Baking powder, baking soda: what’s the difference? Actually, there’s a big difference both in what they contain and what they should be used for. They’re both leavening agents, but they react differently and impart different flavors on the recipes that contain them.
Baking soda contains sodium bicarbonate and reacts to acidic liquids by creating bubbles of carbon dioxide. Those bubbles expand while in a warm oven and cause a baked good to rise. Recipes made with baking soda must be baked immediately, before the bubbles have time to dissipate.
Baking powder contains the same sodium bicarbonate as baking soda along with a few other components. Baking powder also contains cream of tartar to acidify the dry mixture and a drying agent, usually corn starch. Baking powder is available in single and double acting varieties.
Single acting baking powder functions in much the same manner as baking soda. They require liquid to activate their bubbling activity to leaven a recipe and should be baked immediately after being mixed. Double acting powders work in two stages, making them ideal for recipes that will rest before baking. Double acting baking powder will begin to have a leavening effect on a recipe while at room temperature or even cooler temperatures. They will undergo their second phase only after experiencing the much warmer temperature created by baking.
Baking Soda and Baking Powder also differ when it comes to flavor. If you have ever mixed acidic vinegar with baking soda, then you are already aware that baking soda is a basic substance. That basic property delivers a slightly bitter flavor that must be tempered by an acidic ingredient such as yogurt or buttermilk or balanced by the addition of enough sugar to compensate for the bitterness.
For example, baking soda is used in Pumpkin Bars with Dark Chocolate Chips. The final recipe is not at all bitter. The batter includes yogurt to help temper the acidity as well as sugar, pumpkin, and chocolate, to balance it.
Baking Powder contains both an acid and a base. Because of this, baking powder delivers a neutral flavor. Many recipes that include baking powder also include other neutral tasting ingredients. Baking powder is used in our Wholegrain Buttermilk Biscuits and in my Great Grandma’s recipe for Daffodil Cake.
Finally, there’s one last difference between baking soda and baking powder. You can make your own fresh baking powder right in your own kitchen. You can learn more by following the link to my post Make Your Own: Baking Powder