What’s the Difference Between Baking Soda and Baking Powder?

More than a few people have confused baking soda and baking powder, due to the similarity of their names. But also, their appearance and the fact that, more often than not, they are used in the same recipes.

Another thing these two share, is that they both belong to the category of chemical leaveners, which means their primary use is giving cakes, cookies and any other baked goods their characteristic features.

But the thing is, if we can’t tell the difference between the two and use the wrong one, the recipe we intended could end up as something different. We must remember that they are by no means interchangeable. They may both be leavening agents, but they are chemically different.

For instance, baking soda is in need of an acidic ingredient to activate it (like lemon juice), while baking powder is basically baking soda with that ingredient already included. Let us get more into detail on the differences everyone should know. Starting with…

Baking Soda

Sodium bicarbonate, or simply called baking soda, is a base mineral, and it’s alkaline in nature. Once combined with an acidic substance, it produces carbon dioxide.

That’s why it’s most common in baking recipes which include some sort of acidic agent, like, say, pumpkin, maple syrup, molasses, and lemon juice.

It counts as the most common carbon dioxide source. It is easy to handle, high in purity, low in cost, and it leaves no aftertaste. Since some other ingredients (like flour) are slightly acidic, baking soda will release more carbon dioxide, the more acid is added. But it can also produce slight amounts of carbon dioxide when added on its own, as well.

But it can also produce slight amounts of carbon dioxide when added on its own, as well. In appearance, it is white in color, which is crystalline, but usually appears as a fine powder. It is a crushed rock with a truly long shelf life, assuming one keeps it in a dry and cool place.

When combined with acidic ingredients, it takes on the role as a leavener by enabling the dough to properly rise.

If used the right way, baking soda has the ability to make the baked goods crispier and darker. However, too much of it can lead to the dish tasting like soap as well as having a bitter taste in one’s mouth.

Baking Is Not The Only Thing It’s Good For

There are plenty of other, non-baking-related uses, among which:

  • It can help in cleaning many things as it is an effective cleaning agent
  • It can even make your clothes brighter and cleaner once used with alongside a regular liquid detergent
  • Half a cup of it in a bucket of warm water makes for an easy floor-mopping solution
  • It’s also great for scrubbing the bathroom. Add one-fourth a cup of baking soda with 1 tbsp. of liquid detergent and see the magic happen! You can add some vinegar for a creamy, thick texture.
  • You can even use it in case you need to put out a grease fire. Simply scatter handfuls of it over the flames to extinguish them.
  • Your dishwasher and coffee machine can also be cleaned perfectly by running an empty cycle with some baking soda
  • Another use is helping any tarnished silverware regain its shine and luster. One-part water coupled with three-parts baking soda is sufficient. All you need to do is rub this mixture using a clean sponge or cloth, rinsing, and letting the silverware dry
  • You can even brush the teeth of your pets using baking soda
  • You may use it as a mouth wash, or for gargling
  • Freshen any rugs by sprinkling some baking soda over them, letting it sit for 15 minutes (or preferably overnight) and vacuum afterward

Baking Powder

As we already mentioned, it is nothing more than baking soda which has already been combined with an acidic ingredient. It is mainly used for lightening the texture and increasing the volume of any baked goods.

Baking powder can be used in the place of yeast in baked products, either for increasing the production speed or for when fermentation flavors are undesirable. It is also combined with an inactive ingredient which prevents the mixture from reacting, called an inert stabilizer.

Such an ingredient is most often a small amount of cornstarch. And since the acidic substance has already been pre-added, these two will not react to one another, unless there is moistening involved.

Moisture causes these 2 chemicals to mix. The acidic compounds used depend on the brand of baking powder.

The inert stabilizer, like its name might suggest, keeps the acidic substance and the baking soda inert (it doesn’t allow a reaction), until one adds a liquid. This liquid causes the acidic substance and baking soda to combine and create gas, which looks like small bubbles to the naked human eye.

It is precisely this process which grants baking powder its lifting ability when it comes to baking. But, similarly to baking soda, baking powder may also lose this ability if one doesn’t make sure to store it in a dry and cool area.

After all, as we already explained that moisture could cause a reaction, keeping it in a humidity-free place is essential.

Baking Powder Types

The two types of baking powder are single-acting and double-acting. Single-acting acids react in a wet mixture at room temperature with baking soda. A slow-reacting acid won’t react until one heats it up in an oven.

That’s why you should always read the label when buying baking powder, to correctly ascertain its type.

A single-acting powder will react completely and quickly if you combined it with a liquid. On the other hand, a double-acting powder works in two stages. Once, if you combine it with a liquid, and again when it is exposed to heat during the process of baking.

In baking soda which is readily available aka baking powder, the balance of both the acid and soda is carefully calculated. Which means the dish will not have an aftertaste, if one makes sure to use proper amounts.

Caution Tip

Even though we’ve already established that both baking powder and baking soda have long shelf-lives, that doesn’t mean they don’t have an expiration date.

That’s why you should always make sure to use them while they’re still fresh. And be extra cautious by changing them every three months at least. Stay healthy and enjoy baking, dear readers.

Source: Cure Joy | The Spruce