Baking Powder vs. Baking Soda

Baking Powder vs. Baking Soda dixie

Baking powder vs baking soda. Sometimes a dessert recipe calls for one; sometimes it requires the other. But really - what’s the difference between baking powder and baking soda and when do you use each? We asked Dixie Crystals' chef, Chef Eddy Van Damme, to weigh in on the baking powder vs baking soda debate and give us the scoop about why he would use one instead of the other.

Baking powder and baking soda are both leavening agents used in baking to help the dough or batter rise and become light and fluffy. However, they have different chemical compositions and are used differently in recipes.

Baking soda is a single-ingredient leavening agent that requires an acidic ingredient to activate while baking powder contains baking soda and an acidic component and is used in recipes that do not contain enough acid to react with baking soda alone.


Baking Soda

Baking soda also known as sodium bicarbonate, is a leavening or rising agent used in baking. When baking soda is combined with moisture and acidic ingredients like buttermilk, sour cream, yogurt, lemon-lime juice, applesauce, cocoa powder, chocolate, brown sugar, molasses, or cream of tartar, it produces carbon dioxide gas. The bubbles get bigger when they get warmer, which causes the dough or batter to rise. This reaction actually starts to happen as soon as you mix baking soda with the acidic ingredient, so you may need to get your baked good in the oven quickly. “You only have about 30 minutes for cakes,” said Chef Eddy. “If you do not get it in the oven by then, it will not rise as high. However, cookie recipes containing baking soda can be frozen unbaked and they will still spread.”


Baking Powder

Baking powder, on the other hand, contains baking soda as one of its ingredients but also includes an acidic component, usually cream of tartar, to activate the baking soda. Baking powder is used in recipes that do not contain acidic ingredients or contain only small amounts of acid. Baking powder also contains a stabilizing agent, usually cornstarch, which prevents the mixture from reacting until it is heated in the oven.

There are two types of baking powder: single-acting and double-acting. Single-acting baking powder only requires moisture to activate, while double-acting baking powder activates twice, once when mixed with moisture and again when heated in the oven.

Commercial baking powder is usually made with other chemicals such as sodium acid pyrophosphate (to maintain pH amounts) and monocalcium phosphate (another leavening agent) and some commercial baking powders are also made with aluminum as well,” said Chef Eddy.

To avoid the extra chemicals, you can make your own baking powder by mixing 2 tablespoons of cream of tartar and 1 tablespoon of baking soda. “Homemade baking powder will provide a sweeter flavor.” Single-acting baking powder and double-acting baking powder are use in the same amount, however with single-acting powder you must get your cake in the oven within 30 minutes once the batter is made. (Similar to baking soda mixed with an acidic ingredient). Double-acting powder allows a baker to bake cakes or muffins several days after the batter is made if it’s placed in the freezer. Later on, the muffins were defrosted and then baked with exact same results.


Testing for Freshness

How do you know if your baking powder and baking soda are good to go? You can turn your kitchen into a lab by executing these simple tests. In either case, if you get a lot of bubbles - you’ve got a fresh batch. If not, it’s time to go shopping. Baking powder - mix 1 teaspoon of baking powder with 1/3 cup hot water. Baking soda - add several drops of lemon juice to  1/4 teaspoon of baking soda. Chef Eddy recommends an easier method. “I always follow the expiration dates and do not fuss around with testing. When in doubt...throw it out!”


Which Should You Choose - Baking Powder vs Baking Soda?

Baking powder has a neutral taste and is commonly used in cakes and biscuits while baking soda is more bitter tasting and is often used in cookie recipes. You can substitute baking powder for baking soda in a recipe (you may need to increase the amount of baking powder though), but you can't substitute baking soda for baking powder. “Single- or double-acting powder can both be used if the products are immediately baked. Double-acting powder is recommended when making batter ahead of time (like biscuits) and freezing it before baking the biscuits days or weeks later,” said Chef Eddy. 


Here are some of our favorite dessert recipes that use Baking Soda.


Biscoff Cookies 

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German Chocolate Cake

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Almond Joy Layer Cake


Here are some of our favorite dessert recipes that use Baking Powder. baking powder and baking soda recipes

Pumpkin Crumb Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting 

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Orange Velvet Pound Cake 

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Kahlua Tres Leches Cake



Chocolate Crackle Cookies



baking powder vs baking soda pin dixie