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Baking Soda vs Baking Powder

I’ve gotten a number of comments ask me questions about baking soda vs baking powder.  I’ve also noticed that if the wrong one is used, things don’t come out as they should. 

Using baking soda instead of baking powder can give your recipe a terrible metallic taste, while using baking powder instead of baking soda leaves your baked goods looking flat.

BAKING SODA

Baking soda is a leavening agent which means it helps things rise.  It does this by creating carbon dioxide when it reacts to an acid such as cream of tartar, lemon juice, yogurt, buttermilk, cocoa, and vinegar. 

When the carbon dioxide is released it causes the familiar texture and crumb in pancakes, cakes, quick breads, soda bread, and other baked and fried foods.

Baking soda works well with sourdough because sourdough is acidic.  When combined, it makes a lighter product with a less acidic taste since baking soda is alkaline.

A good rule of thumb is to use around 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda per 1 cup of flour.

BAKING POWDER

Baking powder is also a leavening agent and it’s a mixture of baking soda, cream of tartar, and sometimes cornstarch.

Most baking powder sold is double-acting. This means that it the leavening occurs in two steps.

The first time it’s activated is when baking powder gets wet, which is why you cannot prepare some batters ahead of time to bake later.

The second time is when the baking powder is exposed to heat.  This happens when the batter is being baked or fried.

Since baking powder already contains an acid, it’s most often used when a recipe does not call for an additional acidic ingredient or too little of one.

Good rule of thumb is to use around 1 teaspoon of baking powder per 1 cup of flour.

WHY SOME RECIPES CALL FOR BOTH

Some recipes call for both baking powder and baking soda when the carbon dioxide created from the acid and baking soda is not enough to leaven the volume of batter in the recipe.  Too much baking soda gives a terrible metallic taste so baking powder is added to give it more lift.

WHICH ONE IS STRONGER?

You may have already guessed the answer since baking soda is used to make baking powder and you need more baking powder per cup of flour but I’ll tell you anyway.

Baking soda is four times stronger than baking powder.  That’s why you will more often than not see recipes that only call for baking soda rather than recipes that only call for baking powder.

HOW LONG DO THEY LAST?

BAKING SODA

Baking soda is good indefinitely past its “best by” date, although it can lose potency over time.  A rule of thumb is two years for an unopened package and six months for an opened package.   

However, to be honest, I’ve used very old baking soda with good results.

BAKING POWDER

Like baking soda, baking powder is good indefinitely past its “best by” date and can lose its potency over time.  For both opened and unopened, it’s ideal to use it within nine months to a year.

While storing it, make sure to keep it in a dry place and away from humidity.

HOW TO TEST IF IT’S STILL GOOD

BAKING POWDER

To test baking powder, pour 3 tablespoons of warm water into a small bowl, add 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder, and stir. If the baking powder is good to use, it should fizz a little.

BAKING SODA

To test baking soda, pour 3 Tablespoons of white distilled vinegar into a small bowl, add 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda, and stir.  The mixture should rapidly bubble if the soda is fresh.

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