Baking powder vs baking soda, which to use?

Baking uses two leavening agents, baking powder and baking soda. When we experience lightness in a finished baked good, such as a cake or muffin, we are experiencing a successful reaction. Carbon dioxide bubbles escape from the wet batter, hence creates volume. (The bubbles rise to the top causing the batter to rise.) During baking, Bubbles rise leaving behind tiny pockets of trapped air in the batter structure. The choice of which to use, baking powder vs. baking soda, depends on the pH (acidity or alkalinity) of the batter.

What is Baking Powder?

Baking powder is a balanced blend of an acidic agent with an alkaline agent ready to create carbon dioxide bubbles in a pH neutral batter.

What is Baking Soda?

Baking soda is an alkaline agent used to create carbon dioxide bubbles in a pH acidic batter.

In a pH neutral batter, baking powder will produce enough bubbles to support the dough structure. Add an acidic ingredient and the baking powder will no longer be in balance. This will result in a partial rise. To bring the reaction back into balance for a full rise, reduce baking powder and add baking soda. This will produces enough bubbles during the rise that can be held within the structure of the flour. Therefore, baking soda alone is 4 times as reactive as baking powder.

How to Determine the Leavener Calculation

Leavener calculation is simple when using only baking powder or only baking soda. One teaspoon of baking powder leavens 1 cup of flour. 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda leavens 1 cup of flour. Baking soda is 4 times as reactive and baking powder.

Art and science come into play when a combination of both are needed to rise 1 cup of flour. Adding too much leavener is observed by excessive rising then falling of the baked good. The combined total of baking powder or soda should not exceed the structure capacity of 1 cup of flour. For example, 1 cup of flour could be raised with 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder combined with 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda in an acidic batter.

Understanding ingredient families makes easy work understanding leavening agents. Most cereal grains used as flour in baking are close to pH neutral or perhaps slighting alkaline. Unrefined or whole sweeteners, liquids such as citrus juice, fruit based purees, fruit liquids. and flavoring such as cocoa powder are in the acidic pH range.

The principles of baking powder vs baking soda are fundamental to achieving good baking skills. If you’d like to learn more, consider signing up for one of our vegan baking courses.