Baking powder and baking soda are both leavening, or rising, agents. They contain different ingredients and have different uses. Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate. Baking powder is sodium bicarbonate mixed with an acid and cornstarch.

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Baking powder and baking soda are common leavening agents for baking. A leavening agent helps baked goods, such as bread and cake, rise by adding gas bubbles.

They may sound and look similar, but they work in different ways. They are not interchangeable.

This article will explain the difference between baking powder and baking soda, how people use them, and answer some frequently asked questions.

Baking soda and baking powder are both white powders that people use when baking. They both have a slightly bitter taste. However, they have different chemical compositions and uses.

Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate. Sodium bicarbonate is an alkaline salt compound that creates carbon dioxide gas when people mix it with an acid. Carbon dioxide makes batter or dough rise.

Baking powder is sodium bicarbonate mixed with an acid, usually cream of tartar, and cornstarch. It needs moisture and heat to make carbon dioxide.

People tend to use baking soda in recipes with acidic ingredients, such as cocoa powder or buttermilk.

When added to a mixture, the baking soda interacts with the acid and creates carbon dioxide. Baking in a hot oven makes the batter expand and rise, giving the finished product a soft and fluffy texture.

Baking soda also helps baked goods to brown. That means people tend to use it to make things such as cookies.

Another use for sodium bicarbonate is as an ingredient in cosmetics and personal care products, such as deodorant and toothpaste.

Some people drink baking soda mixed with water to temporarily relieve acid reflux. Because it has an alkaline PH, it neutralizes stomach acidity in the same way as over-the-counter antacids.

A person should ask their doctor before drinking baking soda, as it can affect how the body absorbs other medications.

Learn about the potential dangers of drinking baking soda here.

Baking powder already contains acid. People use baking powder when a recipe does not include an acidic ingredient.

In most cases, manufacturers label baking powder as double acting. That means it will activate or start to create carbon dioxide when a person mixes it with a liquid. It will activate again when they heat up or cook the mixture.

Some recipes include both baking soda and baking powder. This usually gives an extra lift when baking soda alone cannot create enough carbon dioxide to leaven the batter.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, a person can store an unopened container of baking soda at room temperature for 18 months.

A person can store an opened packet of baking powder at room temperature for 6 months. After opening, people should keep it at room temperature for a maximum of 3 months.

If someone does not have baking powder, they can use baking soda instead. They will need to replace the acid element of baking soda. When the acid and the baking soda mix, they will release carbon dioxide, mimicking the action of baking powder.

Below are some substitutes for 1 teaspoon (tsp) of baking powder:

  • Cream of tartar: 1/4 tsp of baking soda plus 5/8 tsp of cream of tartar
  • Vinegar or lemon juice: 1/4 tablespoon of baking soda plus 1/2 tsp of vinegar or lemon juice mixed with milk to make 1/2 cup. A pinch of sugar can counteract any vinegar taste. As lemon juice and vinegar have a strong flavor, this option is best for recipes that only call for a small amount of baking powder.
  • Buttermilk: 1/4 tsp of baking soda plus 1/2 a cup of fully soured milk or buttermilk. People should reduce the volume of other liquids in the recipe by the same amount of buttermilk they add.
  • Molasses: 1/4 tsp of baking soda plus 1/4–1/2 cup of molasses. Molasses is very high in sugar, so people may want to reduce the sugar content of the recipe.

Below are some frequently asked questions about baking powder and baking soda.

Is baking soda or powder best for frying?

A pinch of baking soda can help produce crispy fried foods.

It reacts with the acid in the batter to create carbon dioxide bubbles. These lead to an airy batter and a crisper, fluffier result.

Is baking soda or powder better for cleaning?

People can use baking soda for household cleaning, as it is a salt. Baking powder contains cream of tartar and cornstarch, so it is not useful for cleaning.

Try some of these tips on using store cupboard ingredients, including baking soda, for cleaning:

  • Drain cleaner: Pour one cup of white vinegar and ½ cup of baking soda down the drain. Wait for 20 minutes and then rinse with boiling water.
  • Stain remover: Mix 1 cup of baking soda and ¼ a cup of borax powder in a bowl, then apply it to the stain with a damp sponge.
  • Oven cleaner: Make a paste of baking soda and water and spread it on the top, sides, and bottom of a cold oven, avoiding the heating element. Leave it overnight, scoop out the paste and wipe it clean with a damp cloth.
  • Burnt pans: Cover the bottom of the pan with water and sprinkle in a few tablespoons of baking soda before bringing it to a boil, then turn off the heat. Once the pan is cool, the burnt material should scrub off more easily.
  • Stainless steel: Sprinkle baking soda onto a sponge, scrub the stainless steel and wipe off with water.

Baking soda and baking powder are common baking ingredients. They are both leavening agents, meaning they help baked goods to rise. They look similar, but they have different chemical compositions and uses.

Baking soda is pure sodium bicarbonate, whereas baking powder also contains an acid, such as cream of tartar, and cornstarch.

Baking soda is a raising agent that must be mixed with one or more acid ingredients, such as cocoa powder or buttermilk. Baking powder is better for recipes that contain little or no acid ingredients.

Baking soda helps make fried foods crispy and light. It is also useful for cleaning and removing stains.