You need a leavening agent for some baking recipes to get the right texture and volume. Baking soda and baking powder are both leavening agents that are used in baking. But those products aren’t the same. So what is the difference between them? Why do you use a leavening agent? Can you substitute them for each other? In this blog post, I will explain everything to you.
When I started out baking I really thought that baking soda and baking powder were the same product. Therefore I made the mistake to substitute them for each other. But did you know that those products aren’t the same? There are some real differences between baking soda and baking powder.
What is a leavening agent?
A leavening agent is a substance that causes the dough to expand by releasing gas once mixed with liquid, acid, or heat. It refers to all the gases that are trapped in a baked good during baking. It is used to increase the volume and lighten the texture of baked goods. Leavening is really important in baking. Baking powder and baking soda are both forms of chemical leavening.
What do baking powder and baking soda do?
Baking powder and baking soda are both a form of chemical leavening and are used to increase the volume and lighten the texture of baked goods. A chemical leavener is a compound or a mixture that is added to dough or batter and releases gases when it reacts with an acidic ingredient or heat. This gas gets trapped in the structure of baked goods as it bakes and leavens them.
Acidic ingredients are ingredients that react with baking powder or baking soda.
- brown sugar
- cream of tartar
- natural cocoa powder (not dutch processed)
- sour cream
- lemon juice
- melted chocolate
What is baking soda?
Baking soda is also called sodium bicarbonate or bicarbonate of soda. Baking soda is single-acting, it only reacts once it is combined with moisture. When combined with an acid, carbon dioxide gas forms, producing bubbles that make the dough or batter rise.
If a recipe does not have an acid ingredient that can react with the baking soda, the baking soda will not be activated in time and won’t work. That will result in a not fully leaven baked good. Baking soda will also leave a metallic aftertaste if it does not interact with an acidic ingredient.
You might have noticed that recipes call for less baking soda than the amount of baking powder. That is because baking soda is about 3-4 times more powerful than baking powder.
You can use baking soda not only as a chemical leavener for baking but also for a lot of other uses. A few examples where baking soda is used – as a natural cleaner, to wash clothes, whiten teeth, to treat nail infections.
What is baking powder?
Baking powder is a dry mixture made of a combination of baking soda and an acidic ingredient. It is a complete leavening system, meaning that it doesn’t need an additional acidic ingredient in the recipe to do its work. When baking powder is hydrated it will react. Baking powder is only used for baking.
There are two types of baking powder
- Single-acting baking powder reacts when hydrated and does not need heat to react.
- Double-acting baking powder reacts when hydrated and reacts again when heat is introduced. This is the most common form of baking powder.
How to substitute baking soda for baking powder
Baking soda is about 3 times more powerful than baking powder and needs an acid to work. So if a recipe calls for baking powder, you will need less baking soda (1 baking soda : 3 baking powder) and you need to increase the volume of acid ingredients. For every 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda, you will need about 1 teaspoon of lemon juice or vinegar.
How to substitute baking powder for baking soda
Baking soda is about 3 times more powerful than baking powder. So if a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of baking soda, you will want to substitute that for 3 teaspoons of baking powder. Make sure that your baking powder is still active.
How to store baking powder?
Baking powder can be stored in its original packaging in the pantry away from heat and moisture. Measure baking powder with a dry utensil. Otherwise, it can cause a chemical reaction inside the can and it may not work. Don’t store the baking powder in a freezer or refrigerator, because the condensation can cause a chemical reaction. Baking powder has a shelf life of about 3–12 months. I recommend buying small packages of baking powder.
How can you check if baking powder still has its power?
You can test the freshness of baking powder by mixing 1/2 tsp of baking powder with 1/4 cup of water. The mixture will bubble if the baking powder is still active.
How to store baking soda?
Sealed baking soda can be kept for 2-3 years. Place it in a resealable plastic bag and let all the air out. Store it in a dark, cool, and dry place. Keep baking soda away from strong odors and spices, because it can absorb the smell. Use dry measuring spoons whenever you remove baking soda for a recipe.
How can you check if baking soda still has its power?
Place a little bit of baking soda in a bowl and add some vinegar. The mixture will bubble if the baking powder is still active.
Baking powder and baking soda are both a form of chemical leavening. They are used in recipes to increase the volume and lighten the texture of baked goods. The big difference between baking soda and baking powder is that baking soda is pure sodium bicarbonate and needs an acid ingredient to be activated. Baking powder is a combination of baking soda and an acidic ingredient. Therefore if you are using baking powder in a recipe you don’t need to add an extra acidic ingredient.
Another difference between baking powder and baking soda is that baking soda is 3 times more powerful than baking powder. Because of that, you cannot substitute baking soda and baking powder 1:1. If you substitute them you can substitute 1 baking soda : 3 baking soda. You will need to add more acid ingredients if you are substituting baking soda for baking powder.
Also, the lifetime between baking soda and baking powder is different. Sealed baking soda can last for 2-3 years after opening and baking powder for 3 months – to 1 year.