Baking Powder Vs. Baking Soda: Understanding the Key Differences


Baking powder and baking soda are two common leavening agents used in baking, but they serve distinct purposes and have different chemical compositions. Confusing these two ingredients can lead to baking disasters, so it’s essential to understand their differences and when to use each. In this article, we’ll explore the key distinctions between baking powder and baking soda and provide practical guidance for their usage in baking and cooking.

What Are Baking Powder and Baking Soda?

Baking soda is a white, crystalline powder with a slightly salty, alkaline taste. Its chemical name is sodium bicarbonate.

It is a pure chemical compound that requires an acid (like vinegar or citrus juice) to activate its leavening properties.

Baking soda is often used in recipes that already contain an acidic ingredient because it reacts with the acid to produce carbon dioxide gas, which creates bubbles, making baked goods rise.

Baking Powder:

Baking powder is a combination of an acid (usually cream of tartar) and a base (typically baking soda), which are mixed with a starch (such as cornstarch) to prevent clumping.

Baking powder is a complete leavening agent on its own, meaning it contains both the acid and the base necessary for producing carbon dioxide gas.

It is available in two main types: single-acting (reacts when mixed with a liquid) and double-acting (reacts both when mixed with a liquid and when exposed to heat).

Key Differences

Baking Soda: Baking soda requires an acid to activate its leavening action. It reacts as soon as it comes into contact with an acidic ingredient in the batter or dough. This means that recipes using baking soda typically need to be baked or cooked immediately to capture the rising effect.

Baking Powder: Baking powder is a self-contained leavening agent. It contains both an acid and a base, which react when mixed with a liquid (single-acting) or when exposed to heat (double-acting). This dual-action leavening allows for some flexibility in recipe preparation and baking.

Baking Soda: Baking soda is highly alkaline. When combined with an acid (such as buttermilk, yogurt, vinegar, or lemon juice) in a recipe, it neutralizes the acidity and produces carbon dioxide gas, which causes the dough or batter to rise.

Baking Powder: Baking powder contains its own acid component (usually cream of tartar) and does not require additional acidic ingredients in the recipe.

Recipe Compatibility

Baking Soda: Baking soda is commonly used in recipes that already have acidic ingredients. It is often found in recipes for quick breads, pancakes, and cookies.

Baking Powder: Baking powder is more versatile and can be used in recipes that do not have significant acidic components. It is widely used in recipes for cakes, muffins, biscuits, and scones.

Baking Soda: Baking soda can have a slightly bitter taste if not thoroughly neutralized by acidic ingredients in the recipe.

Baking Powder: Baking powder generally has a neutral taste and does not contribute to any bitterness.

Practical Usage

When a recipe calls for baking soda, ensure that there are sufficient acidic ingredients (like buttermilk, yogurt, or citrus juice) present to activate its leavening action.

Remember that recipes containing baking soda should typically be baked or cooked promptly after mixing to capture the gas release.

Using Baking Powder

Baking powder is more forgiving in recipes, as it contains both the acid and base required for leavening. It can be used in recipes with minimal acidic ingredients.

When using double-acting baking powder, keep in mind that the second leavening occurs during baking. Therefore, allow the batter or dough to rest for a short time before baking to ensure maximum rising.


If you find yourself without baking powder, you can make a substitute by mixing 1 part baking soda with 2 parts cream of tartar.

If a recipe calls for baking soda but does not include acidic ingredients, you can add a small amount of cream of tartar or replace it with baking powder, keeping in mind that this may affect the recipe’s flavor.


Both baking soda and baking powder should be stored in airtight containers in a cool, dry place. Check their expiration dates, as these ingredients lose their effectiveness over time.


Baking soda and baking powder are essential ingredients in the world of baking and cooking. Understanding their differences and when to use each is crucial for successful culinary creations. Baking soda relies on acidic ingredients to activate its leavening power, while baking powder contains its own acid-base components. By choosing the right leavening agent for your recipe and following best practices, you can achieve the desired rise, texture, and flavor in your baked goods and dishes.