Baking Basics: Baking Powder vs Baking Soda.

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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!

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.

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. 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!

347 Comments

    1. I accidentally put baking soda in my fish batter instead of baking powder and still tasted ok but flat dark brown coating instead of a crispy light brown slightly raised coating

    1. Adjustment for 3000 feet:

      Reduce baking powder: for each teaspoon decrease 1/8 teaspoon.
      Reduce sugar: for each cup, decrease 0 to 1 tablespoon.
      Increase liquid: for each cup, add 1 to 2 tablespoons.
      Increase oven temperature by 25 degrees F.

      Adjustment for 5000 feet:

      Reduce baking powder: for each teaspoon, decrease 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon.
      Reduce sugar: for each cup, decrease 0 to 2 tablespoons.
      Increase liquid: for each cup, add 2 to 4 tablespoons.
      Increase oven temperature by 25 degrees F.

      Adjustment for 7000+ feet:

      Reduce baking powder: for each teaspoon, decrease 1/4 teaspoon.
      Reduce sugar: for each cup, decrease 1 to 3 tablespoons.
      Increase liquid: for each cup, add 3 to 4 tablespoons.
      Increase oven temperature by 25 degrees F.

  1. Thank you so much for this article/blog! I have always wondered about these two! Your explanations were very clear and informative. I just googled what the difference is between using salted butter, and unsalted, then found the link to this article. I look forward to reading more from you! Thank you!

  2. Thanks so much! This post absolutely clears everything up. I knew you couldn’t substitute them, but now I know why and can explain it when my sons ask:)

  3. Since DH changed their mix completely, I mix my own batter to go with 2 boxes of butter recipe cake mix. Ive have been down for several months due to surgery and didn’t write my baking soda, powder and salt down. I’m trying to figure how how much of what to add. I add 7 cups of a mix of flour, sugar and instant pudding. what amount of soda, baking powder and salt should I add?

  4. After I initially commented I seem to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now every time a comment is added I receive 4 emails with the exact same comment. There has to be an easy method you are able to remove me from that service? Kudos!

    1. Hi Lori, happy to fix this for you! But I don’t see your original comment on this blog post. Did you use another email or name… or is it another blog post? Feel free to email me about this: sally(at)sallysbakingaddiction.com

  5. I hate the taste of baking soda and often taste it my my homemade baked goods that don’t have lots of sugar or strong flavors. How little can I get away with using? Is there a way to mask the taste?

  6. Hi Sally,
    I noticed in your chocolate chip cookies (my favorite recipe!) you use 1 tsp of baking soda for the 2
    Cups of flour. Any reason for this amount instead of the 1/4 tsp for every cup of flour ratio? Thank you!

  7. Hi Sally,

    Have you ever tried baking abroad with local baking ingredients? I am currently living in Germany and trying to find my way around the products they use for baking, Backpulvar and Natron are supposedly the “equilvalent” of Baking Powder and Baking Soda, respectively, in the the States. However, I can’t say that I have honestly had a true baking success in this country yet, where as in the states I was often quite proud of my outcomes. I was wondering if you have had any experience and if so, could offer some advice? Thanks! Love your blog 🙂

  8. So, I failed biology and chemistry. Wait no, I didn’t take either of them. Wasn’t a requirement in high school or in college (strange right). Totally get all the ratios as I’m a math person (not a geek or a freak, I don’t like math that much!) Anyhow, in order to make my own baking powder I would use baking soda and cream of tartar. If a recipe calls for both baking soda and baking powder would I just use the home made baking powder at the same measurements as the commercial and then use the listed amount of baking soda as well. I’m just confused because why have baking powder at all if it is just baking soda and cream of tartar? Thanks so much for your help!!

  9. Thank you for including the testing methods! My 10-yo and I were looking up the science trying to figure out which of my leaveners wasn’t working. Was excited to find how to answer the question at the end. Great article over all! Thank you!!

    1. Thank you so much for the explanation.I’m trying to learn baking and my taste bud is not so good when i put baking soda it taste weird..so i always cut that away and replace it with baking powder until tonight one baker said use baking soda not baking powder….its confusing …i need to find answer and that leads me here…that you for the explanation…i learn a lot.

  10. Thanks Sally. There is no way in heck I will be able to remember this even though I understood it as I read it. So I am printing both the salted butter and baking powder vs baking soda explanations out and putting the printed pages in the front of my recipe book. Thanks again.

  11. Hi,
    I totally loved this scientific explanation!! I have always asked myself why one is used instead of the other! This is the first time I have read a convincing explanation! So, that being said, I will definitely follow your blog for delicious recipes since they are “scientifically” proven recipes….lol Thanks

  12. Hi I just found your blog and love the well thought out explanations on the science behind the baking. However I’m disappointed when you use the worlds nerd and geek. I know you’re trying to be funny but please don’t apologize / warn your readers about giving them intelligent information. I have a pre teen daughter who loves baking and I would love for her to use your blog as a resource. Please just give the information. You can still be funny and have personality in your blog. I want to encourage my children’s curiosity and point them to resources that explain why things happen. Your readers are already at your site because they want to find out the science. Don’t make them feel bad about the amount of knowledge you have or bad about the knowledge that they are receiving.

  13. I am 70 year old and always wondered the diff between this baking soda and baking powder.thanks now I understood by it clear explanation.hats off to u

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