The Difference Between Baking Powder And Baking Soda

Written by Chandrama Deshmukh • 

You followed the recipe instructions for pancakes to the T, but they are coming out flat and dense instead of fluffy and light? The chances are that you used baking powder instead of baking soda.

This is a common confusion, and the terms baking powder and baking soda are often used interchangeably for chemical leaveners.

In this article, we bring you the differences between the two so that you can be one among the initiated.

Baking soda and baking powder, as their names suggest, are common and necessary ingredients in baked goods and other recipes such as pancakes. These chemical leaveners are used as raising agents. They are also often used to provide texture to the dishes. For example, traditional breads such as rye or whole wheat bread are often light and airy, and you can see holes in the loaf when you cut slices from it. This is because of the baking powder or baking soda used. However, gluten-free breads are dense and thick because baking powder and baking soda are often eliminated from such recipes.

Read on to find out the differences between the two, and how you can incorporate them in your daily life.

  • Baking Soda
Baking Soda
Image: IStock

Chemically known as sodium bicarbonate, it is the primary leavening agent in recipes. As it is alkaline in nature, it automatically produces carbon dioxide when it comes in contact with acidic ingredients. For example, if the recipe demands ingredients like lemon juice, molasses, maple syrup, or even pumpkin, baking soda would also be used. Because baking soda is so easy to handle, it also makes it the most preferred leavening agent in recipes.

Flour is another acidic ingredient – although this is not well-known – and hence baking soda is part of the dry powder ingredients used in recipes such as pancakes, muffins, and bread. You would have noticed that in most recipes, along with baking soda and flour, other acidic elements, such as lemon juice and yeast, are also added. It is usually the cheapest ingredient in recipes, high in quality, and has a long shelf life.

While it is known to make crusts darker and more crispy, it can make the food taste bitter if not used in perfect proportions.

Common Uses At Home

  • It is an effective cleaning and brightening agent for floors, clothes, and utensils/appliances.
  • Use it with your regular detergent and water solution to clean floors of stains, odor, and stickiness.
  • Use a mixture of baking soda and boiling water for pans with burned food.
  • Clean your coffee maker or washing machine with a mixture of water and baking soda. Make sure they are empty though!
  • Add a teaspoon of it during the wash cycle for brighter clothes.
  • A water-baking soda solution can also be used to bring the shine back on your silver.
  • Mix it with vinegar or toilet detergent to scrub your bathroom floors.
  • Sprinkle it on rugs overnight and let it sit for at least 15 minutes. If you have the time, you can allow the soda to work overnight, and vacuum it the next day.
  • It is a non-toxic, flavorless choice to use for brushing your pets’ teeth, especially as they may be sensitive to certain tastes and flavors. 
  • Extinguish a grease fire by sprinkling baking soda on the flames.
  • Use it as a mouthwash or gargling solution.
  • Baking Powder
Baking Powder
Image: IStock

Baking powder is a dry ingredient that has baking soda and an acidic element mixed together. A common use for baking powder is in place of yeast as it increases the volume but also lightens the texture of the dish. It is usually combined with cornstarch, but different brands use their own choice of acidic components. This acidic component prevents baking powder from reacting until it comes in contact with the wet ingredients. When a liquid is added to the baking powder, it produces gas in the form of tiny bubbles, which lifts the dough in recipes.

There are two common types of baking powder available – single-acting and double-acting. The single-acting baking powder reacts immediately and completely when it comes in contact with a liquid. For example, in pancake batters. On the other hand, a double-acting baking powder is more useful in recipes of certain cakes, where it reacts first to the addition of liquid and then during the baking process. It is important that you know this difference and the requirements of your recipe before you purchase baking powder.

As there are also brands of baking powder that are gluten-free, it is a helpful choice when making recipes with thicker flours like rice, oats, and gram.

Especially in countries like ours, the terms can be interchanged through misinterpretation of their chemical compositions. For example, if a recipe calls for baking powder, it will also call for an acidic element such as lemon or vinegar. Whereas in baking soda, the acidic element is already incorporated and can be used by itself. So, read this article carefully to understand what different types of recipes will require, and you can make the purchase accordingly.

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