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!

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!


Comments are closed.

  1. Elizabeth Sims says:

    Thanks so much for posting this! I am doing a “The Science of Cookies” for the STEM Christmas party and this totally helps me explain some science while we bake.

  2. Victoria Holland says:

    I have spent hours trying to correctly bake German cookies called “Springerle” cookies. You first roll out the dough and then roll the picture onto them with a special rolling pin. Several times now they come out tilted. One side of the cookie is raised but the other side has fallen or not raised. I’ve tried this in both my oven and my mom’s, and made sure I have fresh ingredients (baking powder). Any thoughts here? There is no butter in my particular version of the recipe. Thank you! Love your articles!!

  3. Thanks so much I needed this for a science project so this was really helpful!!! 🙂

  4. Why there’s no PhD in baking science boggles my mind!

  5. My mom said she had a “secret” in her shortbread I was wondering if it was baking soda? I made it with her many times, but never saw anything go in that I was unaware of.

  6. This is the most helpful thing I’ve ever read. I finally understand. Thank you so much!!

  7. CAROL S RALSTON says:


  8. Thanks for explaining all that.

  9. I am confused… you said the rule of thumb is 1 tsp of baking powder per 1 cup of flour, but your sugar cookie recipe calls for 2 1/4 C flour and only 1/2 tsp of baking powder?

    1. Hi Maranda! There are exceptions, of course, and one of those is sugar cookies whose shape is imperative. Too much baking powder = cookies will puff up and lose their shape.

  10. Thank you for all your knowledge. I never had a desire for baking or cooking until lately, and I do love to know the “whys” of what I do, it is like Chemistry. I love knowing all the interactions between the ingredients, which can explain until now I have not been a very good cook. LOL

  11. Love the way you write.. =)

  12. I always pay attention to “powder vs soda”. Wouldn’t you know it, they changed the container for soda so it looks just like powder, and in a hurry I added powder to my peanut butter blossom cookies. I made a double batch, so there are two tsps in the batter, Will they come out flat? Can I add a tsp of soda to correct my error? This is when Mom came to the rescue, but she passed away last year

  13. Thank you. It explains why my biscuits are flat. The baking powder is expired.

  14. Amy Arrington says:

    I’m really excited about baking again! I just learned about your blog. I’ve been reading all your tidbits. I just went and tested my baking powder. Let me first say that just looking at the dates told me I needed to throw it out. The first can of baking powder had a 2016 date. It still fizzed. Then I found another can that had a date of 2014 (I’m a little embarrassed.) it did not fizz. My baking soda made lava. It is fine. Ok, now a question. Should baking soda stay sealed? What are your thoughts on using baking soda that has been in the fridge soaking up odors? I think that is all for now. I can’t hardly wait for January 1st to see what the challenge will be. I have a good reason to bake. Oh, I know my other question. What is your opinion on the sliding measuring spoons. I sold Pampered Chef about 20 years ago and still use a lot of it. Thanks, AA

  15. Andrea Elderton says:

    If a recipe calls for baking soda and cream of tartar, can these be subbed with baking powder?

    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

  16. Andrea Elderton says:

    If a recipe calls for baking soda and cream of tartar, can this be subbed with baking powder?

  17. How is the chemistry impacted by altitude, say 5000 feet and higher?

    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.

  18. 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!

  19. Exactly the explanation I needed! Thank you!

  20. Thank you so much for this!

  21. 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:)

  22. 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?

  23. I loved your explanation and detail! I feel like I’m ready to conquer the baking world now. Super helpful!

  24. Lori E. Burke says:

    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)

  25. 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?

  26. 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!

  27. 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 🙂

  28. Renee Foster says:

    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!!

  29. 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 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.

  30. Kurt Hammerschmidt says:

    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.

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