Baking soda and baking powder are utilized as leavening agents for baking. In baking, the two products produce carbon dioxide gas, which causes baked products to rise. Many people often wonder which recipe requires baking powder and which one requires baking soda. You might be tempted to think that they can be used interchangeably. The two look the same; with a similar smell and often people believe that they are the same thing. However, baking powder and baking powder are chemically different and are used under different conditions.
What is Baking Soda?
Baking soda (or bicarbonate of soda) is pure sodium bicarbonate without any adulteration. It is crystalline but appears as a white powder. Chemically, baking soda is basic or alkaline. You can recall from chemistry class that bicarbonate of soda reacts with an acid to yield bubbles of air (carbon dioxide). Baking utilizes this principle to cause the dough to rise. You need an acid in your recipe to activate the baking soda. The reaction between baking soda and the acid is very rapid, and you should, therefore, bake your batter as soon to avoid carbon dioxide from escaping. Avoid the temptation of saving the batter for later use.
A recipe that uses baking soda must include an acidic ingredient to activate the baking soda. The market provides many acidic products you can use for baking. The choice depends on your recipe. Examples include vinegar, buttermilk, lemon juice, yogurt, cocoa, molasses, and honey. You can also use sodium bicarb in sourdough (which is acidic) to make the dough lighter and neutralize the acidic taste.
You can opt to use baking soda on its own without an acid activator. In this case, heat alone will cause sodium bicarbonate to decompose and produce carbon dioxide. You will, however, encounter some challenges with this method. Only a portion of baking soda will decompose and produce while the heat will change the remaining bicarbonate to sodium carbonate. Sodium carbonate is a strong alkali that affects the taste and color of baked products. Remember that that acid could have neutralized all the bicarbonate that would have poor taste and change in color.
What is Baking Powder?
Baking powder combines baking soda with a dry, weak acid such as cream of tartar. Baking powder may include a starch ingredient such as potato starch or cornstarch in its composition – with the latter being more popular. The starch serves as a drying agent. Without the drying agent, your baking powder could easily absorb water to cause a premature reaction between the acidifying agent and the baking soda. When baking, the addition of water activates the reaction between baking soda and acid to produce carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide that is produced causes your cooking batter to rise.
Double Acting vs Single Baking Powders
You have probably seen the terms double acting or single baking powder on the packaging. Baking powder can be fast acting or slow acting. The fast-acting will react with water in the wet mixture at room temperature to yield carbon dioxide. The slow-acting baking powder will fail to react until baked in the oven.
The double acting baking powder contains both slow-acting and fast-acting acids. This means that some leavening will occur when you as soon as the baking powder is exposed to water. Further leavening will happen when heated in the oven. Many baking powder brands you find in the market are double acting.
Normally you should use a teaspoon of baking powder to raise a mixture of a cup of flour and a cup of liquid and one egg. Remember that if your mixture contains acidic ingredients, then the acid in the baking powder will remain unused in the mixture. This will often result in unpleasant taste in your food.
Some Recipes Call For Both
Some recipes require the use of both baking powder and baking soda. Such recipes have some acidic ingredients. The challenge is that the carbon dioxide produced from the reaction of the acid and baking soda is not sufficient to cause the required rise in the batter. Baking powder is included in such a recipe to provide the necessary lift.
How long your baking powder or baking soda lasts depends on its storage conditions. Baking soda can last a very long time if you keep it sealed and in a cool and dry place. With baking powder, you can experience some storage challenges. You can store baking powder for three months or even a year depending on the storage environment. Baking powder does not stay for long in a humid environment. Once opened use it within two or three months. Here is a tip; buy small packages of baking powder and mark the purchase date and open date so you can monitor its freshness.
How to Test the viability of Baking Powder and Baking Soda
High temperatures and humidity can deteriorate the effectiveness of baking powder. Here is how you can check the effectiveness of baking powder. Add a teaspoon of baking powder into half a cup of boiling water. Vigorous fizzing indicates the baking powder is active – otherwise replace the baking powder.
The effectiveness test for baking soda is also simple. Place a teaspoon of baking soda in a container. Then, add to it a small amount of vinegar. If it bubbles energetically, your baking soda is still active. If no bubbling occurs, discard the baking soda.
How to Make Your Own Baking Powder
Making your own baking powder is easy. To prepare a teaspoon of baking powder mix the following ingredients. A quarter teaspoon of baking soda, half teaspoon of cream of tartar, and a quarter teaspoon of cornstarch. Stir thoroughly to ensure homogeneity. Once it’s thoroughly mixed, you’re ready to use it.