Baking Basics: Baking Powder vs Baking Soda.

Become a better baker by learning the real differences between baking powder and baking soda– in easy-to-understand language!

Learn everything you need to know about the differences between baking powder and baking soda. Complete, easy-to-understand details!

Welcome back to my Baking Basics series! In the past few weeks, I had a little logo made. You like? (Thanks Kath!)

Today I’m discussing one of the most confusing subjects in the entire realm of baking. Something that boggles (I accidentally just typed “boogles” ??) the mind of nearly everyone on earth. Or at least those who care. (Me! Me!) What is the difference between baking powder and baking soda? Are they the same? Can I sub one for the other without changing anything else?

If there is one thing that you take away from today’s lesson, let it be this: baking powder and baking soda are absolutely not the same.

Baking powder and baking soda are both leaveners, however they are chemically different.

Learn everything you need to know about the differences between baking powder and baking soda. Complete, easy-to-understand details!

What is Baking Soda?

Aka bicarbonate of soda or sodium bicarbonate.

Let’s start with baking soda because it’s the most confusing. I’m going to geek out for a sec. First, baking soda is a BASE. Do you remember the science experiment we all did in school? Mixing baking soda with vinegar and watching an eruption of bubbles? Usually we did this in some sort of model volcano contraption. I know you know. When you mix baking soda (BASE) with vinegar (ACID) you get a chemical reaction (an eruption of bubbles!). A product of this reaction is carbon dioxide.

The same exact reaction happens in our cookies, cakes, breads, etc. When a recipe calls for baking soda (BASE), it usually calls for some type of ACID. Like buttermilk, brown sugar, yogurt, lemon juice, vinegar, cream of tartar, molasses, applesauce, natural cocoa powder (not dutch process), or honey. You need this ACID in the recipe to react with the baking soda, which in turn creates carbon dioxide and allows your baked good to rise.

Baking soda is strong. In fact, it is about 3-4x stronger than baking powder. More baking soda in a recipe doesn’t necessarily mean more lift. You want to use *just enough* to react with the amount of acid in the recipe. Too much baking soda and not enough acid means there will be leftover baking soda in the recipe. You do not want that; it creates a metallic, soapy taste in your baked goods. Ick.

Good rule of thumb: I usually use around 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda per 1 cup of flour in a recipe.

Baking soda CAN leaven a baked good when exposed to heat. However, unless it is neutralized with an acid, your finished baked good will likely have a metallic aftertaste– like I mention above. Get it? Got it? Good.

Learn everything you need to know about the differences between baking powder and baking soda. Complete, easy-to-understand details!

What is Baking Powder?

Baking powder contains baking soda. It is a mixture of baking soda, cream of tartar (a dry acid), and sometimes cornstarch. These days, most baking powder sold is double acting. This means that the first leavening occurs when baking powder gets wet– like when you combine the dry and wet ingredients in the recipe. (This is why you cannot prepare some batters ahead of time to bake later– because the baking powder has already been activated.) The second leavening occurs when the baking powder is heated.

Double (first, second) acting.

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 acidic ingredient. Like my sugar cookies. However, this isn’t always the case. You can still use baking powder as the leavening agent in recipes calling for an acidic ingredient. Like my lemon cake. In my recipe development, I based my lemon cake recipe off of my vanilla cake recipe. I used buttermilk (acid) instead of regular milk for added moisture and a little tang and subbed a little brown sugar (acid) for granulated sugar– again, for added moisture. I was pleased with the rise and taste of the cake, so I did not experiment with using baking soda.

I know. It’s definitely confusing.

Good rule of thumb: I usually use around 1 teaspoon of baking powder per 1 cup of flour in a recipe.

Learn everything you need to know about the differences between baking powder and baking soda. Complete, easy-to-understand details!

Why do some recipes call for both?

Some recipes call for both baking powder and baking soda. 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 leaven the volume of batter in the recipe. That’s why baking powder is used as well– to add necessary lift.

Basically, the reason for both is because sometimes you need more leavening than you have acid available in the recipe. It’s all about balance.

Another reason to use both baking powder and baking soda is because they affect both browning and flavor. Fine Cooking breaks it down easily: let’s take my buttermilk pancake recipe. In my recipe, buttermilk is used partly for its tangy flavor. If we used only baking soda, it could neutralize all of the buttermilk’s acid. And we’d lose that tanginess! However, by including baking powder as well (which has its own acid), some of the buttermilk’s flavor is left behind, and there is still enough leavening for fluffy pancakes.

Yeah. Take a bite outta that.

Simple and FUN Funfetti Buttermilk Pancakes on

How to Substitute

It’s tricky, which is why I never recommend it without background knowledge (and the expectancy that your baked good will not taste as intended).

If you have a recipe calling for baking soda, you might be able to substitute baking powder. However, you will need up to 4x as much baking powder to get the same amount of leavening. And, depending on the recipe, you might end up with a baked good that’s a little bitter with that much baking powder. You can sub baking soda for baking powder only if you increase the amount of acid in the recipe– which likely changes the taste and texture of your baked good. You’d also need less baking soda since it is about 3-4x stronger.

