Baking 101: The Difference Between Baking Soda and Baking Powder

soda + powder

I tell you this with nothing but love and understanding. I tell you this as a person who received the most mediocre grades in middle school science. I tell you this as someone who copied her chemistry homework from the nicest chemistry-smart boy she could find in high school.  Don’t judge.  It’s just the truth.

Baking is a science. It’s important to understand the reactions.

We need to talk about baking powder and baking soda… and you can totally copy my homework if you need to. It’s cool.

The difference between baking soda and baking powder:

Baking soda and baking powder are both odorless white powders that work their magic in our cakes. Though they’re both white powders, the two are certainly not interchangeable. Let’s talk about the facts behind these baking essentials.

Baking soda is also known as sodium bicarbonate. I told you we were talking science. Stay with me.

When sodium bicarbonate meets with heat, carbon dioxide gas is formed. It’s this gas that gives rise to our favorite cakes, cookies and biscuits. There is one drawback to the production of this gas. When heated, sodium bicarbonate also produces sodium carbonate, which doesn’t taste very good. If you’ve ever eaten any metallic tasting cakes or biscuits, you know what I’m talking about.

Thankfully, the metallic taste of sodium carbonate can be neutralized by acid. Lemon, yogurt, buttermilk, and unsweetened natural cocoa powder can neutralize the taste of sodium carbonate and keep our baked goods risen and lifted.

Baking powder is a mixture of baking soda and acid. Yea! Baking powder is part baking soda! Baking powder is made up of baking soda, a powdered acid, and cornstarch.

Most baking powders are labeled ‘double-acting’ meaning they release a small amount of carbon dioxide gas when they’re stirred into the batter or dough, but they release a majority of their precious gas when triggered by the heat of the oven.

Because baking powder is a leavener that contains both the sodium bicarbonate and the flavor-saving acid, it is usually paired with non-acid ingredients like whole milk and Dutch-processed cocoa.

Baking soda need an acid.  Baking powder has an acid.  We made that science easy, right?

caramelized mushroom biscuits
If this post has you thinking about buttermilk, baking soda, and biscuits… you’re not the only one.  Caramelized Onion and Mushroom Biscuits.  I know you.

127 thoughts on “Baking 101: The Difference Between Baking Soda and Baking Powder

  1. So can you substitute one for the other in recipes if you take into account the acidity? And why on earth do so many recipes call for both the powder and the soda?

  2. I make a caramel corn recipe that everyone raves about. It’s calls for baking soda, but I never understood what the benefit of adding the baking soda is. I add it with vanilla after the butter, brown sugar and corn syrup boil. Can you tell me what the purpose of the baking soda might be?

    1. Do you bake the popcorn afterwards? If so I think it’s because the caramel would make he popcorn soggy/soft if it wasn’t for the leavening. The baking soda makes the caramel crunchy after setting. This is just my logic though! I’m not absolutely certain! :p

  3. Thank you for the info!!! I’ve always wondered, why do so many recipes call for both since apparently they can substitute each other?

  4. I am loving this Baking 101 series. I’m learning something every time. Thanks for sharing your expertise in a fun and helpful way. You are the best, Joy!

  5. Another difference between the two is that while you *can* substitute baking powder for baking soda, you’ll need MORE, since baking powder is only part baking soda. And that can affect the end taste, depending on what you’re baking.

    So, make substitutions carefully!

  6. I am enjoying the Baking 101 course and this lesson in particular. In future lessons I hope we learn about corn starch vs arrowroot vs flour and reasons why and when we should use or shouldn’t use one or the other.

    Thanks Teach!

  7. great post! it’s something I’ve always wondered about, ever since i first made banana cake with a recipe that called for both soda & powder – it turned out great, no doubt. But now I think I understand the reason better – the sour cream in the recipe (which really help keep the cake moist) needs the baking powder to neutralize the acidity right?

  8. Um…
    This seems too basic for me to have never learned before this very moment.
    I mean, like, blessings and blessings on you Joy The Baker.

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