Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder: What’s the Difference?

Whether you’re a beginner in the kitchen or a pastry master, you more than likely have both baking soda and baking powder in your kitchen. Both of these white powders are staple leavening agents often used in cooking and baking.

Baking powder and baking soda have different uses.
Baking powder and baking soda have different uses.

Both of these fine white powders are chemical leaveners, used to leaven doughs and batters. They interact with other ingredients to create carbon dioxide during the mixing and baking processes. The carbon dioxide gas expands and provides the lift in cakes, breads, and other baked goods.

What’s the Difference?

You may have already guessed that baking powder and baking soda are not the same or interchangeable, which is why it’s important to know the difference between the two.

Baking soda is 100 percent sodium bicarbonate, an alkaline salt compound that creates carbon dioxide gas when mixed with an acid.

Baking powder, on the other hand, is a mixture of sodium bicarbonate and an acid like cream of tartar which requires moisture and heat to activate.

Uses for Baking Soda

Baking soda has many uses in both baking and cleaning.
Baking soda has many uses in both baking and cleaning.

Baking soda reacts with acid in your recipe when cooking or baking. When mixed with an acid, it creates gas that promotes leavening in your baked goods. The baking soda is what causes cakes and cookies to rise.

Also known as sodium bicarbonate, or “bicarb”, baking soda needs to be mixed with an acid to create carbon monoxide. This means you will often see baking soda listed as an ingredient where there is another acidic ingredient for it to react with, such as buttermilk or lemon juice.

Baking soda also promotes browning when baking, making it an ideal ingredient for recipes where a golden brown crust is ideal, such as keto chocolate chip cookies or red velvet cake roses. The reason why

Other Uses for Baking Soda

Baking soda is also a gentle, yet powerful, cleaner. It’s added to toothpaste or can be mixed with water and used as a mouthwash. You’ll often see baking soda used as a fridge order neutralizer as well. Baking soda can also be added to your laundry to make whites just a little brighter.

Uses for Baking Powder

Baking soda has a variety of uses when baking and in cleaning.

Baking powder already contains an acid as one of its main components. This means baking powder is generally used when there is not an acidic ingredient listed in the ingredients. Many baking powders for sale at the grocery store are listed as “double acting”. This means the powder activates once when it touches a liquid and it activates again when heat is applied (so first when it is mixed together in the batter and again when baked).

Other Uses for Baking Powder

Since the main ingredient in baking powder is the same as baking soda (bicarbonate), there are many crossovers when looking at household uses. Baking powder is also used as a natural house cleaner, however is can also be used to clean fruit and vegetables by gentle removing pesticides and other chemicals.

Uses for both Baking Powder and Baking Soda

Some recipes, such as buttermilk pancakes, use both baking powder and baking soda. The reason for to preserve the tangy flavor of the buttermilk used in the recipe.

Both ingredients are also used as a cleaner and odorizer. Sprinkle either baking powder or baking soda down your kitchen drain and then follow with vinegar. The chemical reaction will clear out any unwanted smells coming from the drain.

Recipes that Use Both

It’s not uncommon for recipes to use both baking powder and baking soda.

Buttermilk pancakes is an example of a recipe that uses both baking soda and baking powder.
Buttermilk pancakes is an example of a recipe that uses both baking soda and baking powder.

When using both ingredients, the baking soda (which reacts with acid) will neutralize the acid in the batter, neutralizing the flavor profile of the buttermilk. To combat this, add baking powder to maintain the flavor profile.

When do Baking Soda and Baking Powder Expire?

Like almost every ingredient in your cupboard, both baking soda and baking powder will eventually expire and will have to be replaced. Once opened, both baking soda and baking powder lose their potency. After opening, both ingredients are good to use for about a year when stored in a cool dry place.

How to Make Baking Soda More Acidic

You can bake baking soda to make it more acidic.
You can bake baking soda to make it more acidic.

If you need a more potent baking soda, simply line a baking sheet with tin foil and sprinkle baking soda on the foil. Bake the baking soda for an hour at 300°F. While the amount of baking soda will decrease, since you are also dehydrating the soda, the baking soda that remains will become more alkaline.

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