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Home / Cooking Tips

The difference between baking powder and baking soda

 A key ingredient in baking is a leavening agent (Photo: Shutterstock)

I’m not a big baker and the confusion between whether to use baking powder or baking soda just adds to my distaste for this cooking method. Maybe this has to do with my cooking preferences; I’m not big on measurements and I like to experiment with flavours. But when it comes to baking, precision is the key otherwise you end up with baking disasters.

A key ingredient in baking is a leavening agent. Most recipes call for the use of baking powder or baking soda. So what’s the difference if these are both leavening agents? And, can you use them interchangeably? Let’s delve in.

Baking soda

 Recipes with baking soda call for the addition of an acid (Photo: Shutterstock)

Baking soda is also sometimes referred to as sodium bicarbonate. It is a white crystalline powder that is commonly used in cookies, cakes and muffins.

Baking soda is alkaline in nature. This means that for it to work as a raising agent, it needs an acid. In most recipes that call for the use of baking soda, acid is usually in the form of buttermilk or lemon juice.

Once an acid and liquid are added to the baking soda, carbon dioxide is released which in turn raises the baked goods. This makes them light and fluffy, just the way we like it.

Baking powder

 Baking powder contains an alkaline and an acid (Photo: Shutterstock)

Like baking soda, baking powder is also a white crystalline powder that is used as a raising agent.

Unlike baking soda, baking powder contains an alkaline known as sodium bicarbonate and an acid. Recipes that call for baking powder don’t require the addition of an acid. The liquid in the recipe reacts with the acid which in turn reacts with the sodium bicarbonate. 

The most commonly used baking powder is known as double-acting. Rising of the baked goods takes place when liquid is added and then when it is cooking.

Can they be substituted?

 You can substitute one for the other (Photo: Shutterstock)

You can substitute baking soda for baking powder or vice versa if the need calls for it. When the recipe calls for baking soda but you only have baking powder, remember to adjust the quantities. This is because baking soda is stronger than baking powder so you will need more baking powder in the absence of baking soda. Bear in mind that too much baking powder can leave your baked goods with a bitter taste.

Alternatively, when your recipe calls for baking powder but you have baking soda, add an acid to your mixture to kickstart the chemical process. You will also need less baking soda than you would baking powder.

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