The Difference Between Baking Soda and Baking Powder

The Difference Between Baking Soda and Baking Powder
Baking soda and baking powder are both leavening agents, substances used to help baked goods rise.
Seasoned and amateur bakers alike often confuse them due to their similar names and appearances.
This article explains the differences between baking soda and baking powder and how exchanging one for the other can affect baked goods.

What is baking soda?
Baking soda is a leavening agent used in baked goods such as cakes, cookies, and biscuits.
Officially known as sodium bicarbonate, it is a naturally alkaline or basic white crystalline powder.
Baking soda is activated when it is combined with both acidic and liquid ingredients. Upon activation, carbon dioxide is produced, which allows baked goods to rise and become light and fluffy.
This is why recipes with baking soda will also include an acidic ingredient, such as lemon juice or buttermilk.

What is baking powder?
Unlike baking soda, baking powder is a complete leavening agent, which means it contains both the base (sodium bicarbonate) and the acid needed to rise the product.
Cornstarch is also typically found in baking powder. It was added as a buffer to prevent the acid and base from activating during storage.
Similar to how baking soda reacts with water and the acid component, the acid in baking powder reacts with sodium bicarbonate and releases carbon dioxide once combined with a liquid.
Single- and double-acting baking powders are available, although the single-acting types are typically used only by food manufacturers and are not usually available for home use.
When a recipe calls for baking powder, it likely refers to the double-acting type.
This means that the powder creates two separate reactions: first, when combined with a liquid at room temperature, and secondly, once the mixture is heated.
For many recipes, an extended reaction is appropriate, so yeast or rise does not happen all at once.

When do you use which one
Baking soda is used in recipes that also contain an acidic ingredient, such as cream of tartar, buttermilk, or citrus juice.
Conversely, baking powder is usually used when the recipe does not contain an acidic component, as the powder already includes the acid needed to produce carbon dioxide.
Good baked mixtures can vary greatly in their acidity level. To produce a desirable baked good, you need to find the right balance between acid and base.
Some recipes may require both baking soda and baking powder.
This is usually because the recipe contains acid that needs to be replaced by the baking soda but may not be enough to ferment the product completely.
Replace recipes
Although it is possible to substitute baking soda and baking powder in recipes, it is not as easy as substituting one for another.
Replace baking powder with baking soda
Although replacing baking powder with baking soda is not widely recommended, you may be able to make it work in a pinch.
Replacing baking powder with baking soda will not require additional ingredients.
However, baking soda is much stronger than baking powder. Thus, you will likely need about 3 times as much powder as soda to create the same rising ability.
Also, this substitution may cause your final product to have a chemical or bitter taste.
Alternatively, you can try one of the many other alternatives to baking soda.

Replace baking soda with baking powder
If your recipe calls for baking powder and all you have is baking soda, you may be able to substitute it, but include additional ingredients.
Since baking soda lacks the acid that baking powder usually adds to a recipe, you should be sure to add an acidic ingredient, such as cream of tartar, to activate the baking soda.
Moreover, baking soda has a much stronger leavening ability than baking powder.
As a general rule, about 1 teaspoon of baking powder is equivalent to 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda.
bottom line
Many good baked recipes include baking soda or baking powder as a leavening agent. Some may include both.
While both products look alike, they are definitely not the same.
Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate, which requires an acid and liquid to activate and help baked goods rise.
On the contrary, baking powder contains sodium bicarbonate in addition to acid. It only needs liquid to be activated.
One can be replaced by the other by making fine adjustments.