What's The Difference: Baking Powder Vs. Baking Soda

These two baking ingredients are commonly misused.

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ILLUSTRATOR Roselle Miranda

It's easy to mix up baking soda and baking powder. Not only do these two ingredients look the same, but these are also used frequently in recipes. However, these are not interchangeable at all. Each have a different use in baking recipes. 

These baking ingredients are commonly mistaken for each other and misused, especially for beginner bakers. Learn the difference between baking soda and baking, and how to use them: 

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1 Baking powder is a mix of ingredients. Baking soda is one of those ingredients.  

Baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate, is an alkaline ingredient while baking powder is a mixture of ingredients that contain both an alkaline ingredient (usually baking soda) and an acid ingredient. It may also contain another ingredient, usually a nonreactive or inert substance, that prohibits the two ingredients from reacting with each other in the box while in storage.

Baking soda usually needs another ingredient to help it react and create the bubbles that make cakes and cupcakes rise to their fluffy heights. Baking powder already has those ingredients in it. It just needs to be mixed into your batter to create the conditions it needs to react to and make those same bubbles. 

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2 Baking powder can expire. Baking soda does not expire. 

If your cake doesn't rise in the oven, there's a good probability that the baking powder that you used was the cause. Baking powder can lose its effectiveness even if it hasn't been used yet. This is because the mixture used to make baking powder may have absorbed moisture from the air. Normally, the baking powder uses the liquids in the batter you make as well as the heat from the oven to react with. However, moisture can ruin this delicate balance of reactions, stopping the baking powder from reacting well enough to produce the bubbles that it's meant to make. 

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Baking soda meanwhile has no expiry date. However, while baking soda doesn't expire, it is used as an odor absorber for good reason. If your baking soda has absorbed any undesirable aromas, these odors will also "flavor" the dessert you're using it for. These are usually not flavors you want in your dessert so this is a good reason to toss out baking soda even though it hasn't "expired". 

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3 Use hot water to test baking powder. Use vinegar to test baking soda. 

If you have an already opened packet or box of either leavener, you should always test it before using it. Here's how to test both kinds: 

  • ‚ÄĘ To test baking powder, pour 1/4 cup hot water into a cup. Add 1/2 teaspoon baking powder into the hot water. If it bubbles vigorously, it's still fresh. If it bubbles a little, it can still be used but your cake¬†may not rise as much. If it does not bubble at all,¬†the baking powder is old and should be tossed out. Use a¬†fresh packet of baking powder.¬†¬†
  • ‚ÄĘ To test baking soda, pour 1¬†tablespoon¬†vinegar into a cup. Add 1/4 teaspoon baking soda into the vinegar. If it fizzes and bubbles up, the baking soda is still fresh.¬†

4 You can use baking powder for almost any recipe. Always use an acidic ingredient in recipes that use baking soda. 

The most foolproof recipe is one that uses a fresh packet of baking powder in the recipe. This is certainly true for recipes that contain baking soda but no acidic ingredient to react to. Plus, some recipes that use baking soda without an acidic ingredient can taste a little like soap. This is one reason why the acidic ingredient is so important to add to these recipes. 

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Baking powder meanwhile just needs to be moistened and then heated up to make it react. 

Need more information? Here are more articles to help you understand the differences in more detail: 

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