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What is the difference between baking powder and baking soda?

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  • What is the difference between baking powder and baking soda?

    What is the difference between baking powder and baking soda?

    In this article, we answer what most bakers have been asking for quite some time. This article is part of our very own Bakerro’s Baking School series.


    What is the difference between baking soda and baking powder?


    What is Baking Soda?

    Baking soda is just sodium bicarbonate, and it is alkaline (meaning on the pH scale, it’s the side of being a base, or a pH above 7).

    You’d want to use baking soda if your recipe contains a large amount of acidic ingredients (such as buttermilk, honey, vinegar, coffee, natural cocoa powder, etc.), because when you bake you want your acids and bases to be balanced. Baking soda also causes an immediate chemical reaction with acids, so your baked goods will rise very quickly.

    Baking powder is a little different. Even though it contains the same active ingredient as baking soda, it also has an addition of weak acids which pull it slightly toward the acidic side of the pH scale (pH below 7).

    With that said, you’d use this in recipes featuring more alkaline ingredients, such as Dutch processed cocoa, certain fruits, etc.


    What is Baking Powder?

    Baking powder has a more delayed chemical reaction, so if you use it your baked goods will rise more slowly but for a longer period of time (this is because most baking powder is double acting and will therefore only react with added liquid and added heat). You’ll probably find yourself using baking soda more often than baking powder, as it’s more common in recipes.

    Some recipes will call for both leavening agents, and if that’s the case, be sure to follow what the recipe says.

    That would often be because the ingredients are fairly “balanced” and not heavily acidic or basic so to speak, but in this case the primary leavening agent would be the baking powder.


    Baking Powder or Soda - which to use for baking?

    If you need to substitute for baking soda the rule of thumb is to use 3-4x the amount of baking powder (ie baking soda is that much stronger). the consequence is less color, softer texture and a risk of bitterness.

    Substituting for baking powder is a little harder and requires things like cream of tartar (wine byproduct) and cornstarch to do it properly or finding the right balance between some baking soda and an acid. the consequence is a darker look, crispier texture, and a risk of metallic taste.

    Too much of either baking agent might cause your dough to rise too fast and collapse (it makes huge bubbles that burst)

    Too little of either baking agent might cause your dough to be rough, heavy, and lack volume

    Make sure to mix either baking agent thoroughly with the dry ingredients otherwise you might suffer the consequences too much/little of it in varying parts of your baked good

    If you're getting creative or adjusting baking recipes a good rule of thumb ratio of flour to baking powder is 1 cup to 1-2 teaspoons (the higher the tsp the more lift)


    What I learnt from my experience

    Baking powder and baking soda are both leaveners, but they are chemically different and that’s why they are used in combination at times while others we opt for one and not the other.

    Baking soda is a base chemical which it means it reacts to acids. Too much of it and you’ll end up with an inedible final product that taste like a bar soap or metal while if too little it won't raise as much.

    It’s generally used in combination with lemon juice, buttermilk, yogurt, cream of tartar, brown sugar and so on.

    I generally use it for cookies or some kinds of cake where i know that a lot of acids will be present and i don’t want the final product to taste acidic.

    Baking powder on the other hand is baking soda mixed with some acid powder and sometime starch. Baking powder has a double action, first it reacts when it’s mixed with a liquid by neutralizing some of the acids and then it reacts again when exposed to heat. So you can bake a citrus cake and keep some of the sourness without having to compromise on lightness.

    Baking powder is less powerful than baking soda and this is also one of the reasons that products with baking powder cannot be kept for a later baking but must be put in the oven as soon as possible.

    Some recipes call for both baking powder and baking soda, the reason behind is that sometime the amount of carbon dioxide (gas) created from the acid in the recipe (be it lemon juice, yogurt or some other acid ingredients) and baking soda is not enough to leaven the amount of batter.

    That’s when baking powder comes into play to add the necessary lift that our recipe needs.

    Check out our Baking School tutorials where you soak in the fun of baking!

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