When I first started baking I asked myself a few too many times if baking powder and baking soda were the same. Honestly, it is a valid question that I have had others ask me as well. Most, like myself, want to know because they are looking for a substitute for one or the other when they are baking. Uh oh - I am missing an ingredient I need and can I use baking powder and baking soda interchangeably?
Simply put, they are not the same. Baking powder actually includes baking soda in its list of ingredients. To it, dry acids are added for activation. Baking powder is a combination of baking soda, cream of tartar, and other stabilizers like cornstarch. Baking soda on the other hand is simply bicarbonate of soda.
So which is better for baking? Both really. They are leavening ingredients that help add lift, fluffiness, and air to baked goods. The sodium bicarbonate in each of them will release gases that expand so you get that lift that makes cookies, cake, pancakes, and more light & airy.
Difference Between Baking Powder & Baking Soda
Baking powder has a combination of ingredients, including powdered acid to help activate it. The cream of tartar in the baking powder only needs a liquid and some heat to create a fluffy texture.
On the other hand, baking soda is straight sodium bicarbonate. It does not have an acid that will activate it. Therefore, a recipe will need some sort of acid to help it along. Whether it is paired up with baking powder too or another acid, such as lemon juice, buttermilk, or yogurt.
Different Uses for Each
Whether you bake or clean with baking soda and baking powder, they do have different uses. Both are recommended and needed in many recipes, such as cakes and quick bread. However, both are not recommended for cleaning with one having a clear advantage over the other.
Baking Powder vs Baking Soda for Baking
The difference between the two when it comes to baking is subtle. Baking powder is a more complete leavening agent as it has its own acid included. So if you are not adding something like juice or yogurt, baking powder is better for your recipe. Baking powder tends to make recipes more fluffy and tender than baking soda since it does reactive and gives off more gas. However, baking soda browns more than baking powder which adds more color to many baked goods.
Baking Powder vs Baking Soda for Cleaning
Baking soda along with a liquid, such as vinegar, activates into a tough cleaning solution. It dissolves all sorts of organic compounds like dirt, grease, and sticky residues. Baking soda particles are gentle and non-abrasive. This makes it a great way to clean without scratching any surfaces like counters, cutting boards, and pots & pans.
Baking powder, on the other hand, does little to help with household cleaning. Even though baking soda is an ingredient in baking powder, it is in too small a quantity to make it a good cleanser. Baking soda is 3x stronger than baking powder. Therefore, baking powder will do little to clean up your surfaces. Plus, once activated with water or vinegar will be pastier due to the cornstarch and cream of tartar. Stick with baking soda for cleaning and save the baking powder for baking.
Recipes without Baking Soda or Baking Powder
Many baked goods are made without baking soda and/or baking powder. Sometimes they use yeast for that tender dough that is soft and fluffy. Other recipes tend to be things like crackers or crusts for desserts. All are wonderful and use no baking soda or baking powder.
Try one of these recipes - my favorite of them is the savory cracker-like treat that is addicting. And perfect with your favorite wine - Taralli, Italian Black Pepper Cookies. It is a family recipe that has been around for decades. Also, if you want to make cookies and have no baking powder, my Chocolate Chip Cookies without Brown Sugar or Baking Powder, are unreal. They are soft, chewy, and loaded with gooey melty chocolate.
Testing for Freshness
Baking takes up time and ingredients. There is nothing worse than baking a cake that doesn't rise or making cookies that are not soft and chewy. If you are not sure how old your baking powder is, you may want to test it for freshness. Always store your baking powder in an air-tight container in a cool dark place.
Over the course of a year or due to your environment such as the lid was not on tight or you are living in a high-humidity area, baking powder can go bad. To make sure it is still reactive and good for baking, add a teaspoon of baking powder into ½ cup of water, and stir. If it bubbles up, it’s fresh.
Baking soda is best stored in the refrigerator. Many people, myself included, have the box opened a bit so it also helps with the odors of the refrigerator. But that also means it may take on the smell/taste. I suggest having a box that is opened and then covered with plastic wrap in your refrigerator. Plus a second one for just the air freshening power. This will keep your baking soda fresh and neutral-tasting.
To test baking soda for freshness, you want to make sure you have an activator. So add a ¼ teaspoon of baking soda to a small bowl. Also, add in 1 tablespoon of vinegar. If you see bubbles, it is fresh. No bubbles then it is old and needs to be replaced.
Baking Powder Substitute
- ⅓ Tablespoon Baking Soda
- ⅔ Tablespoon Cream of Tartar
- In a small bowl, add each ingredient. Stir to combine the two together.
- Use as a replacement for any recipe that calls for 1 tablespoon or less of baking powder.
- Store any leftovers in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.