When it comes to baking, probably the two most confusing ingredients are baking soda and baking powder. Does it matter which one you use? Will using one over the other ruin your cake? And can you actually substitute baking powder with baking soda? Read on to clear one of the biggest baking confusions ever.
What is Baking Soda?
Baking soda, which has the scientific name as sodium bicarbonate, is a kind of salt that is made up of sodium ions and bicarbonate ions. Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) is a white solid that has a crystal-like form, however, often appears as a fine powder. It has a slightly salty, alkaline taste, which resembles that of washing soda, according Wikipedia.
If you remember those science projects you did as a kid, then you know that when you add acidity to a base, it releases gas.
If you have ever tried a natural oven cleaner made with vinegar and baking soda, then you know what I am talking about. The baking soda needs something acid in order for the bubbling reaction to become activated.
Photo Source: digi-karma.com
Baking Soda in Recipes
If there is a recipe requires or baking soda, that means that the recipe already has an acid and needs the base, in this case, the baking soda, in order for the bubbling reaction to occur. Once the reaction gets activated, gas is created. And that gas is what makes the dough rise.
So, if there is a baking soda in the list of ingredients, then there is also something acid. Acid ingredients include lemon juice, sour cream, buttermilk, yogurt, molasses, and believe it or not, honey. But what happens if you don’t have an acidic ingredient?
If you add baking soda to a recipe that does not have acid, the baking soda can create some leavening due to the high temperature. If you have ever tried pouring baking soda in your sink and then rinsing with boiling water, then you know that heat can also create the bubbles.
However, if this leavening isn’t balanced with acid, the taste will be awfully metallic. And that’s definitely not something you are looking for in a cake, right?
What Is Baking Powder?
If baking soda can act as an alkaline base, then what is baking powder? Baking powder is, in fact, a mixture of baking soda and an acidic compound. Obviously, different brands use different acidic compounds, however, the most commonly used one is cream of tartar.
There is also another dry ingredient added to this mixture – often cornstarch – that is in charge of keeping the acidic compound and the baking soda from mixing. Since these two opposite compounds are kept separate, they will not make a reaction unless they are combined, which is done once they are moistened because the moist helps the chemicals mix.
But that’s not all. Most baking powders are called double-acting because some of the leavening happens the minute that the acidic and alkaline compounds of the baking powder mix thanks to the moisture, and the remaining leavening happens when the baking soda is heated.
Photo Source: seriouseats.com
Can I Use Baking Powder in Place of Baking Soda?
Imagine this scenario. You start making your cake and notice that you don’t have the required amount of baking soda. On the other hand, there is a ton of baking powder in your kitchen. Can you simply use baking powder as a replacement for baking soda? And what will happen if you do?
Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder
If you simply substitute the required amount of baking soda with baking powder, that will not do the trick. Apparently the baking soda found in the baking powder will create some leavening, bur unfortunately, not enough to get your dough to rise.
Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder. Photo Source: youtube.com
As you know, if the recipe requires baking soda that means that it already includes an acidic ingredient that can combine with the baking soda and support the leavening.
But what happens in this case? Now, your dough is too acidic, due to the fact that there are also acidic compounds in the baking powder. And since your baking powder covers only 1/3 of the needed amount of baking soda, you need more of the base.
How To Replace Baking Soda With Baking Powder?
It is feasible to create the needed leavening, but you will need much more baking soda. If a recipe requires 1 teaspoon of baking soda, you should use 3 teaspoons of baking powder to give the dough a similar effect to what resulted from 1 teaspoon of baking soda. However, the bad news is that now you have increased acidity in the recipe.
The key here is to substitute the acid ingredient with something else. For instance, if you need baking soda and honey, use baking powder and maple syrup instead. This will lower the acidity, indeed, but this creates yet another problem.
The baking powder is not a mix of baking soda and acid only. It also has other ingredients that keep these two separate. And since you now have tons of these ingredients in the recipe, the final baked product, may taste bitter.
Using baking powder as a replacement for baking soda may support the rise of the dough and can definitely do the trick, but the taste may not be ideal.
What to Do If You Only Have Baking Soda?
Now that you know what to do if you find yourself short of baking soda while baking, I want to give you a quick tip about what to do if you find yourself lacking baking powder.
If you have baking soda but don’t have baking powder, the solution here is not as complicated as before since you have the base and all you need is more acid. For instance, if a recipe requires 1 tsp of baking powder, you can simply use ½ teaspoon of baking soda and add some acid like 1 teaspoon of lemon juice or vinegar. And it’s simple as that.
Or, you can simply combine 2 teaspoons of baking soda and one teaspoon of cream of tartar. This yields 1 tablespoon of baking powder.
How To Make Baking Powder. Photo Source: cheffingit.wordpress.com
Here is a short but super helpful and fun video that vividly explains the difference between baking soda and baking powder, and tells you what to do if you have one but lack the other:
I hope this article was able to help you put an end to the baking confusion. Now that you know what baking soda and baking powder are and how to properly use them, I hope you will never have to experience the disappointment of flat cakes ever again.
In case you’re struggling to choose a bread knife to expand your kitchen cutlery collection, check out my reviews of top 5 bread knives.
Good luck with your efforts and see you in next articles!