What Is the Difference Between Baking Soda & Baking Powder?


I get this question a lot, so I decided to write this simple explanation of what is what and the difference between them. We all know that both baking soda and baking powder are leavening agents, which means they are added to baked goods before cooking to cause them to rise. So why do we use baking soda in one recipe and use baking powder in another recipe? 

Baking Soda

Baking soda is pure sodium bicarbonate. When baking soda is combined with moisture like yogurt, chocolate, buttermilk, or honey, produces bubbles under oven temperatures, causing baked goods to expand or rise. For example, take a look at the recipe for chocolate mocha cake . The reaction begins immediately upon mixing the ingredients, so you need to bake this types of  recipes immediately, or else they will fall flat! Baking soda is usually used for baking cookies like this recipe chocolate chip peanut butter cookiesIf you don't add any baking soda to your cookie batter you will get a flat and hard disk, baking soda not only pushes things up, the holes keep baked goods tender and chewable.

Baking Powder

Baking powder contains sodium bicarbonate, but it also includes cream of tartar and corn starch. Baking powder usually used for baking cakes and is available in single-acting baking powder or double-acting baking powder.  One is not stronger than the other, the difference is when the batter rise. Single-acting baking powder reacts immediately after moisten with liquids while the double-acting baking powder reacts in the hot temperature of the oven.  


Can you substitute baking powder with baking soda? 

Yes, you can substitute, but you need more of baking powder to replace the baking soda. However if a recipe calls for baking powder, you can't replace with baking soda. 


Why some recipes have both baking soda and baking powder? 

Usually cakes that have fruits in the recipes like my persimmons cake or pancakes use both baking soda and baking powder and that is for two reason 1) to neutralize the acid from the fruit and 2) it's for browning effect if there is too much acid the browning doesn't take place. So usually in recipes that I have fruits, I use a little extra baking sod.  

How to make your own baking powder at home?

It's so simple to do: Mix two parts cream of tartar with one part baking soda and one part cornstarch. Store in a cool and dry place for up to several months. 

To test the freshness of your baking powder, either homemade or purchased, add 1 tsp to 1 cup of hot water, the mixture should bubble, if it doesn't, toss it.  


Source information: Food and Cooking Chemistry by Anne Marie Helmenstire, PH.D