What is the difference between baking soda and baking powder? If you bake, you frequently discover the two ingredients in recipes for baked goods. Sometimes recipes call for baking soda, sometimes baking powder and sometimes both ingredients are needed. What is the difference between baking soda and baking powder and what should you know about the kitchen chemistry of the two baking ingredients?
Baking soda and baking powder are both used to leaven, or raise, recipes. Both baking powder and baking soda function to help baked goods rise and get a light, spongy texture. Both pantry ingredients result in the production of carbon dioxide, which creates the “bubbly,” sponge-like appearance common in light and fluffy baked goods. Sometimes the two are both required in a recipe to achieve the proper amount of leavening.
Baking soda and baking powder have similar functions, so how are they different? The difference between the two is in their chemical formulae. Baking soda is simply a sodium bicarbonate, while baking powder is a sodium bicarbonate combined with an acid in one container.
Baking powder produces leavening on its own. Because of baking powder’s chemical composition, baking powder is capable of reacting within a recipe on its own in the presence of moisture or heat to produce enough carbon dioxide to raise the dough or batter. Double-acting baking powder creates more leavening as components react in both moisture and heat.
Baking soda requires additional ingredients to create a leavened cake or muffin. Baking powder causes the production of carbon dioxide gas all on its own, without the help of other baked good ingredients. In order for baking soda to cause a cake or muffin to rise, it needs to combine with an acidic ingredient such as lemon juice, applesauce or brown sugar. The baking soda reacts with the acid to form the carbon dioxide gas bubbles and raise the recipe.
Can baking soda be substituted for baking powder? Baking soda will not make a cake or baked good rise on its own in place of baking powder. In certain recipes, baking soda may be used alone—if there is an acidic ingredient in the recipe to create the required carbon dioxide reaction. To substitute baking soda for baking powder, the recipe may require additional changes if there are no acidic ingredients in the mix.