Difference between Baking Soda and Baking Powder

Published on December 2, 2016

If you are into baking, you have surely come across ingredients like baking soda and baking powder. And you probably have asked yourself, “Can I use baking powder instead of baking soda?” 

They are both leavening agents and they look similar. However, they are used differently in various situations. In this article we will discuss the difference between baking soda and baking powder. 

Definitions

Baking Soda vs Baking Powder
Baking Soda and Baking Powder

Baking soda, also called “bicarbonate of soda” or “pure sodium bicarbonate,” is a base. When mixed with acid and moisture, the chemicals react and result in an eruption of carbon dioxide bubbles. This reaction and its exposure to heat makes baked goods rise. Most recipes that require the use of baking soda also require an acidic ingredient like yogurt, vinegar, or lemon, which is also used to offset its bitter metallic taste. Baking soda is usually used in cookies and quick breads, for example.

On the other hand, Baking powder consists of a base, an acid, and an inert stabilizer to avoid a premature chemical reaction. It is a combination of cream of tartar (dry acid), baking soda (base), and cornstarch (so the former ingredients do not react with each other unless exposed to moisture). Moreover, baking powder can be single-acting, which means gas is released upon contact with moisture and the recipe should be baked right away. It can also be double-acting, which means that the gas is released upon mixing it with the other ingredients and then is continuously released under oven temperature. Cake recipes usually call for baking powder.

Baking Soda vs Baking Powder

What, then, is the difference between baking soda and baking powder?

Baking soda is a base and it needs an acidic element – like vinegar, lemon, or buttermilk – for the baked goods to rise under heat. Baking powder, on the contrary, already contains an acid (cream of tartar) and a base (baking soda) so its leavening characteristics are already active upon mixing it with the other liquid ingredients.

For recipes that require baking soda, baking powder can be used instead (more baking powder will be needed, however, which may alter the taste of the baked good). However, if the recipe needs baking powder, pure baking soda cannot be used as a replacement since it does not have an acidic component.

Comparison Chart

Baking Soda Baking Powder
Pure sodium bicarbonate A mixture of cream of tartar, cornstarch, and baking soda
Base Has an acid and a base
Needs acidifying ingredient  Already contains an acidifying agent