Baking a cake? The list of ingredients shows baking powder or baking soda or both. But what exactly are these two ingredients? The resemblance in name, similar in looks, used in baking, anybody can easily get confused as to whether they are the same thing or different? If they are the same then what are the similarities? And if different, then what is the difference between baking soda and baking powder?

This post tells you how these two similar-looking ingredients are different and whether there is any similarity between the two, as I strongly believe in the mantra: Know Your Ingredients, And, Be A Smart Baker. It is really important to have the right understanding of each of these as this can make a huge difference to the quality of your bakes.

Difference between Baking Soda And Baking Powder

 

Baking Soda Or Baking Powder

  • Both Baking Soda and Baking Powder are leavening agents but they are chemically different. 
  • They cannot be interchanged with each other.
  • Using the wrong amount of Baking Soda or Baking powder or interchanging these two can significantly alter the texture of your baked dishes.

 And before we proceed any further let us first understand what is meant by leavening agents.

 

What Are Leavening Agents? 

  • Leavening Agents are added to baked products before baking to produce bubbles of carbon dioxide and cause them to rise.
  • When heated, these bubbles expand and create channels, which is what gives baked goods a fluffy and light texture. The trapped carbon dioxide bubbles are what allows the baked goods to expand/rise.
  • Probably now you know why your cake/ dhokla gets double in size.
  • There are three commonly used leavening agents. These are :
    1. Baking Soda,
    2. Baking Powder and
    3. Yeast.

Yeast is a separate topic in itself and hence not covering it in this post.

Must Read: Homemade ENO Fruit Salt

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What is Baking Soda?

  • Baking soda is commonly known as Cooking soda.  In the Hindi language, Baking Soda is called 'Meetha soda'  or 'khane ka soda'.
  • Thus, Baking Soda, Cooking Soda, Meetha Soda, Khane ka soda.... they all mean the same thing.... different names of the same thing.
  • It is basically a chemical and that is, Sodium Bicarbonate
  • It is a BASE (alkaline), having a high pH and needs to be balanced by adding an acid, which has a low pH.
  • Therefore, whenever baking soda is used it is necessary to use some kind of acid so that a chemical reaction takes place  (wherein carbon dioxide is released) and its use gives the desired results.
  • So, whenever you use baking soda in a recipe then ensure to add some kind of acid be it curd or vinegar or lemon juice or citric acid or any other so that your baked goods rise and become soft and fluffy.
  •  If baking soda is added more than required then it will give a soapy taste to your baked products so add cautiously following the recipe.
  • Baking Soda helps in browning and adds a crispier texture to baked goods. This is the reason it is preferred while baking cookies.

Tip: If I am using both baking powder and baking soda in a recipe then as a rule of thumb, I use 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda for every one cup of flour.

 

What is Baking Powder?

  • Baking powder has baking soda (Sodium Bicarbonate), Cream of Tartar (an acid), and Corn Starch (drying agent).
  • As it has both a BASE and an ACID,  its pH is balanced.
  • Baking powder reacts with water or milk only.  When it is mixed with water, a chemical reaction takes place, bubbles form, providing aeration in the batter and making the baked goods fluffy.
  • If baking powder is added more than required then baked goods will have a bitter taste and if added less then the baked goods will be dense so add cautiously following the recipe.
  • Nowadays, we have double-acting baking powder. What is the need to have this?

Role of Double Acting Baking Powder

  1. Nowadays, for commercial purposes, double-acting Baking powders are available which contain more than one acid salts, which are both slow-acting and fast-acting acids.
  2. These slow and fast-acting acid salts release carbon dioxide at different levels of the baking process. 
  3. Some gas is released at room temperature while you mix the batter but the majority of the gas is released at high temperatures when the food is being baked.
  4. This means that the batter rises for a longer period of time, making lots of bubbles thus fluffier cake, muffins etc.

Tip: If I am using both baking powder and baking soda in a recipe then as a rule of thumb, I use 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder for every one cup of flour.

 

 Baking Soda Vs Baking Powder

  Baking Soda Baking Powder
Nature Base Base + Acid
Composition Only Sodium Bicarbonate Sodium Bicarbonate + Cream of Tartar + Corn Starch
Reaction
  • Reacts with Acid
  • Immediate Reaction
  • Reacts with Water
  • Extended Reaction
Uses Used for multiple purposes, baking as well as non-baking items. It makes them soft. Particularly used in eggless cakes. Used only for Baking cakes/cookies. It makes them rise

 

Similarities 

  1. Appearance:  Both are white in color.
  2. Texture:  Both are in powdered form.
  3. Result:  Both produce Carbon Dioxide when exposed to some reaction.
  4. Odor:  Both are odorless.

