If you’ve ever tried to bake, then you’ve most likely encountered baking soda and baking powder in a recipe or two. And while you probably followed those recipes down to the last one-fourth teaspoon, you may have run out of one ingredient or the other and wondered: Can I use baking powder instead of baking soda? To understand if baking powder and baking soda are interchangeable, it pays to understand the science behind them.
Are baking soda and baking powder the same?
Baking soda and baking powder are both leavening agents, which means they help baked goods rise. Baking soda is scientifically known as sodium bicarbonate, a chemical compound that has many uses. There are two parts to its name that hint at what it is: “baking” refers to its common use, while “soda” clues us in on its bubbly properties.
Baking soda is alkaline, and the way it fluffs up baked goods is by reacting with an acid, which can come in such forms as lemon juice, yogurt, buttermilk, or vinegar. Even the molasses found in brown sugar is an acid. As chemical reactions go, once baking soda combines with an acid, gas is released, forming bubbles and giving batter a lift.
Baking soda benefits go beyond making cakes and cookies, and extend to cleaning and beauty. The best uses for baking soda include removing odors from your fridge, sopping up spills from carpets or upholstery, unclogging a drain, and scrubbing greasy pots and pans. You can also use baking soda as a deodorant, teeth whitener, itch reliever, and even a facial scrub.
On the other hand, baking powder is made up of baking soda combined with acid. Most baking powder available in the market is double-acting and contains two acids: The first, monocalcium phosphate, reacts once it’s added to wet ingredients (i.e., your batter), releasing bubbles. The second, either sodium acid pyrophosphate or sodium aluminum sulfate, is only activated when it comes into contact with heat (when you put your bread or cookies in the oven). This works especially well for dough that you have to refrigerate prior to baking, for example, as all the bubbles aren’t released in the air right away, and your baked goods don’t fall flat.
Why do some recipes call for both baking soda and baking powder?
In recipes that need both ingredients, baking soda is used to neutralize an acid and add some lift, while baking powder takes care of most of the leavening. If you do without the baking powder and try to compensate with baking soda, only a certain amount of the baking soda will react with the acid; the excess will essentially do nothing but give your baked goods a soapy taste. If you decide to forgo the baking soda, baking powder won’t be enough to neutralize the acid in the recipe and may produce a metallic taste.
Thinking of experimenting with the amount of baking soda and baking powder in your recipes? Adding a bit more baking soda may make cookies a little more crisp, but keep in mind that even tiny tweaks can have a major effect on the taste. Remember that baking is all about balance.
Are baking soda and baking powder interchangeable?
While it’s not be a good idea to increase the baking powder in a recipe just to make up for baking soda’s missing potency, you can use baking soda to make your own baking powder in a pinch. Making your own baking powder has the added benefit of giving you some peace of mind, as you know exactly what goes into it. If you’re wary about the ingredients in your commercial baking powder, go for a brand with no added aluminum, such as Bob’s Red Mill Double Acting Baking Powder.
How long do they keep?
Baking soda and baking powder generally have a shelf life of nine to 12 months. But you can easily test if the ones in your pantry are still potent: Put baking powder in some hot water, or baking soda in a mixture of hot water and vinegar. If it bubbles up and fizzes right away, then you’re good to go.
Product You Might Be Interested In
Bob's Red Mill Baking Soda
Baking Soda is plain bicarbonate of soda, a top-quality leavening agent,. Use it in combination with buttermilk, cocoa, or other acidic ingredients for non-yeasted baking recipes.
Bob's Red Mill Baking Powder
Baking Powder is the go-to leavener for quick breads, biscuits, cakes and other no-yeast baking recipes. It has no aluminum added and no bitter aftertaste.