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Do You Know the Real Difference Between Baking Soda and Baking Powder?

Anyone who has baked something and mistaken baking powder for baking soda knows that the two aren’t the same. What they might not know is what the difference really is and that they can make their own baking powder easily.

Both baking soda or sodium bicarbonate and baking powder are leavening agents. They cause baked food to rise or puff up. However, the rising action is much more pronounced with baking powder than with baking soda. If a cake recipe calls for baking soda and baking powder is used instead, for instance, the result can be a cake that overflows the pan that it was made in.

Here is the thing, though. Baking soda is a fairly strong alkaline base. It is a leavening agent when it is combined with something that is acidic because the result is carbon dioxide, which makes the food puff up.

Baking powder actually contains baking soda. However, it also contains an acid, usually cream of tartar. Commercially, baking powder additionally contains corn starch, though the corn starch doesn’t actually change the rising action, it primarily affects the taste. For baking powder to become activated, it simply needs moisture.

This means that it is simple to make your own baking powder. Just mix together two parts cream of tartar with one part baking soda. If you want a baking powder that is like what you’d buy at the store, also add one part corn starch. For example, 2 teaspoons of cream of tartar, 1 teaspoon of baking soda, and 1 teaspoon of corn starch, thoroughly mixed together, yields 4 teaspoons of baking powder that can be used in any recipe that calls for baking powder.

Knowing this can be very useful if you run out of baking powder and are making a recipe that calls for it. Making your own can also be substantially cheaper than store-bought, yet it is incredibly easy and fast to make. It is so easy, in fact, that it shouldn’t even be difficult to memorize the recipe and you can make exactly the amount you need without much effort.

  • Did you know the difference between baking soda and baking powder?

    • Yes
    • No
    • I sometimes make my own baking powder already

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Written by Rex Trulove

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    • Both of these are used extensively in most of the world for baking, particularly if the baking involves flour. However, there are still countries that don’t use leavening of any sort. Unleavened bread is still baked in many places without using baking powder or baking soda, though it tends to end up as thin wafers than something that is light and fluffy.

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    • Do you just not put any leavening agents when baking bread? I actually read that baking soda or baking powder is not good for health. But it seems like they are always in the recipes of baking bread. * I am not good in baking bread. *

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      • Actually, they are both good for health. A person can also use yeast. Can you bake bread or cake without leavening agents? Yes. However, it won’t rise and will usually be thick and heavy. Instead of having a cake that is 2 or 3 inches tall, filled with small air pockets, you will usually end up with a wafer a quarter-inch thick, weighing as much as the cake would.

        Except for unleavened bread, nearly all modern baking involves adding baking powder, baking soda, or yeast to the mixture.

      • No we don’t. In fact, we use fresh dough without any leavening agent (try google how to cook chapati or Indian bread). It rises in round ball like shape and still stays very thin (a little thicker than paper). Of course, the bakers use such agents for backing cakes and bread but we don’t use them at home.

        • Some of our foods also involve cooking with thin bread. That is true of many cultures, including Mexican and South Americans. Americans eat bread that is fully risen, most often by yeast, however, south of our southern border, they eat tortillas the same way we eat bread. A tortilla is a thin, flat, round, unleavened thing that is made out of flour, ground corn, ground maize, or a combination.

          My Guatemalan son-in-law eats tortillas with every meal.

  1. Thank you for the useful information. Back in Latvia, it was not always easy to get baking powder but we always had baking soda at home. So my husband taught me to take a teaspoon of baking soda and add a bit of vinegar to dissolve it and it worked just fine with cakes and baked goods.

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