How to tell the difference between baking soda and baking powder?

In this brief guide, we are going to answer the question “How to tell the difference between baking soda and baking powder?”, discuss answers to other related questions like which one should you use, and why do some recipes call for both.

How to tell the difference between baking soda and baking powder?

To the average eye and the typical home chef, baking soda and baking powder are practically indistinguishable dry ingredients. Both of these are leaving agents, substances that are used to rice the baking goods. But there are several differences between baking soda and baking powder.

Some experienced and amateur bakers alike often confuse them due to their similar names and appearances, which does not help the distinction between baking soda and baking powder. But it is important to know their different uses. If you don’t know their differences, you can wind up with a baking disaster or baking soda cleaning fiasco on your hands.

Baking soda, a crystalline powder that is alkaline, is chemically named sodium bicarbonate. It becomes activated when it combines with both acid and liquid substances. Once activated, it produces carbon dioxide, which allows baked goods to rise and they become light and fluffy.

On the other hand, baking powder is completely a leavening agent. It is comprised of sodium carbonate and an acidic substance and acts as a buffer. Being a buffer, it prevents the acid and base from activating during storage. 

Baking powder is available as a single or double-acting agent, though, a double-acting agent is more widely used. In the case of double-acting baking powder, the first leavening occurs when baking powder gets wet, whereas the second leavening occurs when the powder is heated. 

Which one should you use?

Baked good mixtures can vary greatly in their acidity level. To produce a desirable baked good, you need to find the right balance between acid and base. So, Baking soda is used in recipes that also include an acidic ingredient, such as cream of tartar, buttermilk, or citrus juice. While the baking powder is typically used when the recipes don’t feature an acidic ingredient, as the powder already includes the acid needed to produce carbon dioxide.

Why do some recipes call for both?

Some recipes may call for both baking powder and baking soda. This is because these recipes contain some sort of acid. However, the carbon dioxide created from the acid and baking soda is not enough to leave the volume of batter in the recipe. That is why baking powder is used as well along with baking soda to add the necessary lift.

Also, both baking soda and baking powder contribute to the flavor and browning of the baked goods. Therefore, some recipes call for both.

How can you substitute these two?

Substituting baking powder for baking soda or baking soda for baking powder is tricky and needs knowledge about the expectancy that your baked good will taste as expected.

To substitute baking soda for baking powder is helpful only if you increase the amount of acid in the recipe, but it will change the taste and texture of the baked goods. Keep in mind that you need less baking soda as it is stronger than baking powder.

To substitute baking powder for baking soda, you need to add baking powder 4 times the amount of baking soda to get the same amount of leavening. Due to that much baking powder, you might end up with a little bitter baked good.

Substitutes for baking soda

Baker’s ammonia

Baker’s ammonia is a practical substitute for baking soda. It is known for imparting distinct crispiness to baked goods, which is particularly desirable in some confections, such as thin, crisp cookies or crackers.

Potassium bicarbonate and salt

Potassium bicarbonate and salt can be used as a 1:1 substitute for baking soda. Its swap is especially handy for those who are trying to cut down on their sodium intake.

Substitutes for baking powder

Buttermilk

Buttermilk is a fermented dairy product with a sour, slightly tangy taste that is often compared to plain yogurt. Because of its acidity, combining buttermilk with baking soda can produce the same leavening effect as baking powder.

Add ½  cup of buttermilk and ¼ teaspoon of baking soda to the rest of your ingredients for an easy substitute for 1 teaspoon of baking powder.

Molasses

Molasses can be used as a substitute for baking powder because it is acidic enough to cause an acid-base reaction when coupled with baking soda. 

Add ¼ cup molasses with ¼ teaspoon baking soda to replace 1 teaspoon of baking powder.

Conclusion:

In this brief guide, we answered the question “How to tell the difference between baking soda and baking powder?”, discussed answers to other related questions like which one should you use, and why do some recipes call for both.

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