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Baking Powder and Baking Soda

Learn the difference between baking soda and baking powder and what to do in a  pinch if you do not have one on hand! 

Baking powder and Baking Soda are both chemical leavening agents used in baking. This basically means that they make baked goods rise by creating air bubbles when mixed and baked.

Baking soda is just plain sodium bicarbonate. In order for it to do it’s job, it needs an acidic component. The baking soda works to neutralize the acid and this is what causes the leavening. In baking, the usual acidic components include vinegar, yogurt, lemon juice (or other citrus juice), buttermilk, brown sugar, and chocolate (now you know why almost all chocolate chip cookie recipes call for baking soda). When the basic properties of baking soda mix with the acidic properties of one of these ingredients it starts to neutralize creating air bubbles (carbon dioxide). This raises the baked good and also makes it more tender. Baking soda is ideal to be used instead of baking powder if there is an acidic component because it is about 4 times more effective than baking powder. ) Baking soda has an indefinite shelf life. Baking powder, on the other hand, does not.

Baking powder is baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) already mixed with an acid (usually cream of tartar). Therefore, baking powder on its own is used in baked goods that do not already contain an acid. It works in the same way baking soda does, by creating air bubbles which cause the batter to rise. If you find yourself without baking soda you can always substitute baking powder for baking soda. This is not true the other way around. But keep in mind that baking soda is much more effective so using more baking powder is needed. To make sure your baking powder is still effective, add about a tsp to a cup of hot water. If it is still good, it will start bubbling quite a bit. If it does not, time to throw it out and get some new.

Recipes that call for both baking soda and baking powder is usually due to the fact that the recipe has some acid and is needing neutralized by the baking soda, but possibly not enough to do the amount of leavening desired. The baking powder picks up the slack.

If you are in a pinch and are without either baking soda or baking powder here are a few scenarios to help you out with knowing if you can substitute or eliminate the ingredient. 

My recipe calls for baking soda and I don’t have any?: If you have baking powder you can substitute using 2 or 3 times more the amount. I know I said that baking soda is 4xs more powerful than baking powder but I would only increase the amount by 2-3 xs. These ingredients can make your batter taste bitter.

My recipe calls for baking powder and I don’t have any? If you happen to have baking soda and some cream of tartar you can make your own baking powder! You mix the two together at a 2:1 ratio. 2 parts baking soda and 1 part cream of tartar= baking powder. You can also ask yourself if the recipe does have one of those acidic ingredients listed above in it. If it does, you can likely just use a little less baking soda in place of the amount of baking powder.

I don’t have either baking soda or baking powder: Determine how important is the rise of this baked good. Is it very important, like a cake? Or is it okay if they are a little flat, like cookies? How many eggs are in it because eggs will help with the rise? If there are eggs and it isn’t that important for the baked good to rise, you can probably leave both baking soda and baking powder out. Your baked good will most likely have a more dense crumb to it if you do leave both out, but that isn’t always a bad thing!

People often ask me if they can make cookies, usually chocolate chip cookies, without baking powder or baking soda. The answer is yes! I have developed two different Chocolate Chip Cookie recipes without baking soda or baking powder. Check out these posts:

Chocolate Chip Cookies without Baking Soda or Baking Powder

Chocolate Chip Cookies without Baking Soda or Baking Powder

Easy to Make 5 Ingredient Chocolate Chip Cookies

5-ingredient-chocolate-chip-cookies-list

Pancake Recipe without Baking Soda or Baking Powder

no-baking-powder-pancakes

Comments 44

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  2. Tom Nelson

    I started making Russian pound cake and mistakenly put baking soda where it called for baking powder. Now what do I do? Well having read your article, I now know that baking soda needs an acid, so instead of throwing the whole thing out I am going to add lemon juice and see if that works. I will let you know how it turns out.

    1. Tom Nelson

      It actually came turned out pretty darn good. Maybe not as soft and bubbly textured as it is supposed to be, but you know what I am pretty happy with the result.

      1. Sultana

        In recipe 1 tsp of baking powder and 1/2 tsp of baking soda I don’t want to add the baking soda. Then how many I add baking powder? ??

  3. Ang

    Great Article! Definitely helped me understand what I was looking for. I do have a question though. I came across an old cookie recipe and was confused by the fact that the ingredients only listed 1/2 tsp of baking soda and no cream of tartar or baking powder. And there doesn’t seem to be any acidic ingredient to activate the baking soda (Ingredients: All-Purpose Flour, Sugar, Baking Soda, Eggs, Shortening, Salt and Almond Extract). Was an ingredient left out? Should I add 1/4 tsp of cream of tartar or swap out baking soda for 1 tsp of baking powder?

