Addictive Recipes from a Self-Taught Baker

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!

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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 sallysbakingaddiction.com

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!

268 comments

  1. If one is not working from a recipe, what would be a reasonable guideline for the ratio of soda to acid (e.g., 1/4 tsp baking soda to how much acid)?

  2. How do you prepare buttermilk biscuits ahead of time and freeze the dough to be baked later. I made the biscuits dough, cut them out and froze the dough. They did not raise properly when I pulled them out later and tried to bake them.

  3. Very good explanation of the difference between these two ingridiants… certainly learned a lot from your description …I was a bit confused about the use of the two items….Thanks..

  4. This is amazing! Thank you!! I am a science geek and I think that having this knowledge helps us all become better bakers!!

  5. My baking powders and baking soda are both about a year old. I tested them both like you said to do, but they both bubbled and fizzed immediately. You suggested to replace the baking soda and powder every 3 months. Should I replace mine? Or are they good to go? What is your opinion?

  6. Very well explained.. thanks

  7. Thank you so much for the baking basics. I do baking without any understanding of the basics. I always wanted to learn the basics.  Atleast you will know  why you are adding each ingredients. Your website is a good start for me in the New year. 
    Wish you a happy new year to you as well.

  8. Very good explanation of the two, used to be confused

  9. Good day! I stumbled upon a recipe via YouTube. The recipe calls for:

    45g cocoa powder (dutch)
    3/4 tsp baking soda
    1/8 tsp baking powder
    1 tsp instant coffee + 180ml hot water

    It’s a good chocolate cake recipe, but it does not rise that much… I tried asking the author of the recipe why she uses baking soda predominantly when she uses dutch cocoa powder, but have not gotten an answer. Is the coffee enough to activate the baking soda?

  10. You mentioned that browning and flavor are affected, but did not elaborate on the browning aspect. Would love to know how browning is influenced. Thanks!

    • I have read that an acidic batter/dough won’t brown. That’s why some angel food cakes call for a smidge of lemon juice to increase acidity and reduce browning for a whiter cake. So baking soda alkalizes a batter and allows for better browning. For example in chocolate chip cookies, you don’t really need a lot of lift since each cookie is small and bubbles mostly evaporate before the top can set/hold them in anyway, yet there is usually more baking soda than would have been “necessary” for the amount of flour. But without baking soda to alkalize the dough (i.e. counteract the acid from brown sugar), you would probably have to overcook the cookies before getting that nice appetizing caramel color (and crunch!) around the edges. I read this in Shirley Corriher’s book BakeWise — a fantastic resource about the chemistry of baking if you are interested in learning more! Check your library for it. (:

  11. This was great! It really helped me understand why each recipe calls for a certain type of leavening agent. Again thank you!

  12. That explanation was helpful, and it sounds like baking powder is a kinder gentler baking soda product, i.e. baking soda with its own acid, plus stabilizers. In explaining it that way it makes sense that sometimes the raw ingredient baking soda, itself, must be used.

  13. Thanks so much for this comprehensive explanation!

  14. Hi!!! Thanks a lot, I understood it prfectly 😀 I’m begining to bake, well I just have seen another people baking by now but I’ll try soon(Starting with chocolate chips cookies)

  15. I am trying to customize a lemon cake recipe. I substitute 1/2 a cup of lemon juice for part of the water.

    My dilemma is my leavening. When I use 1 top. Baking soda a day 1 tsp. Baking powder, it dips in the center.

    So I know my amount of baking soda must be wrong.

    It tastes great, so I am wondering if I should just use 2 tsp. Baking powder and leave off the baking soda, or use less baking soda.

  16. I use LSA (Linseeds, Sunflower seed, and almond meal) a lot in recipes. I tend to sub-out most of the flour for LSA instead. I want to attempt your Skinny Strawberry Chocolate Chip Muffins, but using 1 cup of LSA instead of flour, but I’m not sure what changes I would have to make to the baking soda ration to make sure they rise properly with only 1/4 cup of flour in there. Should I add a teaspoon of baking powder as well? I would appreciate any tips you might have. 🙂

  17. I’d like to make banana bread. May I use baking soda and baking power to make the bread be leavened well? Please let me know how to use both.

  18. Can I add baking powder, along with baking soda, to chocolate chip cookies? If so , how much baking powder. I’ve heard, baking powder helps the cookies rise more.

  19. Sally, My comment has nothing to do with baking powder/soda. I found your Birthday Funfetti cupcakes and wondering if it is possible to double the recipe and still get the the same results. Need 40.

  20. I recently baked a Texas Sheet Cake for the first time and realized a day later that I had inadvertently used baking powder instead of baking soda, as the recipe indicated. My cake turned out to be delicious – but maybe a little flatter than I expected. Is the mix-up I made what caused the cake to not rise as much? I think I am reading that since the recipe calls for buttermilk, the baking soda reaction with the buttermilk is what causes the cake to raise.

  21. I want to make a wacky (one bowl, eggless) chocolate cake. It has one tablespoon of vinegar in some recipes and 1 teaspoon in other recipes. It has one teaspoon of baking powder in some recipes and one teaspoon of baking soda in other recipes.
    The amount of flour is 1 and 1/4 cups and a little more than 1/3 c of cocoa (it doesn’t say dutched or natural). I wonder if any of these are typographical mistakes. HELP, I want to make this cake. Thanks.

    • I was reading your question and didn’t see a reply and while I’m not the author of this site, I did think I could possibly help. From what it sounds like, since the recipe calls for vinegar, using baking soda would probably work the best. Since it also calls for cocoa (acidic) I would use 1 tsp of the vinegar, but make sure to use a regular cocoa, not dutch. Because it calls for 1+1/4 cups flour and as a rule of thumb: use 1 tsp baking soda per cup of flour, you should use 1+1/4 tsp baking soda. If your cake ends up not rising enough, then consider adding a tsp of baking powder to the recipe as well.

  22. I recently made a sweet honey cornbread recipe that is going around on Pinterest and it was very good and rose great but with 1 T of Baking Powder in it I could taste the powder and it was not very pleasant. Can I substitute some soda for the powder or cut down on the powder? There is 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of cornmeal, 1/2 cup of honey and 1/2 cup sugar and I had to use 1 cup coconut/almond milk in place of cow’s milk.

  23. This has made some good addition to my Chemistry knowledge really. But I still have my doubts about baking powder.
    So far I have these basic rules : When I want my cake to be soft which of course I do, I use baking soda. While I want crisp and crunch, like in cookies, I use baking powder.
    A friend of mine once baked a simple cake using baking powder and had really hard crust on top. Since I always use baking soda, I recommended that and next time, the cake was nice and soft.
    So my question, if a recipe calls for baking powder, how do I prevent the cake from having the crusty top?

  24. You are a good teacher sally…honestly. Tank u

  25. What a great explanation. Thank you

  26. Gosh — this is terrific! If this baking thing doesn’t work out, you should be a science teacher 🙂

  27. Wow! You did an amazing job explaining this! I love baking and I love chemistry. It is wonderful to understand what purpose each ingredient serves. Thank you!

  28. A very good explaination…thanks…i finally understood the difference

  29. Thank you so much. This was really helpful.

  30. My recipe calls for 1 1/4 cups flour, 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon salt & 1/2 cup buttermilk. I have this bitter after taste. How do I correct this.

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