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Last Updated on February 16, 2024 by Kiersten James

When I first started experimenting in the kitchen, I assumed baking powder and baking soda were basically the same thing. I don’t think I ever gave any thought to it because I never would bake without following a recipe.

Both (to me) were some sort of white powder with no detectable odor and both were just as annoying to clean up if they were spilled. 

Once I started to venture off and create my own recipes, I realized very quickly that something was going wrong over and over and over again. Loaves of bread were coming out as dense as bricks. Cakes weren’t rising or had craters in the middle. My muffins weren’t fluffy pieces of heaven. It was so time-consuming and SO frustrating. After taking a hiatus from baking, I finally discovered that my issue was with baking soda and baking powder. 

Not-So-Identical Twins

Baking soda and baking powder are referred to as leavening agents in the baking world. In simpler terms, they are what cause your baked goods to expand and rise. Although they are often confused to be the same thing, they are most definitely not. The most important differences lie in their chemical makeup.

Baking soda requires BOTH liquid and acid to activate. It has a salty taste and does not contain any acids or drying agents. When baking soda activates, carbon dioxide bubbles are produced causing the baked material to rise and expand. 

It is important to note that baking soda has quadruple the potency of baking soda. A recipe generally uses 1/4 tsp baking soda for every 1 cup of flour.

Baking powder includes acid and starch in the powder. The acidic agent is usually cream of tartar with cornstarch as the drying agent to absorb excess moisture. To further confuse us, baking powder comes in single-acting and double-acting forms. The difference is the amount of acid already included in the baking powder. Less potent than baking soda, a recipe generally uses 1 teaspoon of baking powder for every 1 cup of flour.

Single-acting baking powder activates when dry and wet ingredients are mixed together. Double-acting baking powder requires the additional (double) task of adding heat for it to activate. In other words, the item to be baked will not rise until it is put in the oven.

Do I Have to Bake Batter or Dough Right Away?

Maybe.

If baking soda or single-acting baking powder are added to a recipe, it is recommended to bake the batter or dough immediately. The reason for this is that it will begin to rise on its own which makes storage or the practice of pre-mixing to save time.

Double-acting baking powder, on the other hand, can have baking deferred.

Heat is required in both situations to activate the leavening components which cause the material to rise.

Baking Is A Science!

Knowing basic concepts and being to tell the difference between baking soda and baking powder is one of those fundamental skills. Sorting these two not-so-identical twins out pushes you more than half of the way forward to being able to create your own recipes.

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