Difference Between Baking Soda and Baking Powder

If you've ever baked anything, more than likely you've come across the need for baking powder or baking soda. Did your recipe call for one or the other – or even both? Do you know the difference between these two staple baking ingredients? We're going to break it down for you! This quick read will cover how these two are the same, different, why some recipes call for both, and what you can use in a pinch to substitute if you do not have one on hand.


Both baking soda and powder are derived from a chemical called sodium bicarbonate. Both ingredients are leavening agents that cause your baked goods to rise. How do they work? Remember the high school chemistry lesson on bases and acids? If not, here’s the simple version. Sodium bicarbonate is a base that reacts to and reduces acids to create CO2. As the batter expands with the expelled CO2, the bubbles are baked in with the heat from the oven.


Baking soda is purely sodium bicarbonate, and it requires an acid like buttermilk, lemon juice, yogurt, or cream of tartar to be added for the leavening to happen.

Baking powder is a combination of sodium bicarbonate and a powered acid, and it only requires a liquid and heat for the chemical reaction to activate.

Why does my recipe call for both baking soda and baking powder?  

There are two main reasons a recipe would call for both baking soda and powder are taste and browning needs. Think of buttermilk biscuits: tall, perfectly browned, and slightly tangy.
To achieve a perfect biscuit, you need the powers of both soda and powder. Just using baking soda and buttermilk would produce a tall brown biscuit. Your biscuit would lose its tang because the baking soda neutralizes the tangy taste of the buttermilk.
With the addition of baking powder, you'll use less baking soda, and your biscuit will brown and rise tall while retaining its signature buttermilk tang.


Common substitutes for baking soda and baking powder.

If you are missing baking powder:
      • The easiest swap is 1 teaspoon of baking soda to 2 teaspoons of cream of tartar to make 1 tablespoon of baking powder. 
      • If you don’t have the cream of tartar, you can take an acid liquid – like buttermilk, lemon juice, yogurt, or even vinegar – and combine it with baking soda. Refer to The Pioneer Woman's article for a full breakdown of these ratios.
      • All the above options require baking soda. And if you don’t have baking soda, don’t worry. It gets a little more complicated, but it’s still possible with whipped egg whites. You will need to remove the same amount of liquid from another liquid ingredient as the eggs whites you add. For example, if you add 2 tablespoons of unbeaten egg whites, remove 2 tablespoons of milk.

      If you are missing baking soda:

      • You can substitute baking soda with baking powder; you'll use three teaspoons of powder for every 1 teaspoon of soda.
      • Egg whites again for the win. The same rules apply.  
      • If you can work fast and gently at the same, club soda can add that bit of extra CO2. Same as the egg whites, you'll need to remove part of another liquid.

      Bonus content

      Were you one of the millions that jumped on the baking train during the 2020 pandemic shut down? Has it been about that long since you used your baking soda or baking powder? No shame! You will need to test to see if your ingredients are still good. We have a little science experiment for you today!  

      Test to see if baking soda is still active.  

      Think school volcano project. You'll need to add a little vinegar to about a teaspoon of baking soda. If your solution expands like a lava flow out of a volcano, your baking soda is still good to use!

      Test to see if baking powder is still active.  

      This experiment is much less exciting. Take a teaspoon of baking powder and add it to a small glass of hot water. If it bubbles, you're good to bake.   

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