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So You Say You Wanna Know?

What's the Difference Between Baking Soda and Baking Powder?

I love being in the kitchen (both whipping up a pseudo-gourmet meal and nibbling my way through the cupboards, pantry and refrigerator). While I can do wonders with a sauté pan, a cast iron skillet, stock pots and various other cooking accoutrements, my baking endeavors are few and far between. It’s not that I don’t enjoy baking, but rather, my talents tend to flourish exponentially when my culinary pursuits involve cooking food over cakes, pies and the like. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t know how to bake.

Baking is not my forte, but when done right, I love the end result.

Baking is not my forte, but when done right, I love the end result.

With that being said, I have had my fair share of baking disasters that have left a bad taste in my mouth (literally…) — cakes falling victim to gravity while still in the oven, pie crusts that resemble tire rims, hockey puck cookies and, the worst, using the wrong ingredients. Yikes! Who among us hasn’t used baking soda when the recipe called for baking powder, or vice versa?

Using the wrong “baking” product is an easy mistake. After all, they’re remarkably similar: they’re both white, odorless and water-soluble.

So what is the difference between baking soda and baking powder?

baking sodaBaking soda is essentially sodium bicarbonate (or bicarbonate of soda) that reacts to acids which produces carbon dioxide. Think of pouring vinegar into baking soda and watching the bubble begin. These bubbles, when incorporated into baked goodies, is a process called leavening. It’s that carbon dioxide, or CO2 gas, that causes your batter to rise. The problem with this is that you don’t want your cake batter to rise before you put it in the oven. Unfortunately, that is exactly what will happen when baking soda and acid (vinegar, lemon juice, buttermilk, etc.) merge. When using baking soda, make it one of the last ingredients you incorporate and bake your batter fairly soon after mixing.

baking powderBaking powder, on the other hand, causes a delayed release action of sorts. It actually contains baking soda and does produce a CO2 gas reaction when mixed with a wet batter. But what baking powder has over baking soda is that it continues on with the leavening process when the element of heat is introduced. In other words, you take your wet batter, pop it in a hot oven and your cake begins to rise. The more bubbles, the lighter and fluffier dessert!

Admittedly, this may sounds a bit confusing. It is, after all, science. If you have both baking soda and baking powder in your kitchen but you have no earthly clue which is which (labels fell off, in decorative storage tins, etc.), try the water test. Baking powder will react to water by foaming up; baking soda will not Remember, baking soda reacts to acid

You wanted to know? Now you know.

[Get more of “So You Say You Wanna Know” and stay in the culinary know!]



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