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Understanding This One Thing Will Make You A Better Baker

"What's the difference between baking soda and baking powder?" It's a question we've all pondered, and I have the important answer for you in today's post!

Even if you’ve only tried a few of my cleaning hacks or homemade cleaners, you probably already understand one important thing about me: I am a big fan of baking soda. You can use it to clean, scour, deodorize, freshen, and so much more. What’s not to love?

But what about baking soda’s cousin, baking powder? I use it in recipes as much as the next person, but aside from knowing it helps things rise, I didn’t know very much about baking powder at all!

If you’re a little unclear on the distinction between baking soda and baking powder, you’re not alone! I certainly was, so I decided to learn everything I could on the topic so I could demystify it for all our sakes! 🙂

By the end of this post, you’ll know the answers to everything you’ve ever wondered about baking soda versus baking powder, including:

  • How they work in recipes
  • Why some recipes call for both
  • If you can substitute one for the other
  • How to test for freshness

And more! So let’s get started, shall we?

Baking Soda Vs. Baking Powder: What’s The Difference?

Although baking soda and baking powder are both used as leavening agents in many recipes, they have a lot of important differences. We’ll start by talking about baking soda, since most of us are more familiar with it!

How Does Baking Soda Work?

As you know, baking soda (or sodium bicarbonate) produces a famously fizzy reaction when mixed with acidic vinegar. When baking soda is used in recipes, it’s this reaction that bakers are relying on to give their baked goods a light and fluffy texture.

That’s why recipes that call for baking soda often call for an acidic ingredient too, like lemon juice or buttermilk. When the baking soda and the acid meet in the mixing bowl, they start reacting immediately to lighten the dough or batter.

Note: If baking soda is the only rising agent in your recipe, time is of the essence! You’ll get a better rise the sooner you get it into the oven (or onto the griddle, or wherever you’re cooking it!)

How Does Baking Powder Work?

Baking powder makes things rise using the same reaction we just discussed, but it offers a shortcut by having the acidic element mixed right in. But “double-acting” baking powder actually reacts twice, making it much more useful than a simple two-for-one shortcut!

When you use double-acting baking powder in a recipe, the first reaction takes place when the ingredients meet in the mixing bowl. The second reaction relies on heat, producing a second rise once the mixture goes into the oven. Neat, right?

Why Do Some Recipes Call For Both?

When recipes call for both baking soda and baking powder, it’s usually for one of a few reasons. Firstly, it could be a “more is more” approach to maximize rising both in the bowl and in the oven.

Secondly, the recipe could call for baking soda simply because it enhances browning. Some recipes get most of their rise from baking powder, and rely on baking soda to produce an appealing golden-brown color.

Finally, the decision to use both might come down to flavor! Acidic ingredients like buttermilk provide a tangy flavor, but that flavor can get neutralized by baking soda. Adding more acid in the form of baking powder can help retain more of the buttermilk flavor in the finished product.

Can I Substitute Baking Powder For Baking Soda?

Now that you know about the difference between baking soda and baking powder and understand how they work in recipes, you can probably guess that they cannot be used interchangeably. If you’re in need of baking soda but have baking powder on hand, unfortunately it won’t do you much good!

On the other hand, if you stockpile baking soda like I do, you can use it to make a baking powder substitute! Use a mixture of 1 part baking soda and 2 parts cream of tartar to replace the amount of baking powder in your recipe. (For example, in a recipe that calls for 1 teaspoon of baking powder, you could replace it with 1/3 teaspoon of baking soda and 2/3 teaspoon of cream of tartar.)

Note: Keep in mind that this mixture will not keep. You can substitute baking soda and cream of tartar in for baking powder as needed, but don’t mix them ahead of time or the reaction won’t work properly!

BONUS: Test For Freshness!

Neither baking soda nor baking powder will last indefinitely on your shelf. But there are simple tests you can use to make sure both of them are still alive and kicking!

It’s worth taking the time to make sure these ingredients will produce the reaction you want before using them in a recipe. It could very well help you avoid a disappointing result! 🙂

How To Test Baking Soda

Pour a bit of white vinegar into a small bowl, then add a small spoonful of baking soda. If the mixture bubbles up rapidly, the baking soda is still fresh enough to use. If the mixture doesn’t react, toss it out and replace it.

How To Test Baking Powder

Pour some warm water into a small bowl, then sprinkle a little baking powder into it. The powder should fizz up a bit when it hits the water, indicating that it’s still active. If it doesn’t fizz up, toss it out and replace it.

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    Hi, I’m Jillee!

    I believe we should all love the place we call home and the life we live there. Since 2011, I’ve been dedicated to making One Good Thing by Jillee a reliable and trustworthy resource for modern homemakers navigating the everyday challenges of running a household. Join me as I share homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make life easier so you can enjoy it more!

    Every day I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

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