This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.

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

teaspoons of baking powder and baking soda with text overlay that says baking basics a series

Welcome back to my Baking Basics series!

Today I’m discussing one of the most confusing subjects in the entire realm of baking. 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.

container of baking soda with a teaspoon full

What is Baking Soda?

Aka bicarbonate of soda or sodium bicarbonate.

Let’s start with baking soda because it’s the most confusing. 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.

container of baking powder with a teaspoon full

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 blueberry 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.

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

teaspoons of baking powder and baking soda on a baking sheet

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.

stack of funfetti buttermilk pancakes topped with vanilla icing and sprinkles on a white plate with a fork

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.

teaspoons of baking powder and baking soda

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!

Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. Excellent explanation. About time that i learn whats the difference. Thnks Sally.

    1. I’m baking chocolate chip cookies at high altitude 8200 feet). I’ve made the usual elevation adaptations but they’re still a bit flat and not chewy enough. Can I add a bit of baking powder to the recipe (I’ve reduced the 1tsp baking soda to 3/4 tsp already)?

      1. Hi Linda, we wish we could help, but we have no experience baking at high altitude. Some readers have found this chart helpful: If you do decide to experiment with adding baking powder, feel free to comment back about how it worked — other bakers at high altitude may find it helpful!

  2. I read this and your explanation about natural cocoa v. “Dutch” cocoa, too, and I want to compliment you for the interesting and very useful information you share. I will now be able to use your teaching in my ongoing exploration of how to make GF vegan baked goods. Many thanks!

    1. I love the way you explained the differences between different ingredients n the reasons behind the usage.

  3. When substituting black pearl cocoa for regular cocoa in a chocolate Guinness cake, which calls for 2 1/2 top baking soda, how do I adjust? The cake takes 1 1/2 hours to bake with soda instead of 45mins to 1 hr. Do I add baking powder or and more acid (vinegar) to the mix? Using black pearl cocoa and regular cocoa gives it a lovely color and taste. Looks just like Guinness.

  4. Hi Sally
    I have a question about baking powder
    I’m from Australia and I stumbled on to to your website after learning about “double acting baking powder” (DABP) as I had just made a batch of muffins and of course once you start researching the WEB you pretty much bounce around from site to site.
    Now, DABP isn’t common in our supermarkets but it is available if you look. I believe i do have an understanding of how baking soda and BP work, but what I don’t understand is what the difference in the “aluminium free” (AF) DABP besides the metal taste of course. My research was going well right up to “AF”, I got confused because I want to trial chilling my muffin batter overnight in the fridge and to my understanding (and please accept my apologies in advance if I got it wrong) if it’s AF then it doesn’t work as well? I rephrase my question another way just in case I’m not asking the correct question. If I’m chilling muffin batter does “DABP” work the same way as “DABP AF”, which do I use?

    1. Hi Sophia, we never recommend making muffin batter ahead of time with either kind of baking powder. It will activate too early and the muffins won’t rise properly when baked. It’s best to bake quick breads and muffins right after mixing the batter.

  5. Hi Sally + team
    I made muffins today. The recipe had 2 ¼ cups flour, 2 tsp baking powder and ¼ tsp baking soda. I thought ¼ tsp b.soda for 2 cups flour would be the right amount but apparently not. The muffins came out beautifully soft and fluffy but they had a *very slight* metallic taste. Do you think I should reduce the baking soda? (The recipe also has yogurt hence the b.soda)

    1. Hi Al! Usually the metallic taste will come from the baking powder – we recommend searching for an aluminum free baking powder or reducing the baking powder next time. Let us know how it goes!

  6. I have a cake recipe that calls for adding the baking soda directly to the buttermilk, but this seems odd to me. Intuition tells me the baking soda should be mixed in with the dry ingredients, then add the buttermilk. What do you think?

    1. That’s how we usually add it (with the dry ingredients) but without seeing the recipe it’s hard to say what the authors intention for that order is!

  7. Hi Sally,
    I also thank you for this great information. I did not know this.
    My problem is I need to reduce the sodium. Both Baking Pwd. and Baking Soda are quite high and I have some recipes (a apple cake for example) I like and would like to try to reduce the amount of sodium so I can still eat this wonderful cake.
    Which product would I be able to reduce most successfully? Or should I try reducing both by the same percentage and would this work without reducing the yogart or apples?

    1. Hi Deb, Without knowing the exact recipe you are using, it’s difficult to say how you can adjust the ingredients. You can certainly experiment with reducing the leaveners in your apple cake but know that it may not rise as much. If you don’t wish to use your time and ingredients testing your recipe, you may wish to find one that is written specifically to be low in sodium.

  8. Baking powder is normally comprised of aluminum, I was kind of surprised to see that wasn’t mentioned in your description of it. I have completely stopped using it and instead “make my own” with baking soda, cream of tarter and cornstarch. It might be nice for the information about aluminum to be included in your post, as many people don’t realize that this neurotoxin is found in so many baked goods because of the baking powder. Reducing aluminum intake wherever possible is a good thing.

  9. I have a recipe for New Northland cookies that has no acidic ingredients but calls for baking soda (you can Google this) Should I substitute baking powder?

    1. I think I read that brown sugar serves as the acid. I’m not sure why but that was one of the ingredients in the article so I think you’re good to follow the recipe!

  10. Thank you so much for your time, your effort to make us understand the cooking
    Process .
    I love to bake, I have learned A lot from
    The tip to frees the dough when making cookies is the best , it makes a big difference .

  11. Do you have a printable version of this article: Baking Basics: Baking Powder vs Baking Soda. I would really like to have a copy of it to have for reference. I don’t cook/bake often but it seems like my recipe for my mother’s molasses cake never turns out like it did when she made it. (Unfortunately she’s no longer here to help me.) Or do you have a specific cookbook that contains this information?

    1. Hi Marcia, We do not have a printable version of this page, but it’s a great idea and we hope to have something to print off for this post in the future!

  12. Hallo Sally, I don’t like using cups or spoons (I’m Dutch :-). Can you tell me how many grams is one teaspoon of bakingpowder and baking soda? There are too many sites and too many answers.

    1. Hi José, One teaspoon of baking powder should weigh 4g and one teaspoon of baking soda should weigh 6g.

  13. This might be one of the most usefully informative articles I’ve read. Fantastic job!

  14. I found this article very informative. I wanted to have a copy for my collections but can’t figure out how to print one off without loosing some of the content. Is there a way to simply get a version to ‘print’? Or can you tell me which one of her cookbooks will have this info in it?

    1. Hola sally’s me gustaría saber si el bicarbonato de sodio
      hace que se desmigue el pastel… por que he notado que la receta de pastel de chocolate se desmiga bastante
      O sucede esa reacción que se desmiga cuando una receta lleva ambos ingredientes juntos bicarbonato y polvo de hornear?

      1. ¡Hola! Estoy usando un traductor, así que lo siento si mi traducción no es buena. El bicarbonato de sodio no necesariamente hace que un pastel se desmorone. Usar demasiado de cualquiera de los dos podría ser el culpable, pero también podría ser demasiado horneado o incluso demasiada harina.

  15. Thanks so much for the well written article. It really explained everything succinctly and just wanted to make my appreciation known! I’ve always been so confused about the two and found baking daunting because of all the terms and long list of ingredients but thank you for making things understandable!