Baking Soda and Baking Powder: How Are They Different?

Baking soda is basic and will require additional acidic ingredients to help in leavening, whereas baking powder has basic and acidic components. They substitute for each other, but with careful balance.

Baking soda and baking powder are two confusing terms in the realm of baking. Many people use these terms in place of the other as if they are the same with the same uses; however, baking soda and baking powder have different chemical compositions. Therefore, they are not the same, but can one use them to substitute one another without changing their form? Though some things are certain about these products, they are all leavening agents used in baking that make baked products rise. Though they have the same look and texture, their chemical composition differs, affecting their interaction with other ingredients.

What is baking soda?

It is also referred to as sodium bicarbonate or bicarbonate of soda used as a leavening agent in baking goods such as muffins, cakes, and cookies. It is naturally alkaline or basic and is activated by combining it with acidic liquids or ingredients. This combination creates carbon dioxide gas, contributing to the rising of baked goods, becoming fluffy and light. Since baking soda is alkaline, recipes that contain baking soda often list additional acidic ingredients such as buttermilk or lemon juice.

What is baking powder?

A baking powder is a complete leavening agent containing both an alkaline component (sodium bicarbonate) and the acidic component required for the rising of the baked products. The manufacturers often add cornstarch to prevent the acidic and basic components of baking powder from activating during storage. When put in water, the basic ingredient forms the baking powder (sodium bicarbonate) reacts with the basic ingredient to produce carbon dioxide, resulting in the product’s rising and fluffiness.   Baking powder is divide into categories; single-acting and double-acting baking powder.

Double-acting baking powder is the most popular of the two and is widely available in most supermarkets. It is called double for having two raising stages. The first rising stage happens when the baking powder mixes with water at room temperature. The second rising happens when the baking powder in the product is heated. On the other hand, single-acting baking powder only reacts and rises when mixed with water and heated at a high temperature. Its often used by professional chefs for baking purposes. Most baking process using double-acting baking powder requires time when the powder is mixed with water to when the baking begins. The time allows for the leavening effect to happen over an extended period.

When and where to use baking powder or soda?

Since baking soda does not have acidic content, it is often used in recipes with acidic ingredients such as buttermilk, cream, or citrus juice. On the other hand, baking powder is used when the recipe does not feature acidic ingredients since it already has acidic components that produce carbon dioxide when mixed with water. Baking can be tricky if one is not knowledgeable on the right balance between base and acid needed for each baked product. However, some recipes would require both baking powder and soda in cases where the recipe is acidic. The acidic product may need a baking soda to offset the acidity, but the soda may not fully leaven the product.

Additionally, these products can both be used in a recipe to enhance both flavor and browning. For example, in a recipe for buttermilk pancake, acidic buttermilk is often used to provide a tangy flavor. Solely using soda would neutralize the acid provided by buttermilk, and the pancake’s tanginess lost. The addition of baking powder containing its acid ensures that some of the buttermilk flavors are retained while providing adequate leavening for fluffy pancakes.

Substituting in recipes

Some recipes would allow for a replacement of baking soda for baking powder, but the substituting is not a direct one by simply changing one for the other. A lot of factors are considered before making the needed perfect substitution to attain the same desired result.

How to substitute baking powder for baking soda?

This substitution is difficult to pull off and is often not recommended. However, one can achieve the perfect substitute in a pinch. Note that exchanging baking powder for baking soda will not need additional ingredients. However, since baking soda is more powerful than baking powder, you will need more powder (approximately three times the normal use of soda) to achieve the same rising ability. The downside of this substitution is that your final product may have a bitter taste or more chemicals than it would contain by baking soda.

Substituting baking soda for baking powder

Baking powder has acidic content while baking soda is basic; nevertheless, you can still replace the baking powder with baking soda. You will need some additional ingredients to attain the needed acidity level. The likely ingredients would include cream of tartar which is acidic to help compensate for the acid usually found in baking powder. The acid ingredient will help activate the baking soda to produce carbon dioxide for rising the product. Remember that baking soda is stronger than powder used in leavening; therefore, as a rule, one teaspoon of baking soda replaces ¼ teaspoon of baking soda

How long do baking soda and baking powder last?

Baking soda has no definite expiry date meaning it is safe to use and eat indefinitely. However, its efficiency deteriorates over time, especially if it is open, calling for a replacement after six months. The unopened container of baking soda will still be efficient after two years. On the other hand, baking powder has an expiry date often shown on the container. It could also lose strength when left open overtime even before its due date. If it is left unopened, a baking powder could last for 18 months. An opened one could need a replacement after three or six months, depending on the level of exposure to humidity and air. Its acidity makes it react to moisture and affect the quality of the baking powder.

The bottom line

Several baking recipes require baking soda or baking powder for leavening purposes, whereas other recipes may need baking powder and baking soda. These products are not the same; they are similar in texture and appearance. Baking soda is basic, thus requires additional acidic ingredients and liquid for activation in helping baked goods rise. On the other hand, baking powder includes the dry basic component (sodium bicarbonate) and the dry acid component. It is also activated by liquid. One can substitute for both products, but with a calculated balance.

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