Cooking Basics

Difference between baking powder and baking soda

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Learn the difference between baking powder and baking soda in recipes

Baking soda and baking powder are two ingredients commonly used in most baking and cooking recipes. Since both of these ingredients look very similar in nature, it is easy to mistakenly use one for the other or to assume that they serve the same purpose in a recipe.

However, despite their similarities, the substances have differences and should not be interchangeably used. Substituting one ingredient for the other can in fact not only affect the taste of a baked product, but also its texture.

Consider the following main differences between baking powder and baking soda prior to your next afternoon of baking muffins, cookies or breads.

Rise up

Baking soda and baking powder are leavening agents, or rising agents, that help baked goods rise. The substances are added during the mixing process and prior to cooking in the oven which helps produce carbon dioxide to assist in the rising process. This is particularly important for baked goods such as bread and cakes which are meant to rise for both a tastier and more appealing end-product.

Without either of these odorless, powdery ingredients, baked products would fall flat.

Baking soda

Baking soda is also known by the chemical name of sodium bicarbonate. The combination of baking soda with an acidic ingredient such as lemon juice, buttermilk or honey helps to produce bubbles of carbon dioxide. This can also speed up release of the produced gases needed for the expansion of baked products while cooking.

On its own, baking soda has an alkaline taste which makes for a bitter aftertaste when eaten on its own. Hence, mixing it with an acid also helps to cut the bitterness by neutralizing the chemical.

Baking powder

Baking powder contains sodium bicarbonate in addition to the acids cream of tartar and a starch which serves as a drying agent. The addition of a starch such as cornstarch helps to absorb moisture which delays any possible reaction until a liquid is added to the mixing batter.

Baking powder can be either slow, fast or double-acting. These terms refer to how quickly gas is released during the mixing process to assist in helping the end product to rise. Most baking powders are typically double-acting meaning they release a small amount of gas during mixing and more gas during the actual cooking time in the oven.

Cooking at home

Now that you understand the main difference baking soda baking powder presents, you should learn how to use this information effectively while cooking at home. It is essential to remember that baking soda mixes best with acids. Thus, when cooking with baking soda, you will have a better end product by mixing the substance with buttermilk versus regular milk which isn't as acidic.

Both end products may taste good but the buttermilk mixture will likely rise higher for a more consistent and attractive result. If you are cooking at home and don't usually have buttermilk on hand, simply make your own by adding a tablespoon of vinegar to a cup of milk.


If you find yourself searching your cupboards for baking soda during an afternoon of baking but coming up short, don't fret. Baking powder can actually be substituted for baking soda since it contains a small amount of soda in it. However, it is important to note that this substitution does not work both ways since baking soda cannot replace baking powder in a recipe.

On its own, baking soda does not have the necessary acidity needed to help make cakes, muffins and breads rise. Fortunately, you can make your own baking powder by combining two parts of acidic cream of tartar with one part baking soda.

Similar to salt and sugar, baking powder and baking soda can easily be mistakenly used for each other as their white, sandy nature makes them difficult to discern. Yet, both ingredients are different from each other and have a special purpose in a cooking recipe. Err on the side of caution the next time you are baking up a loaf of bread or a tray of muffins by keeping both ingredients stocked on your shelves.

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