Pastry Chef Tip #8 ~ Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder: Aren't they the same?

The 2 main things baking powder and baking soda have in common are: they are fine white powders and leaveners.  Leaveners generate gas during the mixing and baking that cause the rising of the baked good.  (Unless you are using yeast.)

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What is Baking Soda?

Baking soda aka sodium bicarbonate is a quick-acting leavener. When baking soda meets with heat, carbon dioxide gas is formed.  Essentially, the gas batter/dough to rise.  Baking soda (which is alkaline) has to be blended with moisture and an acidic ingredient (such as yogurt, buttermilk, molasses, brown sugar, cream of tartar, chocolate, or unsweetened cocoa powder) to start the chemical reaction and neutralize undesirable byproducts created by the gas.

Fun baking soda facts

  • Baking soda is 3-4x stronger than baking powder.
  • Adding more baking soda doesn't mean more rising.
  • Use just enough baking soda to react with the acid. 
  • Metallic, soapy, bitter tastes in a baked product can indicate too much baking soda and/or not enough acid.
  • ~1/4 teaspoon of baking soda per 1 cup of flour in a recipe.

What is Baking Powder?

Baking powder consists of baking soda, cream of tartar (a dry acid), and cornstarch.

Since baking powder already contains an acid to neutralize its baking soda, it is most often used when a recipe does not call for an additional acid.  However, there are exceptions and baking powder can still be used as the leavening agent in recipes requiring an acid.

Fun baking powder facts

  • "Double-acting’ baking powders first release a small amount of carbon dioxide gas when they’re stirred into the batter or dough.  Second, the heat of the oven triggers the release of the majority of their gases.
  • ~1 teaspoon of baking powder per 1 cup of flour in a recipe.

Substituting baking soda for baking powder

It is possible, as long as there's enough of an acid to create a reaction.

To balance the substitution you would also need to increase the amount of acid which may change the taste and texture of your final product.  For example :  1/2 teaspoon baking soda would require 1 cup of buttermilk, yogurt, or 1 teaspoon lemon juice or vinegar).  .  

Baking soda has 3-4X the power of baking powder.  1/4 teaspoon soda = 1 teaspoon of baking powder. 

Substituting baking powder for baking soda

Because baking powder consists of baking soda (and other ingredients) substitutions are not generally recommended.  3-4x as much baking powder would be required to get the same amount of rise as baking soda.  However, the challenge is using just enough for rising without ending up with a chemical taste in the final product.  (Remember, baking soda is 3-4x stronger than baking powder,)

Why do some recipes call for both?

These recipes contain some sort of acid (yogurt, brown sugar, etc), however the carbon dioxide created from the acid and baking soda is not enough to make the batter rise. Baking powder is also used to aid in the rise.

Take buttermilk for example; it is used partly for its tangy flavor and acidic quality.  However, if only baking soda is used, it could neutralize all of the buttermilk’s flavor and acid.  By including baking powder (contains acid), some of the buttermilk’s flavor remains and for rising to occur.

Baking soda and baking powder will start working as soon as they get wet, so be sure to first mix them with the other dry ingredients. 

Don’t forget they expire, so google to learn how to test them!

Decadently yours,

Chef Maria

Maria KempComment