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Baking Soda Vs Baking Powder – What’s The Difference?

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The difference between baking soda Vs baking powder is that baking soda is pure sodium bicarbonate whereas baking powder is a mix of baking soda + acidifying agent, + drying agent.

Both of these products have their own unique characteristics, and this article will help you to discover what they are plus some unusual and interesting facts that you might not be aware of.

Baking Soda Vs Baking Powder – What Is Baking Soda?

Baking soda is a white chemical compound, NaHCO3, primarily used in baking as a pure leavening agent.

A leavening agent and a raising agent are the same things.

This means that baking soda is required to be added to baked goods such as cakes and biscuits before baking, to enable them to rise.

It does this by chemically reacting with the heat, moisture, and any acidic agents within the mix, such as buttermilk or yogurt.

The resulting chemical reaction forces thousands of tiny bubbles of carbon dioxide to form and rise within the mixture enabling baked goods to bake evenly.

Baking soda is also basic or, alkaline, which means that it will mellow out the acid flavors during cooking and help to produce a product with a more balanced flavor.

However, without the presence of acid within the mixture, baking soda makes dough alkaline causing discoloration and a marked distortion of flavor.

No Acidic ingredients mean that an acid reaction substance such as cream of tartar is required and added to the baking soda which turns the baking soda into baking powder.

Is Baking Soda Only Used In Baking?

Interestingly baking soda has several other uses beyond that of a leavening agent.

These uses include personal use, natural cleaning, deodorizing, and as a neutralizer of acids.

Incredibly, baking soda can even be found in some fire extinguishers! 

You cannot find baking powder in fire extinguishers, and baking powder has few uses beyond that of cooking.

Other names for Baking Soda

In the United Kingdom and Australia, baking soda is known and sold as, bicarbonate of soda. 

There is no difference between baking soda and bicarbonate of soda except for the name.

Other names include:

  • Sodium bicarbonate
  • Bicarb of soda
  • Sodium hydrogen carbonate
  • Bread soda
  • Saleratus ( a precursor to baking soda ) 

Baking Soda Vs Baking Powder – What Is Baking Powder?

Baking powder is different from baking soda because it is a mix of several elements including baking soda and is therefore not pure. 

These elements are baking soda, an acidic ingredient (usually cream of tartar), and cornflour or starch.

So baking powder is just a mixture of baking soda and acid in the right amounts with additives to improve stability and longevity.

Cornflour is therefore used simply as a filler (drying agent) to absorb moisture and keep the elements separated.

The precise mix of the ingredients also determines whether the baking powder is a single or double-acting baking powder mix.

What are Single And Double Acting Baking Powders?

Baking powder is a mix of several elements, pre-mixed with the acidic ingredient added, and all that is required to activate the product is heat and moisture.

Baking Soda Vs Baking Powder
Baking Soda Vs Baking Powder – What’s The Difference?.

Baking powder is available as a single or double-acting powder.

Single-acting baking powders are immediately activated by the addition of a liquid or moisture.

This means that you must bake any recipe that includes a single-acting powder almost immediately, as when mixed; the reaction between the baking soda and liquid begins as soon as they come into contact with each other. 

Double-acting powders react in two phases and are left for a short time before placing into the oven.

During the first phase, the mix is allowed to react at room temperature following the addition of the baking powder and liquid.

At this point, some of the carbon dioxide gasses are formed and released as the chemical process begins.

The second phase starts when the mixture is heated, and the majority of the carbon dioxide gases are formed and then released as the temperature of the oven increases.

Can I Make My Own Baking Powder?

Most baking powders are a little less than a third baking soda, which means they have between; 1/4 and 1/3 the potency of pure baking soda. 

I think of baking powder as having 1/4 the strength of baking powder, and, so far, that assumption hasn’t resulted in any baking mishaps.

You can make your own less sophisticated baking powder by combining cream of tartar and baking soda 2-1.

Or

1/4 teaspoon of baking soda
1/4 teaspoon of cornflour
1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar


However, do not be tempted to add too much or too little baking powder to your recipes as the results can be disastrous.

If you add too much baking powder the carbon dioxide bubbles will be too large and will burst causing the baked goods to sink in the middle.

It will also discolor the end product and leave a bitter taste in the mouth.

If you don’t add enough baking powder the baked goods will fail to rise sufficiently and will create a heavy dough-like consistency which will be unpleasant to eat.

Baking Soda Vs Baking Powder -When To Use Baking Soda And When to Use Baking Powder

Most people tend to bake with self-raising flour when the recipe calls for a leavening agent and so baking soda or baking powder is not required.

But, this is not always the case.

Which product to choose largely depends upon what other ingredients are in the recipe for example if there is no acid ingredient then baking powder may be your only choice.

However, baking soda has its own unique taste and characteristics, which can add greatly to a recipe that requires a little tartness in the final product.

And there are other variables to consider.

Baking soda reacts immediately with acidic liquids so you need to be quick to get the mixture to the oven, whereas double-acting baking powder will allow you a little more time.

So the real answer is to follow the recipe but as a rule of thumb, you should use baking soda in cookies and muffins and baking powder in bread and cake recipes.

Baking Soda Vs Baking Powder – Why Bake With Baking Soda?

Baking soda can have a slightly tangy taste, adds lovely golden color, and has its own unique texture, which is just not available with baking powder. 

That being said, it is essential to sift baking soda very well as it can turn lumpy. and, if used in excess, it can impart a soapy type of taste to the pallet.

To counteract the unique flavor of baking soda, another acidic ingredient can be used, such as buttermilk or lemon.

You will also find that baking soda is a popular ingredient in cookie and muffin recipes.

Baking Soda Vs Baking Powder Christmas-cookies-baking-powder
Baking Soda Vs Baking Powder – What’s The Difference?.

