Baking Soda or Baking Powder

When should you use Baking Soda or Baking Powder & what’s the difference?

Have you ever wondered when it’s appropriate to use baking soda or baking powder while throwing together ingredients for banana bread or muffins? What’s the difference between the two anyway?

Their names are similar, they look similar, and they seem to be used for similar things so it’s pretty easy to understand why there can be some confusion but after today it’ll be as clear as a bell!

By understanding how they differ you’ll know when to use baking soda vs baking powder, or both. This way, that banana bread, pancakes, or chocolate chip cookies you plan to make will turn out beautiful and fluffy, every time!

choice of baking soda or baking powder

What is Baking Soda & Baking Powder?

Baking soda and baking powder are chemical leavening agents used to help your dough or batter rise by creating and trapping carbon dioxide gas bubbles when activated to create volume and fluffiness.

Baking Soda

Baking soda, aka sodium bicarbonate, is an alkaline powder which requires acids (such as vinegar) to create those gasses. Think back to science class in grade school when your teacher added vinegar to baking soda to create a volcanic eruption. It’s the same thing.

Baking Powder

Baking powder is baking soda but with the addition of an acid salt and a neutral starch and creates light and fluffy textures. Unlike baking soda, which requires you to add in an acidic ingredient, the acid salt in baking powder makes adding acid unnecessary.

There are two types of baking powder: your regular baking powder and then there’s the double-acting baking powder.

As soon as baking powder gets wet it becomes activated and you’ll need to get it baked or fried up as soon as possible before the leavening power dissipates.

That isn’t always ideal as you may need to let your dough or batter sit first. That’s where double-acting baking powder comes in.

If your dough or batter needs to sit out for 15 – 30 minutes then use double-acting baking powder which gets a second wind and activates its leavening power when heat is introduced.

When to Use Baking Soda or Baking Powder

box of baking soda with a small dish of it on top

Remember, baking soda requires acid to activate leavening while baking powder doesn’t since it already contains an acid salt.

If your recipe contains an acidic ingredient, use baking soda. If it contains no acidic ingredients, then use baking powder.

Give my air fryer chocolate chip cookies a try. It contains butter so you’ll want to use a bit of baking soda to activate it.

As a general rule of thumb:

Examples of acidic ingredients

  • lemon juice
  • fruit
  • vinegar
  • yoghurt
  • cocoa powder
  • buttermilk

When You May Need Both

Sometimes, you’ll see a recipe that requires both, and there are a few reasons for this.

  • If you want to retain a certain flavor like buttermilk or lemon juice use a combination of baking soda and baking powder to leave just enough acid to retain some of that flavor. Too much baking soda and the flavor will be neutralized.
  • Sometimes baking soda can’t create enough carbon dioxide to leaven your dough or batter completely because there isn’t enough acid in your recipe. If you use too much baking soda it can result in a soapy flavor so in his case add some baking powder to give it a little boost instead.
  • When you want your recipe to end with a nice brown color and baking powder is the main leavening agent, add some baking soda to create a more alkaline recipe. More alkaline means better browning.

Can I Substitute Baking Powder for Baking Soda?

round container of baking powder

If all you have is baking powder you can use it as an alternative to baking soda. At the end of the day though, baking soda is the better option. Here are some things to consider when you use baking powder as an alternative to baking soda.

  • Baking soda has superior leavening power that’s three times stronger than baking powder.
  • You’ll need three times the amount of baking powder in lieu of baking soda, but it may change the texture and flavor a bit.
  • For every teaspoon of baking soda you’ll need three teaspoons (or 1 tablespoon) of baking powder.
  • Baking powder has a much higher sodium content.
  • If you use too much baking powder things can end up tasting bitter and acidic.

Baking Powder Substitutes

While I think using baking powder when it’s called for is the best practice (and simply works best) you can try these alternatives:

Whipped Egg Whites

Whip up egg whites until foamy, then increase the speed of your mixer until it begins to form soft peaks. Fold them gently into your batter. Don’t over-mix or it will deflate.

Replace Liquids with Club Soda

Club soda is carbonated water that contains baking powder. While it’ll help you with lift, it can water down your recipe and requires trial and error to get it right.

Baking Powder Recipe

Mix 2 parts cream of tartar with 1 part baking soda and use right away. You can add 1 part corn starch if you plan to store long-term, but it’s more cost effective to use baking powder so this is more of a quick remedy.

Note that this is a fast acting recipe so for your baked goods to rise successfully you’ll need to be quick and get it in a preheated oven as quickly as possible after liquid has been added to your dough or batter.

Substitute for Both

If you don’t have baking soda or baking powder you can use self-rising flour which contains flour, salt, and baking powder.

self-rising flour

Shelf Life & Freshness

Shelf Life

Baking soda and baking powder can last forever but their effectiveness diminishes over time.

Baking soda has a shelf life of up to 2 years in an unopened container. An opened container lasts around 6 -8 months.

An unopened bag of baking powder lasts about 1.5 years while an open container can last up to 6 months if it’s stored carefully away from air and moisture.

Test for Freshness

baking soda bubbling in a small spice bowl

BAKING SODA: Add 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda to 3 tablespoons of vinegar. If it bubbles then it’s fresh.

BAKING POWDER: Add 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder to 1 tablespoon of hot water. It’s good if it bubbles.

With this little bit of knowledge you’ll be the master of fluffy pancakes!

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box of baking soda and baking powder

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