How do baking powder and baking soda differ?

baking powder and soda

What is the difference between baking powder and baking soda?  And when should you use one over the other in your baking?

Both baking powder and baking soda are chemical leavening agents that react with other ingredients to create carbon dioxide.  That reaction causes things to expand and consequently you get a rise in the food.  But they have some fundamental differences.  It’s important to know that baking soda is an alkali and baking powder an acid and here’s why.

When you bake with ingredients like buttermilk, yogurt, molasses and cocoa, you may have noticed that most recipes will call for baking soda as the leavening agent.  At least the recipe should call for soda as part of the leavening.  And that is because buttermilk, yogurt, molasses and cocoa are foods already high in acid.  In order to counteract those acidic foods they need a neutralizer and since soda is an alkali it helps neutralize the acid in those foods.

If you were to use only baking powder with those particular foods the end result would produce an overly acidic taste.  So when a recipe calls for an ingredient high in acid make sure at least a portion of your leavening is soda.  The other portion can be baking powder.  Look over some of your recipes.  If a baking recipe calls for only baking powder it shouldn’t call for any of those acidic ingredients.

Personally I do not care for the taste of a baked product when it only calls for baking soda.  The soda, when used alone, has a distinct taste.  If a recipe called for two teaspoons of soda I would use only one teaspoon of soda and replace the other teaspoon with one teaspoon of baking powder.  That minimizes the taste of soda alone.

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