So, uh, just stick to the recipe!

Don’t Forget– They Expire!

I replace my baking powder and soda every 3 months, just to be sure they are always fresh for my recipes. I always date them on the bottom of the container. If you aren’t a baking addict freak like I am, chances are you’ll have to test your baking powder and soda for effectiveness before using.

How To Test Baking Powder

To test baking powder, pour 3 Tablespoons of warm water into a small bowl. Add 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder. Give it a light stir. The mixture should moderately fizz if the powder is fresh. If there is no reaction, toss the baking powder and buy a fresh package.

How To Test Baking Soda

To test baking soda, pour 3 Tablespoons of white distilled vinegar into a small bowl. Add 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda. Give it a light stir. The mixture should rapidly bubble if the soda is fresh. If there is no reaction, toss the baking soda and buy a fresh package.

Learn everything you need to know about the differences between baking powder and baking soda. Complete, easy-to-understand details!

That’s it for today! Did I completely bore you? Hello?

For anyone still here, don’t forget that baking is CHEMISTRY and it takes practice, trial and error, and the willingness to learn in order to succeed.

Stay tuned for a massively tasty chemistry project tomorrow. Cooooooookies!



164 Responses to “Baking Basics: Baking Powder vs Baking Soda.”

  1. #
    yvetteposted February 24, 2016 at 6:22 am

    Hi, thanks for this very clear explanation. . I also like  your rules of thumbs for the measurements.  Do you you also have a rule of thumb for the amount of acid that is needed for 1 cup flour, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda ….??? amount of acid.
    that would be very helpful. 


  2. #
    Shafiunposted February 26, 2016 at 8:03 pm

    Thanks for this basic tips ! It is helpful for me and others too. 


  3. #
    Keithposted March 7, 2016 at 12:03 pm

    Great explanation Sally and it explains why I have had some disasters on my hands.

     I am a Brit living in Germany but using German products with English recipes. Confusing in English but worse in German !!!!!


    • Caroreplied on May 1st, 2016 at 6:20 am

      Hi, it’s just as easy or difficult as in England – baking powder is called Backpulver and baking soda is Natron

      Greetings from Germany 


  4. #
    carlaposted March 13, 2016 at 4:09 pm

    This was very informational. Thank you so very much for the break down and the TEST I had forgotten that part.


  5. #
    Vimalaposted March 15, 2016 at 6:49 am

    I don’t have baking soda and and it is not available in my place.. But I am having baking powder, A recipe need both.. What shall I do.. Shall I use the amount of baking powder required as per the recipe and 4 th amount of baking powder (required baking soda)


  6. #
    Benjaminposted March 17, 2016 at 6:57 pm

    Thanks for the clear cut differences between baking soda and baking powder. While reading, I realized that I wanted to learn more about different styles of cooking with baking soda/powder. For example, what effect does frying have on a recipe containing baking soda/powder. If the inside still stays somewhat moist (like a fritter) will the powder/soda completely react?


  7. #
    Leeshana Narainsamyposted March 21, 2016 at 1:01 am

    Thank you so much for this. Explained perfectly and it answered all my questions. 


  8. #
    Pritaposted March 21, 2016 at 6:15 am

    Thank you so much for the clear reply.
    In India Baking soda is sometimes called Cooking soda or Meetha soda.


  9. #
    Josetteposted March 22, 2016 at 3:09 pm

    Thx for clear explanations about the mysteries of baking soda and baking powder!!!!


  10. #
    Nancy @ imadethisdishposted April 19, 2016 at 7:18 am

    Hi Sally
    Thank you for sharing in details about Baking Soda and Baking Powder! I had problem of understanding the difference between them. Your tips and tricks really helped me to learn new things and were very useful! I shared this to my friends and family..
    Thank you again!



  11. #
    spnycposted April 29, 2016 at 7:57 am

    Txxxx so much–I had just realized I only have baking soda for a muffin recipe that calls for baking powder and baking soda. I’d hoped to avoid a trip to the super market, but after reading your post I completely understand why I need to stick to the recipe. Thanks again!


  12. #
    Kaitlinposted April 29, 2016 at 3:45 pm

    Wow, this was actually VERY helpful. I myself am an amateur baker, and I love it sooo  much! It’s my favorite thing to do (besides eat em;) haha) but I always want to improve my baking skills and learn to make up my own recipes and I know the leavening is a big part of being able to do that. This was a big help! I’ve a real passion for baking and that won’t ever change, but maybe my recipes will ;D thanks for the tips Sally, keep ’em comin’ 🙂


  13. #
    Khaledposted May 9, 2016 at 7:44 am

    Thank you so much for the detailed explanation it was really helpful. I’m becoming a fan of your page and your style in writing and explaining. With a passion such as this you’re a star that is guiding us (me). Thank you, and very much appreciate what you do. 


  14. #
    Mabesposted May 22, 2016 at 9:53 am

    If you can believe – Ive never baked a day in my life and now that i am starting to explore it a bit, your helpful tips help me understand and actually make it fun to learn more about it! Thanks for keeping it interesting and easy to understand especially for baking dummies like me


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