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


Pancake Recipe without Baking Soda or Baking Powder