However, the fascinating thing about baking soda; is that you can get reactions of different speeds depending on what sorts of acids you pair it with. 

Common kitchen acids (acetic acid from vinegar; lactic acid from sour cream) generally yield fast reactions.

This is why it is important to quickly move anything leavened with baking soda into the oven as soon as it’s mixed.

This is especially true if the mixture is a fairly liquid batter since water facilitates a baking soda reaction, and; CO2 bubbles will rapidly rise out of a liquid.

What Common Acidic Ingredients Are Used With Baking Soda?

The following ingredients each add a unique flavor when used with baking soda:

  • Brown sugar
  • Buttermilk
  • Cocoa powder
  • Cream of Tartar
  • Honey
  • Lemon Juice – (all citrus)
  • Molasses
  • Sour cream
  • Yogurt

Baking Soda Vs Baking Powder – Why Bake With Baking Powder?

Baking powder is a pre-mixed solution to a baking problem and imparts no distinct flavor to a recipe.

It can be single or double-acting, giving it a versatility you cannot achieve using baking soda alone.

And the big advantage of baking powder over baking soda isn’t its convenience; it’s its functionality.

For, unlike plain soda which reacts quickly with whatever common kitchen acids are at hand, baking powder reacts over time.

It creates bubbles early in the mixing step when it gets wet and then later in the baking step when it gets hot. 

These are the two actions in “double acting” baking powder.

The result is a steady rise that doesn’t peter out too soon or goes off all at once, causing rapid expansion and collapse.

Baking powder is a common ingredient in cakes, biscuits, and pancakes and should be used within six months of purchase for the best results.

Baking Soda Vs Baking Powder – Are Baking Soda And Baking Powder Interchangeable?

The short answer to this question is NO as baking powder is a weaker version of baking soda with added ingredients, however, some recipes do call for both to be used.

Recipes that use both baking soda and baking powder are using the baking soda to immediately begin the leavening process while the baking powder will extend the process in the heat of the oven.

Furthermore, some recipes want a high rise but do not want the baking soda to completely neutralize the acid content such as lemon muffins, and will incorporate baking powder to keep the flavors vibrant.

Baking Soda Vs Baking Powder – Storage Tips

Keep your baking soda and baking powder in sealed airtight containers and place them in a cool, dark, and dry place.

Special attention should be given to the expiry date of baking powder as the shelf life is approximately 9 to 12 months.

Beyond this time, its effects will lessen, and your baked goods may not rise to the expected height.

Maybe it’s not your fault that the cake didn’t rise after all!

Here is a quick test to see if your baking powder is still good to use.

Pour 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder into a cup and add 1/3 cup of hot water. If the mixture is intensely bubbling, the baking powder is good.


If there is only a feeble reaction in terms of the bubbles, then the baking powder has expired.

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Baking Soda Vs Baking Powder – (The Origins Story)

The Birth Of Baking Soda Or Saleratus By Another Name

Around the year 1775, industrial age chemists discovered that if you expose pearlash (potassium carbonate); to carbon dioxide gas, the result was potassium bicarbonate, a compound that’s about twice as potent as regular old pearlash.

The creation was dubbed,saleratus”; a Latin word meaning “aerated salt.”

This discovery then prompted an American entrepreneur by the name of Nathan Read to try making the stuff.

He did this by suspending pearlash over vats of fermenting rum which produce — you guessed it — CO2.

Very clever indeed. 

Read’s saleratus came on the market in 1788. However, the stuff never really caught on as a leavener, mostly because it wasn’t terribly pure and hence not very reliable.

Baking Soda Vs Baking Powder baking soda ship transportation
Baking Soda Vs Baking Powder – What’s The Difference?.

A purer, higher quality saleratus was available from Europe at the time.

It was chemically different but made via a similar process, namely by exposing another carbonate compound; — this time sodium carbonate or “soda ash” — to carbon dioxide gas.

However, since that saleratus was imported, it was a more expensive product than most American home bakers could afford.

This is why, in 1846, American entrepreneurs Austin Church and John Dwight decided it was time to make the stuff domestically.

Their product, called “Dwight’s Saleratus,”; was made in the European style, meaning that it was actually sodium bicarbonate, what we now call “baking soda.”

The term “baking soda” didn’t come into common use until the 1920s. Many cookbooks dating to the era still use the term “saleratus.”

From Baking Soda to The Birth Of Baking Powder

So it’s the mid-1800?s.

CO2-producing carbonates are in common use among home bakers, and so is cream of tartar.

So why not go nuts and put the two together in dry powder form?

This mix could then be effectively marketed as a one-stop, do-it-yourself, single-scoop leavening reaction in a box!!!

That was the inspiration of Alfred Bird, a pharmacist from Birmingham, England.

Saddled with a spouse allergic to both yeast and eggs — but blessed with a talent for invention; — Bird created the precursor to modern baking powder in 1843.

It was, quite simply, a mixture of baking soda, cream of tartar, and cornstarch. (Cornstarch served to keep the chemicals separated as well as absorb moisture from the air).

The Birth Of Baking Powder!

The problem with Bird’s miracle-in-a-jar was that it was expensive.

Cream of tartar didn’t come cheaply in those days, and that prevented Bird’s powder from being widely marketed. 

However, it was a godsend for those with dietary restrictions and the English military, for whom it provided “quick bread” in the field.

Mr. Bird also created something else – custard powder! Again for the love of his wife, who was allergic to eggs.

I hope you enjoyed the article and now know all the important differences between baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, and baking powder.

Now go and practice your baking ; )

Thank you to joe pastry for his contribution to this post.

A proud father of two boys, an amateur actor, and a green living enthusiast, Mark has been sharing hints, tips, and sustainable living content on his website Sustainability Dad since august 2019.

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