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November 7, 2017

Baking soda and baking powder are commonly used leavening agents used in baking. But, these two ingredients have confused almost everyone in the baking world. What is the difference between baking soda and baking powder? What purpose do they solve in baking? And if these two ingredients are interchangeable?

Baking Soda and Baking Powder

First thing first, remember, they are not interchangeable. They both are leavening agent and the basic purpose of a leavening agent is to make your baked item rise. Hence, they are also termed as rising agents. But, they are chemically different from each other.

What is Baking Powder and its purpose in baking?

Baking powder has three ingredients in it. Baking soda, cream of tartar and cornflour/riceflour that absorbs moisture.  You will find three types of baking powder in the market. Fast acting, double acting or slow acting. The difference between them is in the amount of acidic agent present in them.

Baking powder activates when it combines with a liquid ingredient. And hence you should bake the cake or bread immediately after you mix wet and dry ingredients. When baking powder comes in contact of a liquid ingredient, it produces carbon dioxide. This helps the mixture to expand and rise. Follow the recipe and use the recommended measurements of baking powder. Excess of baking powder can make your cake bitter. Use less than recommended and that will result in a dense cake.

As a rule, a recipe with 1 cup of flour calls for 1 tsp of baking powder.

What is Baking Soda and its purpose in baking?

Baking Soda is a salt composed of sodium and bicarbonate ions. It is little salty in taste. You need an acidic medium like yogurt, vinegar, buttermilk to activate baking soda. A very common ingredient in baking cake, it works as a leavening agent.

Baking soda plays an important role in eggless baking. When mixed with other ingredients it releases carbon dioxide which expands the mixture. As a result you get light and fluffy cake/bread. It has strong flavor so one should be careful while using it. Excess of it can result in a soapy cake. Baking soda causes reddening of cocoa powder when baked, hence the name Devil's Food Cake.

Typically, in a recipe 1 cup of flour calls for ¼ tsp of baking soda.


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Difference between baking powder and baking soda

Baking soda and baking powder, both are white, odorless and nearly indistinguishable powers. Both help your baked goods to rise and expand. Without them all your breads/cakes would be very flat and dense. But, baking soda is 4 times more powerful than Baking powder. One teaspoon of baking powder contains ¼ teaspoon of baking soda. Baking soda works when combined with acidic food.

The purpose behind baking powder and baking soda is to react with the ingredients and release carbon dioxide gas. The gas adds up to the bubbles formed while whisking the ingredients, make them large and lift your bakes.

Deciding between baking powder and baking soda?

If you have acidic ingredient like yogurt in your recipe you would want to choose baking soda. Baking soda is an alkaline powder. It gets activated when combined with acidic ingredient. However, if the recipe has no acid you would want to choose baking powder in your recipe. Baking powder has built in acid.

But some recipes calls for both, isn’t it? In some recipes the baking soda does not produce enough carbon dioxide. In such cases, the recipe calls for baking powder as well.  Baking powder gives that extra rise to your recipe.

Flavor and browning of the recipe is another reason to use baking soda and baking powder together. For example, if in a recipe you are using orange juice for its tangy flavor, baking soda can make it completely flat. But adding baking powder will bring in its own acid and the tangy flavor of orange juice will sustain.

On the other side the browning happens best in an alkaline environment. Remember, baking soda is an alkaline powder. If a recipe needs to brown to look better, only baking powder could make it rise but not brown.

That’s all for today. But I reiterate, baking is science. Once you understand the role of a chemical in your baking, you are better of next time.

What’s next?

This article is a part a series called Baking Tutorials for Beginners

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About the Author Sonia Gupta

Founder of AnyBodyCanBake, Noted Entrepreneur, Celebrated Baker, Certified Baking Instructor, and Accomplished Food Blogger.

  • Thanks a lot for making us understand the difference between the two…..such a detailed article……

  • Very informative. Thank you so much. I have been wondering why some recipes require baking powder and baking soda together.

    • Feraye,

      In general, Egg based recipes doesn’t require baking soda but for egg-free recipes, baking soda helps to get the rise. So both are mandatory in egg-free recipes.

      Happy Baking

  • Beautiful article ma’am.
    Could you please share the rule about how much quantity of baking powder and baking soda is to be used for one cup of flour in eggless cakes if we use both of them together?

    • Shikha,

      The portion of Baking powder and Baking soda varies for the recipe to recipe. However, I prefer to keep the amount as low as possible. Mostly my recipes are with 1/2 tsp of each.

      Happy Baking

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