    1. Post
      Author
      Baker Bettie

      How old is the recipe? There could be several reasons for this. 1) It might just be a bad recipe with incorrect ingredients. 2) If it is a really old recipe (like 1800’s old) it was common knowledge for the home cook to add something acidic when using baking soda. The choice was up the baker about what to use. 3) Baking soda also greatly affects browning of a baked good. It is possible that the cookie isn’t meant to rise but the baking soda is for the purposes of browning.

  4. Tom Nelson

    It's a little denser than most pound cakes I have taste, but not bad. I think if I put more acid in the mix it would have been fluffier. It tasted great however and will definitely get eaten.

  5. Debbie Nicholson Ashton

    Very helpful. Thank you : )
    I made a cake the other day and it was very dense and not crumby-kind of like a pound cake. It was so good! I made it again yesterday and it came out soft and crumbly more like a regular cake. Why do you think that would be? I noticed yesterday that it takes both baking powder and soda and I didn't remember that from the first time. I was wondering if I omitted the soda the first time. Does that sound like it would have made the change? Thanks! 🙂

  6. Erin

    Will peanutbutter cookies turn out good if I don’t use either bakin soda or powder ? .. If I had a little more egg maybe that will help ?..

  7. Anonymous

    What would happen if you were baking bread and used baking soda, but added acid, (science experiment- not to eat!)…. Would this cause a reaction with the baking soda?

    1. GraceC

      It sounds like some people do add vinegar to bread to get it to rise to new heights. I also discovered if I use an excess of baking soda that my baked goods will rise and then fall and be sunken in the center.

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  10. Chayanika

    I want to bake a carrot cake without using egg and my recipe calls for both baking powder and baking soda. Understood that i can substitute baking soda with 3 times that of baking powder, however, since no egg is used in my recipe it calls for curd to be used(which is acidic), please do let me know would that hamper the taste of the cake?

  11. megan

    hi my recipe calls for 2 tsp baking powder and 1 tsp baking soda but i not have baking soda so what can i do

    1. Post
      Author
      1. Alice Ware Adams

        the other ingredients are brown sugar,granulated sugar, all purpose flour,I eliminate the salt because I use salted butter, choc chips, vanilla flavoring, eggs… I think thats it…

  12. Mary Jude Smith

    I would get a different recipe. I have tons I can share with you and have never used cream of tarter in my life!! (not successfully anyway 😉 )

  13. BakerBettie

    Do you have buttermilk? Or anything acidic you can add to your milk? Such as a little lemon juice or white vinegar? Something acidic will activate your baking soda. It may not turn out exactly as the original recipe, but you can always try that!

    1. KT

      I too don’t have baking powder, but I do have baking soda. I made some apple muffins with soda instead but I didn’t realise about the acid so they were as flat as pancakes! I’ve still got 50% of the mix in the fridge, you say add a little lemon, how much is that, a teaspoon? Is it also true you have to use it straight away or the soda goes flat? So should I add another teaspoon of soda too? It’s for 12 muffins.

  14. nancy

    If i put in 2 and 1 half teaspoons of baking soda instead of baking powder in a cake recipe and caught my misstate so I added the 2 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder…will the cake be ok or do I need to add something else to balance out the baking soda…Help!!!!

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  18. Nicole Smith

    Love your website! I stumbled across it when we suddenly had a craving for oatmeal cookies, but had limited ingredients, and your 6 ingredient oatmeal cookies are great! Very easy. 🙂 Thanks for making this page exist.

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      Author
  19. Kalani Puma Girl

    This is the best baking website ever. I go on food sites once in awhile but some people act like we should know cause they do and some are just so detached from their audiences. You seem to be so clear with your directions / instructions that it makes it so much easier and just more relaxed. I don’t think ,”oh no, was I supposed to do it like this, or like that?” Making everything worse and more stressful than it has to be. But with you I don’t do that because your recipes are clear. I know I did it right and am confident because you clearly write it to where the worse bakers get it!!
    LOL Thank you so much!

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  21. Aratrika

    This site is very helpful.But it’ll be really good if you can help me with one of my queries.For a getting a moist cake along with a pretty good rise if I use buttermilk with baking soda along with a pinch of baking powder , can I use condensed milk or normal milk for its extra added softness? I mean is it wise to use condensed milk and buttermilk at the same time for a rick chocolate cake?

  22. Tamara

    I really love this article. I never knew the difference between baking soda and baking powder. Your explanation is so clear. Thanks a lot! I’m going to read more on your website 🙂

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  24. jimmy65

    My recipe asks for 1 teaspoon of baking soda and 1 teaspoon of baking powder; I have baking soda, but no baking powder or cream of tartar. Help!! 🙂

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  26. Sultana

    IN RECIPE THERE IS 1 TEASPOON BAKING POWDER AND 1/2 TEASPOON OF BAKING SODA I DON’T WANT TO ADD BAKING SODA. THEN HOW MANY I ADD BAKING POWDER?????

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