Thursday, January 6, 2011

Baking Soda versus Baking Powder – A Science Lesson

Do you ever find yourself wondering what baking soda and baking powder really are? Are they related? And do you really need both of them in your pantry?

Just about every baking recipe calls for one of these two ingredients. Some recipes even call for both, but that’s often not necessary.

Baking soda and baking powder are indeed related. Baking soda is simply sodium bicarbonate. It’s a leavening agent. When it is mixed with an acid and liquid it releases carbon dioxide, and helps your baked goods get lighter and fluffier. Have you ever noticed that your baking projects bubble up when you mix in the baking soda? That’s the chemical reaction I am describing here.

Not every recipe contains an acid, and that’s where baking powder comes in. Baking powder also includes the acidifying agent. When mixed with a liquid, you get the same bubbling reaction. Single acting baking powders are suitable for quick-bake goods, while double acting baking powder has two phases of the chemical ‘lifting’ action.

If you’re creating your own recipes which should you choose?
If in doubt, use baking powder. If a recipe calls for baking soda and you don’t have any, you can substitute baking powder, but you will need to double or triple the quantity. Use double acting baking powder if you need to get that second lift (while your tasty treat is in the oven).

Baking soda is actually the simpler of the two products, and I really like to use it when baking it. The trick is that you need to have an acidic agent in your ingredients. Vinegar, lemon juice, and chocolate/cocoa are all acidic. You only need a small amount of acid to get the reaction you want.

Another thing to keep in mind:

Many allergen-free cooks use Ener-G egg replacer instead of eggs. Eggs and Ener-g egg replacer are also leavening agents. This egg replacer contains calcium carbonate (which is what sodium bicarbonate is made from) and citric acid (in addition to flours). If you’re using Ener-G egg replacer, you may only need a small amount of baking soda for additional leavening.

When baking, you should always mix the dry ingredients (including the baking soda or baking powder) together well, before adding them to the wet ingredients, and get your baking project into the oven quickly!


Anonymous said...

Have been wondering about that. Thanks Colette, you have a great way of explaining this sort of thing that makes it very easy to understand.

Colette said...

Glad you found it helpful!

Unknown said...

I have a recipe that calls for triple action baking powder. Is that something I should try to find or ???? Something I can combine? It's for biscuits.

Colette said...

I have never worked with triple acting baking powder and I don't believe you can find it off the shelf. I would try it with standard double acting baking powder.