Can you substitute cornstarch for baking soda?

In this article, we will answer the question “Can you substitute cornstarch for baking soda?”, and what are the other substitutes in a recipe that calls for baking soda.

Can you substitute cornstarch for baking soda?

No, you cannot substitute cornstarch for baking soda. Cornstarch and baking soda perform different functions in food products. The former helps thicken soups, gravies, custards, and stews to get the desired consistency while the latter is a leavening agent and helps raise dough.

Corn is the main grain in many countries. China is one of them with a golden corn belt. China produces more than 20% of the global corn production in the normal years.  In China, cornstarch accounts for more than 90% of the starch production (1).

What is baking soda?

Baking soda or sodium bicarbonate is a salt. It has an alkaline pH and a salty taste. Apart from its culinary uses, it is used as a fungicide and a deodorizer due to its disinfectant properties. It is also known for its uses as a buffering agent, teeth whitener, fire extinguisher and preventing indigestion when combined with water. Sodium bicarbonate is used for the treatment of metabolic acidosis which may occur in severe renal disease, uncontrolled diabetes, circulatory insufficiency due to shock or severe dehydration, extracorporeal circulation of blood, cardiac arrest and severe primary lactic acidosis (2).

What is cornstarch?

Corn starch or cornflour is ground from the corn kernel. Maize kernel is 72-72% starch by weight and it is present in the grain endosperm. Cornstarch is used as a thickening agent in food. It is used to thicken gravies, curries, soups, and custards.

Cornstarch is obtained by the separation of the corn kernel parts, through the wet milling process. Corn wet milling includes steps for steeping, milling to free germ, germ separation, milling to starch, fiber recovery, and separation of protein and starch (3).

As a result of cornstarch gelation, the liquid develops a translucent appearance rather than an opaque one, which is the case for most thickeners. Therefore, cornstarch is preferred for culinary uses.

It is also used as an anti-caking agent in powdered sugar or baking powder. In the paper industry, it is used as an anti-sticking agent. This versatile product also finds its uses in the textile industry and binders for pharmaceutical products (tablets and pills) (4).

What is the purpose of baking soda in baking?

Baking soda is added to baked goods for its leavening properties. It reacts with the acid to produce carbon-di-oxide which gets trapped in the crumb structure making it fluffy and light.

The sodium carbonate formed by the decomposition of sodium bicarbonate is very alkaline and will tend to give a high pH value to the baked product. This is desirable in some applications, because high pH improves certain flavors in baked goods (7).

Acid can be added in the form of lemon, vinegar, yogurt, cream of tartar or buttermilk, etc. to balance the acidic flavor in the end baked product, milk or dutch processed cocoa may be added.

If acid is not added, baking soda will disintegrate into sodium carbonate which has a high ph(alkaline). This gives the end product a very bitter and soapy flavor.

Substitutes for baking soda

Baking powder

Baking powder is made up of baking soda and an acidic component typically cornstarch. Although baking powder looks a lot like baking soda, the leavening power of baking powder is less than baking soda. To compensate, use greater amounts of baking powder.

Baking powder provides a complete leavening system in a single product. It is composed of sodium bicarbonate, one or more leavening acids, and a diluent, typically starch or calcium carbonate. Salt and acid react with each other in the liquid phase of dough once they come into contact. They are kept separated by the inert component (e.g. dry starch) to avoid a spontaneous reaction (4).

Baking powder has two types:

  1. Single-acting baking powder
  2. Double-acting baking powder

A double-acting baking powder will leave the batter in two stages, first at room temperature as a result of coming in contact with moisture and second when heated in the oven.

Home bakers usually use the single-acting baking powder that leavens the bread in one go.

Potassium Bicarbonate and salt

If you are watching out for your intake of sodium due to health-related issues, this substitute is the way to go. However, consider adding more salt to your recipe to compensate for the low levels of salt in potassium bicarbonate.

Some uses of this salt include:

Potassium bicarbonate is known for its use to lower the uric acid levels and dissolve uric acid stones. Uric acid calculi can be treated with simple medical lytic therapy. After appropriate dietary adjustments and the addition of mineral water, the needed amount of alkali supplementation can increase pH values of the urine in order to dissolve the stones (5).

It is also used as a supplement to help maintain normal levels of potassium in the blood. Low potassium will result in fatigue, upset stomach, irregular heartbeat, and muscle weakness (6).

Just like baking soda, potassium bicarbonate is also used as a buffering agent, fire extinguisher, fungicide, and as an additive by the wine industry.

Baker’s ammonia

It is also known as Ammonium carbonate and its use remained very prevalent in the 13th century. Present age bakers use this to make baked products that have a thin texture like crisps or cookies if you want them to be crispy.

Do not use it to make cakes, doughnuts, muffins, or any baked product with a thick crumb structure, to avoid trapping ammonia and ending up with an end product that tastes like ammonia.

Self-rising flour

Self-rising flour is made up of all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt. When using self-rising flour, avoid adding an acidic ingredient because you have already added it in the form of self-rising flour(baking powder). 

Egg whites

Egg whites, when whipped, help incorporate air into your batters and serve as an excellent leavening agent. Make sure you whip your egg whites to just the right extent and fold gently into the dry ingredients to avoid popping the air bubbles.

Other FAQs about Cornstarch which you may be interested in.

How much cornstarch is in powdered sugar?

How long does it take for cornstarch to thicken?

Does cornstarch expire?


In this article, we answered the question “Can you substitute cornstarch for baking soda?”, and what are the other substitutes in a recipe that calls for baking soda.


  1. Yan, Yunxian, and Zhao Guiyu. The empirical study on price discovery of cornstarch futures market in China. Appl Econ Lett, 2019, 26, 1100-1103. 
  2. PUBCHEM, CID, and Parent Compound CID. Sodium Bicarbonate. 2016.
  3. Gwirtz, Jeffrey A., and Maria Nieves Garcia‐Casal. Processing maize flour and corn meal food products. Annal New York Acad Sci, 2014, 1312, 66-75. 
  4. Russell, C. R., and Y. Pomeranz. Industrial use of corn starch. Symposium Proceedings), American Association of Cereal Chemists, Saint Paul, Minnesota. 1973. 
  5. Barbera, Michele, et al. The importance of potassium citrate and potassium bicarbonate in the treatment of uric acid renal stones. Archivio Ital Urol Androl, 2016, 88, 341-342.  
  6. Lindinger, Michael I., and Simeon P. Cairns. Regulation of muscle potassium: exercise performance, fatigue and health implications. Euro J Appl Physiol, 2021, 121, 721-748.
  7. Otero-Guzmán, Niza Cristina, Eduardo Rodríguez-Sandoval, and Jorge Alexander Tabares-Londoño. Influence of different types of baking powder on quality properties of muffins. Dyna, 2020, 87, 9-16.