda acts so quickly, it can help a loose batter rise fast and then the heat of the oven will set the batter in place. A stiffer dough does not need such a fast acting leavener as it can hold its shape without needing to be quickly leavened and set.
So, if you are baking something like a bread dough, you probably won’t see baking soda in the ingredients. However, if you are baking a very soft, liquidy batter quick bread like banana bread, for example, baking soda will probably be one of the ingredients.
What Is Baking Powder?
Baking Powder is a blend of acids and alkaline compounds, typically made up of calcium acid phosphate, cream of tartar or sodium aluminum sulfate along with sodium bicarbonate.
All that is needed to cause a chemical reaction in baking powder is to add some water or any other liquid to the powder. Carbon dioxide will immediately be released and produce air bubbles which then cause doughs and batters to rise.
Heat will also help baking powder react and produce more carbon dioxide gas. The pressure from the air bubbles will cause the baked good to rise quickly and then set from the heat in the oven.
There are actually three different kinds of baking powder which are all slightly different. The first is double acting baking powder which releases gas the moment it comes in contact with moisture and then again when it is exposed to high heat (having two reactions). This is also the most commonly used kind of baking powder.
The next type of baking powder is tartrate which is a single acting baking powder, releasing gas only when it is exposed to heat. The third kind is phosphate which is a slow acting, single reaction baking powder.
These two single release forms are difficult to find in stores and, while they may have their baking advantages as you can control when the most carbon dioxide is released, they are largely being replaced with double acting baking powder in all recipes.
When to Use Baking Powder
Baking powder is used in many baked goods, especially those that do not contain an acidic ingredient. Since baking powder already contains an acid within the mix, there is no need to have one in the recipe in order to help the chemical reaction of the baking powder take place.
You will find baking powder in lots of cookie dough recipes, cake batters and thicker batters in general.
Baking Powder vs. Baking Soda
Now that you know the basics of what baking powder and baking soda are, it’s time to compare the two- what you have been waiting for!
To begin, baking soda is only made up of one ingredient- sodium bicarbonate. Baking powder is a mix of ingredients, one of them being sodium bicarbonate. Since baking soda is only one ingredient, it needs something else to help it leaven baked goods.
A recipe with baking soda also needs to have some kind of acid in it in order to produce the chemical reaction needed. Baking powder, on the other hand can leaven a batter or dough all on its own.
Another difference is that baking soda is a much stronger leavener than baking powder. In fact, baking soda is four times stronger than baking powder.
This means that one teaspoon of baking powder will raise one cup of flour while only ¼ of a teaspoon of baking soda will have the same effect.
This is important to keep in mind when you are measuring ingredients and assessing a recipe. Also, another reason to be careful when reaching for ingredients- you don’t want to put in baking soda instead of baking powder by mistake!
The next difference between baking soda and baking power is when the chemical reaction that causes the leavener to release carbon dioxide occurs.
Baking soda will begin to react the moment that it comes in contact with an acid (think about making a volcano at school with baking soda and vinegar- the second the two come together, poof! Bubbles everywhere).
However, this automatic reaction can be a problem. You might not want to create bubbles within your batter right away. Many times you may need an extended reaction, allowing the rising to take place over time. This is when you should opt for baking powder.
Most baking powder is double acting so it will create carbon dioxide gas when it first gets wet and then have another strong reaction again when it heats in the oven. This double reaction is thanks to the two kinds of acids in the baking powder that respond to different elements.
Using baking powder will make your batter rise for a longer period of time, making lots of bubbles as the baked good cooks and making your foods fluffier.
Another benefit of the slower reaction time is that you can make batters and doughs that contain baking powder ahead of time, put them in the fridge or freezer and use them later.
If you try this with a batter that contains just baking soda as a leavener, cooking the food hours or days after the batter was mixed will cause it to not rise properly or even at all.
The main reaction of the baking soda will have already occurred and it will not have any “juice” left to help rise the batter.
Do Baking Soda and Baking Powder Expire?
While baking soda and baking powder may never truly “go bad,” they will lose their leavening powder overtime. Both chemicals react to heat so if they are sitting on a shelf for years, being exposed to high humidity and drastic weather changes, they will lose their potency.
Luckily, there is an easy way to tell if the ingredients are still good and will have the chemical reaction you need when mixed into your dough and batter.
To test baking powder, mix one teaspoon of baking powder into 1/3 cup of hot water. If there are lots of bubbles, the baking powder is fresh and ready to use.
To test if baking soda is still good, place ¼ teaspoon of baking soda in a small bowl and add a small amount of lemon juice or vinegar. If vigorous bubbles occur instantly, it is still good to use!
Are Baking Soda and Baking Powder Interchangeable?
Baking soda and baking powder in their basic form are not really interchangeable. One needs an acid to cause a chemical reaction and is much stronger while the other requires a higher quantity to make a batter rise but will have a dual reaction time in order to create very fluffy baked goods.
That being said, there are ways to use baking powder or baking soda in place of each other when baking. You just need to know what to use!
Using Baking Powder in Place of Baking Soda
Replacing baking soda with baking powder is actually fairly simple. Since baking powder actually has baking soda in it, it is already halfway there!
For every 1 teaspoon of baking soda a recipe asks for, simply used 3 teaspoons of baking powder. It may seem like a lot but keep in mind that baking powder is not as strong as baking soda and you will need more in order to cause the same chemical reaction.
Using Baking Soda in Place of Baking Powder
If you need to substitute baking soda in place of baking powder, you will need to add an acid to the recipe in order to help the baking soda have the proper chemical reaction. This is easy, though!
The most basic way is to use one part baking soda and two parts cream of tartar to create baking powder. So, if you need one tablespoon of baking powder, combine one teaspoon baking soda with two teaspoons of cream of tartar.
You can even make a mix of baking soda and baking powder to use anytime a recipe calls for baking powder.
As you can see, there are many similarities between baking soda and baking powder and they are both essential to baking beautiful, fluffy baked goods. There are definitely ways to substitute one for the other but keep in mind it is not as simple as using the same measurements.
Whenever you need to replace baking soda for baking powder, or the other way around, be sure to make a proper mix, check your measurements and then keep baking! I am sure you will have lots of success!
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.