Baking soda and baking powder might sound similar, but these two ingredients are far from interchangeable. If you have ever accidentally used baking soda in place of baking powder (or vice versa) while baking, you are probably well-acquainted with this fact.
So what the heck is the difference between baking soda and baking powder? And can you substitute one for the other if you find yourself all set up in your kitchen only to realize you bought the wrong one?
To start, let’s talk about what baking soda and baking powder have in common. They are both chemical leaveners, meaning that they help your baked goods to rise. The chemicals in baking soda and baking powder create gases within your baked goods, which in turn creates air bubbles that make your cookies, quick breads, muffins, etc. rise and become light and fluffy.
In other for baking soda to work properly, your recipe will require acid and moisture in order for the necessary chemical process to occur. That’s because baking soda is a base, and must react with an acid. Acids you might use in your baked goods recipes include sour cream, yogurt, buttermilk or citrus juices. Baking soda has a stronger flavor than baking powder, and for this reason, should be used in sweeter recipes like your grandma’s secret triple chocolate cookie recipe.
On the other hand, baking powder already has an acidifying agent (usually cream of tartar) within it. Baking powder additionally contains baking soda and cornstarch, which absorbs liquid and helps to soften flour proteins. Cornstarch helps make baked goods fluffier and more cake-like.
If you ever run out of baking powder and only have baking soda on hand, you can make a substitution. Keeping in mind that baking soda has four times the power of baking powder, you will need 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda for every 1 teaspoon of baking powder your recipe calls for.
However, as mentioned above, your recipe will still need an acidic ingredient in order to make the baking soda’s chemical process work, so you may need to add in an acid (such as a teaspoon of white vinegar or lemon juice) if your recipe is lacking yogurt, sour cream, buttermilk or other acidic milk ingredients. You could also mix 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda with 5/8 teaspoon of cream of tartar, if you have that lying around.
What if you run out of baking soda and only have baking powder? No worries. You can still make your recipe — just remember to quadruple the amount of baking powder. For example, if a recipe requires one teaspoon of baking soda, it will require four teaspoons of baking powder in order to make your baked goods rise. However, this substitution is not recommended by baking experts; they fear such a heavy dose of baking powder might give your baked goods a chemical aftertaste.
And what if your recipe calls for both baking soda and baking powder? This generally means that there’s an acidic ingredient like brown sugar involved, but the reaction from the baking soda and acid isn’t enough for the amount of batter involved. So baking powder is used in addition in order to create the leavening you need.
But in addition to texture, flavor and browning are also affected by baking powder and baking soda. So in some dishes, baking powder is added to make sure the flavor from certain acids (like buttermilk) still comes through and isn’t completely neutralized by the baking soda.
So now you know! Ready to break out your favorite stand mixer and get started? Happy baking, everyone.