Baking Powder versus Baking Soda- When To Use What… Or Both??

Dear all,

I have been recently asked on what grounds I decide whether to use baking soda and baking powder and whether I use them together or on their own and I had…. NO explanation, no guidelines, NOTHING! And I realized that most of my friends didn’t have any either. Everybody seems to use these two ingredients on a daily basis without a clue on how and why. And what about the chemical structure- do baking soda and baking powder only have the “baking” in their names in common or do they share the same origin?

Well, let’s lift the veil off this mystery…

downloadBoth baking soda and baking powder are leavening agents, which means they are added to baked goods before cooking to produce carbon dioxide and cause them to ‘rise’. Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate, a fine white powder with the formula NaHCO3. Baking powder is about one-third baking soda, and about two thirds other ingredients.

How do baking soda and baking powder work?

They both work by releasing carbon dioxide gas. This gas forms bubbles in the dough, causing it to rise. While the dough is cooking, these bubbles harden.

images (10)Baking soda is an alkaline, and when you mix in something acidic, like vinegar, it will release gas. The key here is that baking soda needs some sort of acid to activate the reaction. So it will work in recipes that include acidic ingredients like vinegar, lemon juice, yogurt and even molasses and honey. The reaction begins immediately upon mixing the ingredients, so you need to bake recipes which call for baking soda immediately, or else they will fall flat!

download (3)Baking powder, on the other hand, is nothing more than baking soda with some sort of acidic compound (different brands of baking powder use different compounds) already included. The baking soda and the acidic compound won’t react together until they are moistened, which causes the two chemicals to mix. Baking powder is available as single-acting baking powder and as double-acting baking powder. Single-acting powders are activated by moisture, so you must bake recipes which include this product immediately after mixing. Double-acting powders react in two phases and can stand for a while before baking. With double-acting powder, some gas is released at room temperature when the powder is added to dough, but the majority of the gas is released after the temperature of the dough increases in the oven.

Where does Sodium bicarbonate come from?

Soda is being mined directly from the ground in the form of nahcolite  (which is already baking soda). In the form of nahcolite there are no chemical reactions. There is nothing added, or altered.

BUT the majority of baking soda is made chemically. Most baking soda in the U.S. comes from Green River Wyoming.

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Green River also supplies 1/4 of the world with baking soda.The baking soda from Wyoming isimages (11)mined from TRONA ORE (I had to google trona, which is “a grey mineral which occurs as an evaporite in salt deposits and consists of a hydrated carbonate and bicarbonate of sodium” and ore, which is “a naturally occurring solid material from which a metal or valuable mineral can be extracted profitably”).
The trona then goes through a chemical process to create baking soda. It is heated until it turns to soda ash. Then the soda ash is treated with carbon dioxide to manufacture sodium bicarbonate.

I don’t know about you but I always prefer the natural form of ingredients if they are available and there are brands that offer natural baking soda. Just look for packages that tell you the baking soda has been processed without chemicals (for example Bob’s Red Mill Baking Powder and Soda).

Using baking powder instead of baking soda

While you will indeed get some rise, you won’t get enough, because you would essentially only be using one-third the amount of baking soda as the recipe actually requires.

If you were determined to do this, you could triple the amount of baking powder , but because of the additional ingredients in the baking powder, you’d probably notice a bitter flavor. There’s also a chance that because of the extra acids in the recipe, the batter would quickly rise and then fall before the bubbles had a chance to bake in. Either way, the results are not good.

What about aluminum in baking soda or baking powder?

Most baking powders contain aluminum in the form of sodium aluminum sulfate or sodium aluminum for the acidic part.  There have been some discussions about a possible connection between Alzheimer’s disease and sometimes aluminum gives a slightly metallic taste to the final product. If you’ve ever experienced a bitter, “tinny” flavor when biting into a muffin, that’s because of the baking powder used—and often the overuse of it. You can find aluminum free baking powders in regular supermarkets- these are also the  ones I use.

Baking soda does not contain aluminum, regardless of whether or not the package says “aluminum-free.”

Can you make baking powder yourself?

Sure. All you need to do is combine one teaspoon of baking soda with two teaspoons of cream of tartar. This will yield one tablespoon of baking powder. You should use it right away, however — don’t make up a batch in advance.

Last but not least, here is a new recipe with the right type of leavening agent- baking soda, which is the right choice because I used different acidic ingredients in the batter.

plant- based super moist orange cake


For a decadent version, add a scoop of home made banana ice cream on top (see in dessert recipes).


See full recipe on

Actually, looking at this recipe again, I think it would be a nice addition to add chopped walnuts to the batter. I’ll try that next time.

Hope this post helped to clear up the baking soda/ powder confusion a little. I’ll have to look through all my recipes now to see whether I need to make changes in regards to the leavening agents.



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