Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder
Two of the most often used ingredients in baking, that when used incorrectly, can produce disastrous results.
How are they similar?
The most obvious answer is that both are leavening agents used in baking that produce carbon dioxide which causes goods to rise. They also both contain sodium bicarbonate.
How are they different?
Let’s start with baking soda. Baking soda is pure sodium bicarbonate. When it is combined with an acidic ingredient (honey, buttermilk, chocolate, citrus, etc.) a chemical reaction occurs which produces bubbles of carbon dioxide that expand under oven temperatures and thus causes whatever you’re baking to rise. Baking soda reacts immediately upon being mixed into the wet ingredients, so recipes containing baking soda must be baked right away. Baking soda is about four times as “strong” as baking powder.
Baking powder contains baking soda, cream of tartar (acidic ingredient) and usually corn starch (as a drying agent). There are two types of baking powder: single acting and double acting. Single acting baking powder is similar to baking soda in that the chemical reaction (carbon dioxide releasing to form bubbles and rising) begins when it is mixed with the wet ingredients. Therefore, products containing single acting baking powder must be baked right away. Double acting baking powder reacts in two phases. The first phase happens at room temperature with the wet ingredients and the second, more substantial phase, happens while being baked in the oven. Because of this second phase, goods containing double acting baking powder do not need to be baked right away.
Effect on Taste
Baking soda is basic and will taste bitter unless there is an acidic ingredient present to counteract it. Acidic ingredients generally include: buttermilk, honey, citrus, sour cream, or chocolate.
Baking powder has a neutral effect on taste. It is used in products where there isn’t much of an acidic ingredient present.
What happens if I use too much?
If you put too much of either ingredient into a recipe, both will cause a bitter / soapy taste. In addition, too much baking soda or baking powder will cause a very fast rise and an even faster fall after the product is removed from the oven.
Can I use baking soda and baking powder interchangeably?
No. Getting into the habit of messing with a baking recipe can lead to some undesired results. However, if you are in a pinch you can make your own baking powder by combining two parts cream of tartar with one part baking soda and one part corn starch. For example, if the recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of baking powder you would add ½ teaspoon cream of tartar, ¼ teaspoon baking soda and ¼ teaspoon corn starch.
Odds and Ends
The general rule of thumb for the amount of baking powder in recipes is 1 to 2 teaspoons of baking powder will leaven 1 cup of flour. However, the actual amount will depend on the ingredients and how they are mixed so it is best to stick with an established recipe or try your own out several times before expecting perfect results.