 

Frequently Asked Questions 

 

Q. What is the purpose of baking soda in baking/cooking?   

A. Baking soda is used in cooking as well as baking. It makes the baked products light and fluffy. You steam Besan dhokla without baking soda and it will be hard and dense. The same dhokla, when steamed after adding baking soda, turns out to be super spongy and soft. The same is the case with baked goods especially eggless cakes. 

 

Q. Why Baking Soda Is Added To Eggless Cakes?

A. When we use eggs in baking then only baking powder is added and they do not require any baking soda as eggs are sufficient to lighten and leaven the baked goods.

In the absence of eggs, we use either baking powder or baking soda or both to achieve the sponginess and fluffiness in cakes. Baking soda, when activated, release bubbles of carbon dioxide that further expands under oven temperatures, causing baked goods to rise. In order to activate baking soda, just ensure that adequate acid, be it curd or vinegar or buttermilk or applesauce or lemon juice is added to it.

 

Q. What is the purpose of baking powder in baking?

A. Baking powder is used only in baking and it rises and expands the baked goods. Whether eggless baking or with eggs, baking powder cannot be avoided except for some exceptions like Vegan Chocolate Muffins

 

Q. Can I bake an eggless cake without baking powder?

A. Yes.  In that case, use baking soda only but ensure that you also use some kind of acid so that baking soda is activated and gives rise and fluffiness to the cake. My Chocolate muffins recipe does not have any baking powder.

 

Q. Can I Use Baking Powder Instead Of Baking Soda?

A. No, if you use Baking powder instead of baking soda then your baked goods will have a softer texture, less colour and will be acidic.

Q. Can I Use Baking Soda Instead Of Baking Powder?

A. No, if you use Baking Soda instead of Baking Powder then your baked goods will taste bitter and also won't rise much. Why?

 

Q. How To Substitute Baking Powder and Baking Soda?

  • Baking soda is much stronger than baking powder, almost 3 to 4 times stronger than baking powder. Just 1 tsp baking soda is equal to 3 tsp of baking powder!
  • So, if you replace the baking powder with baking soda you will be using very little quantity of it which will have a negligible effect, hence not advised.
  • Similarly, if we replace baking soda with baking powder then we require to add too much of it which will give soapy taste to the baked goods, hence not advised.
  • Therefore, for the best fluffy cakes/muffins, just do what the recipe says.

 

Q. Why Baking Soda is added in very little quantity?

A. Baking Soda is added in very little quantity. This is because if too much baking soda is added without having enough acid to react with ( activate it) then there will be unreacted soda leftover which will give a soapy or bitter flavour. So now you know why at times your cake or instant idly or dhokla tastes of soda.

 

Q. Why Do We Use Both Baking Soda And Baking Powder in a Baking Recipe?

A.There are two reasons for this:

  • First is that these recipes usually contain some acidic ingredient like fruit or curd or any other. Baking soda added might be enough to neutralize the acid in the recipe but not actually enough to lift the batter. Little Baking powder will give the extra lift needed to make the recipe perfect. And if only baking powder is used then finished product might taste too acidic.
  • Another reason for using both Baking Soda and Baking Powder in a recipe is that they affect flavour and browning in different ways.

 

Q. How to Check The Expiry Of Baking Soda?

A. Put little, maybe 1/4 tsp Baking soda in a bowl and pour 1/4 tsp Vinegar on it. If the bubbles appear, means it is active. Go ahead with your baking. If not then go-ahead to put it in the trash bin.

Q. How to Check The Expiry Of Baking Powder?

A. Put little, maybe 1/4 tsp Baking powder in a bowl and pour 1/4 tsp Water on it. If the bubbles appear, means it is active. Go ahead with your baking. If not then go-ahead to put it in the trash bin.

Tips

  1. Keep them labelled as there are high chances of getting confused owing to their similar looks. 
  2. They both expire very fast. So, if you are not a regular baker or are baking after a long time then please check and ensure that they are not expired.
  3. Always store these in a cool and dry place.

 

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Baking Powder Vs Baking Soda

This post was originally published in May 2017 and has been republished in July 2020 with updated pics and text.

My heartfelt thanks to the following links as the above article is compiled based on the information provided therein.