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Baking Soda and Baking Powder - What is the Difference?

Cooking tips for the caring cook.

Baking Soda and Baking Powder


Baking soda is sodium bicarbonae, an alkaline (a base the opposite of an acid), which produces carbon dioxide when mixed with a liquid acid.

Baking soda can be activated by buttermilk, sour cream, creme fraiche, yogurt, fruit juices, brown sugar, molasses, vinegar, honey, maple syrup and cocoa (not Dutch processed which is acid-neutral). The chemical reaction is fast - the batter must be cooked immediately. During cooking, the bubbles are trapped as they rise through the batter, creating a light and tender crumb.

Testing Baking Soda for Freshness

Test baking soda for freshness by pouring 1/2 teaspoon vinegar or lemon juice over the baking soda. If it doesn't actively bubble, it's too old to be effective.

Single-acting baking powder is a combination of sodium bicarbonate and a powdered acid, traditionally cream of tartar. Once the mixture has liquid added to it, the sodium bicarbonate and cream of tartar react chemically, creating carbon dioxide bubbles, without the additoin of an acidic liquid. The reaction is fast; the batter must be cooked quickly.

Double acting baking powder produces bubbles when it gets wet and again when it gets hot. This means the batter does not have to be cooked immediately. A quick test for baking powder potency is to mix 1-teaspoon of baking powder with 1/2 cup of hot water; if it bubbles vigorously, it is fine; if not, it should be replaced or substituted.

Measure accurately; too little baking soda or baking powder will result in a sour-tasting product. Arm and Hammer Baking Soda

Too much baking soda can:

  1. Turn cocoa powder red.
  2. Bond with the fat in the batter that makes soap. This results in a soap taste in the baked goods.
  3. Make blueberries green.
  4. Make cranberries blue.
  5. Make walnuts purple.

Baking soda also accelerates the browning of quick bread crusts.

Quick Formula: 1 teaspoon baking powder for each cup of flour.

Homemade Baking Powder

Make your own baking powder in a pinch by mixing equal parts baking soda and cornstarch with two parts cream of tartar.

For Frosting

Add a pinch of baking powder to your sugar icing to keep it creamy and prevent hardening or cracking.

Dish Washing

To aid in washing dishes, add a tablespoon of baking soda to soap water. This will soften hands while cutting through grease.

Homemade Toothpaste

Mix 1 part Organic Virgin Coconut Oil# with 1 part baking soda and add a couple drops of peppermint oil. This makes a refreshing, natural toothpaste that whitens and cleans without added preservatives, fluoride, sweeteners, or other chemicals.

Baking Tip

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