Baking soda vs Baking Powder and how to use them effectively

Baking soda vs Baking powder

Have you wondered what the difference was between baking soda and baking powder?Were you ever in the process of making something which required one of these leavenings only to realize that you didn’t have the one which the recipe listed? And if so, did you simply substitute one for the other in a recipe? How did it turn out? If by chance your recipe worked, it means that the stars and planets aligned and you coincidentally had an appropriate acidic ingredient included to offset the substitution.

Baking Powder and Baking soda

Among the kitchen essentials which I feel are absolutely necessary whether you are an experienced or novice cook are baking soda and baking powder. These ingredients are so useful in making batters, quick breads, cakes and cookies. However, they are not the same nor should they be used interchangeably in recipes without some adaptation. The results of using them interchangeably could be disastrous and a complete waste of time and energy.

Baking soda is a rising agent which is often used in baked goods and batters. When a small measure of this white powder is added to a bowl of dry ingredients and an acidic liquid is added, it will cause the dough to rise. There is a chemical reaction which occurs when an ingredient such as buttermilk, vinegar, lemon juice, honey, yoghurt, chocolate, coffee or molasses is added to the mixture containing baking soda. Minute bubbles of carbon dioxide gases develop and become trapped within the batter, causing it to expand and inflate. However, if baking soda is added to a recipe which does not contain an acid to activate the chemical reaction, there ultimately will be no rising reaction. Without one of the aforementioned acids in the mixture, no gases will be released and therefore the dough will not rise successfully. Baking soda is also known as bicarbonate of soda; depending on the part of the english speaking world you reside.

Irish baking soda bread using baking soda

Baking soda can be found in several sizes from small carton boxes to large bags as it has a multitude of household uses. It can be found in both the baking aisle as well as in the cleaning supply section of your local supermarket. This amazing economic product has many cleaning powers. It can be used for scouring residue on pans and cookware and is works wonders as an odor absorbing product. It is also used as a teeth whitener, mouthwash and in laundry to get whites whiter. Baking soda can even be used as a cure for heartburn and indigestion or to soothe insect bites. There are truly so many uses for baking soda that everyone really should have a couple of boxes on hand at all times: one for culinary use and another for general household uses.

Baking powder has a different chemical composition. I could go into the scientific workings, but I will stay simple here in my analysis. Basically, baking powder is a mixture of baking soda and some acid compound. In short, no additional acid such as buttermilk, sour cream, yoghurt or lemon juice needs to be present in the list of ingredients of your recipe for the leavener to rise effectively. In most cases, the acidic component in baking powder is cream of tartar or cornstarch. It is necessary to “wet” the dry ingredients with a liquid to activate the leavening or rising process. In addition to this, the heat from an oven or stovetop griddle acts as the catalyst to make pancakes, cakes or quick breads plump up as they cook. Unlike baking soda which can be used for a multitude of uses, baking powder’s powers are mainly in the food preparation area.

Banana nut bread. Recipe available on an older blogpost “Banana Bread a familiar comfort

Baking powder can be thought of as a leavener which can be used instead of yeast in recipes where a sour fermentation flavor is not desired. This is why quick breads such as banana or zucchini bread require baking powder and not yeast. Traditional bread making depends on the addition of yeast to rise which develop the texture and flavor. In contrast, carbon dioxide is released faster in baking powder recipes with the addition of acids. This speeds up the cooking time enabling cakes, cookies and quick breads to be made faster than yeast breads which may take up to 24 hours to proof. Both baking soda and baking powder have a shelf life, though baking soda has a much longer validity. It is imperative that you check the expiration date before using either if these rising agents in order to maximize the outcome of your recipe. Usually open containers should be used within a 6-12 month period and stored in a cool dry place. You can test the validity of baking powder by putting a spoonful in a glass and adding a bit of warm water. The mixture should bubble exuberantly once it is good. If the fizz is minimal you should probably toss it out and get a new one. To test baking soda for culinary purposes, put a spoonful to a bowl and add some vinegar or lemon juice. If it’s fresh, it should bubble violently.

Cheese scones using baking powder

If you had to substitute baking powder for baking soda, you can technically triple the amount required to produce a rising effect. As baking powder is made up of ⅓ parts baking soda and ⅔ other ingredients like cream of tartar or cornstarch, the base ingredient is within. However, the problem is that there is a high probability that your recipe will be bitter with the addition of a great deal more acidic factors than desired. If used in a cake or quick bread with this ratio substitution, you could have a rapid rise followed by a rapid fall. So the bottom line is that it is not recommended to substitute for baked goods.

I hope that you have learned a few things about the effects of baking powder and baking soda in this blog post. Always remember to measure your ingredients with the proper measuring spoons. A teaspoon or tablespoon is always a specific quantity and unless it is indicated as “heaping”, know that the measure should be leveled to the height of the spoon. Clarity and knowledge helps us to be more successful in our kitchen endeavors.

Happy cooking!!

Fish fillet and shrimp fried in batter. Batter recipe below.

All purpose Batter for fried foods

Great for seafood, chicken and vegetables


1/2 cup all purpose flour

1 tsp Baking powder

1 egg

5 oz Milk

A pinch of Salt


1. In a mixing bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt.

2. In another bowl beat egg then add the milk to combine.

3. Add the flour mixture into the mik mixture and beat together with a whisk.

Note: you may add at this point any additional seasonings or herbs of your choice such as dried creole seasoning, cayenne, green onions or parsley.

4. Your batter should have the viscosity of a crepe batter ie: not too thick nor too runny.

Refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

5. Heat the oil for frying.

6. Place your chosen protein or vegetables into the batter to coat and then fry until golden.

7. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and place on absorbent paper.

8. Sprinkle with a little sea salt and serve immediately.

A few tips for optimal frying

The optimal temperature for frying is between 350-375 degrees Fahrenheit.

To test whether the oil has reached the correct temperature, drop a small spoonful of batter into the oil. If it expands and floats up to the top immediately your oil is ready for frying.

Remember that failure to fry foods in oil which has not reached the correct temperature will make result in oily and soggy food.

Avoid overheating oil, as this will brown the batter quickly before cooking the filling or meat adequately.

If oil gives off smoke, this means that it is too hot. Do not add anything to the pan at this point. Move pan aside off the heat for a few minutes to lower the temperature and then retest oil with a bit of batter.

Do not overcrowd your pan when frying as food can stick together.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Ainley says:

    Love the post! I’ll be trying the batter -working on the perfect deep fried fish for tacos. Thank you.

    1. Thank you Ainley for your support. I hope that the info will serve in your culinary adventures. Keep me posted.

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