Shakespeare, in penning Romeo and Juliet, wrote, “That which we call a rose by any other name would be just as sweet.”
While this may be true when it comes to baking powder and baking soda, two very similar sounding baking ingredients, they are not the same at all. True, both are leavening agents that help recipes rise, but they not only have different chemical ingredients but they act quite differently in the cooking process.
What is baking soda?
Baking soda, also called sodium bicarbonate, is an alkaline baking product that originated millions of years ago from evaporated salt lakes millions of years ago, which turned into a rock-like substance called trona. Trona is then processed and then turned to sodium bicarbonate or baking soda.
Around 1846, two men, Dr. Austin Church, a medical doctor in New York State and his brother in law, John Dwight, teamed up to form a company selling Baking soda called
John Dwight and Company.
Dr. Church had been experimenting with sodium bicarbonate and carbon dioxide to perfect a yeast substitute for making break products rise as they baked. Baking soda was perfected, and the factory was quite a success. Later on, the two had an interest in their sons becoming partners in the business but an investor objected.
Church then moved on and formed a separate company, Church & Company of Massachusetts with his sons in 1867. Dwight, meanwhile, continued to sell baking soda under the
John Dwight and Company banner.
Finally, in 1896, the two firms, which were selling the same product, of which the public identified with both, merged in 1896, under the Arm and Hammer brand. A huge part of the acceptance of Arm and Hammer came in the 1860’s, when the company began mailing out millions of mini-recipe books, providing recipes with Baking Soda added.
By the 1920s, baking soda was everywhere, and the company has always been profitable.
The unique property of baking soda is that it does act as a leavener to rise bread, but only mixed with an acid. In order to rise, baking soda must be mixed with an acid acid. Thus, baking soda combines with ingredients such as cream of tartar, vinegar, lemon juice, buttermilk or yogurt in order for a baking recipe to rise. Once the appropriate acie is mixed with baking soda, small bubbles of gas are formed in the batter which causes the bread or muffins or what not to rise.
One does have to be careful not to add too much baking soda to a recipe, as an increase in baking soda does not cause the recipe to rise any higher. If you use too much baking soda, the result will be a bitter, rather than a sweet taste. In addition, when baking, the resultant recipe will tend to rise too rapidly, causing the batter to rise and then fall. Cakes or bread will become coarse, with a fallen center.
Baking powder has roughly 30 percent baking powder in it, but the important thing to note is that baking powder, in addition to inert chemicals in it, baking powder contains the necessary dry acide required to make a baking powder rise.
The moment that baking powder combines with a liquid (any liquid,) the result is the same bubbling carbonation process as when baking soda comes into contact with an acid such as lemon juice.
The fundamental difference however, is that you require much less baking powder than if you are using baking soda. The general rule is that 1 teaspoon of baking sod is the equivalent of perhaps 1/4th teaspoon of baking powder.
Different types of baking powder
Baking powder comes in two types, double acting and single acting baking powder.
With double acting baking powder, which is what you are most likely to find at a grocery store, the rising power of the baking is activated twice. First, at room temperature, when liquids are mixed with the batter, the activation process of rising through carbon dioxide bubbles start. Then, when the baking product is heated, a second rising occurs.
The other type of baking powder, single acting baking power, does not react in the first stage when the liquid is added to the batter at room temperature. Instead, single acting baking powder is a very fast acting leavening, which can be very useful for professional baking.
Culinary chefs usually use single acting baking powder, because it produces a baked product (or boiled product such as donuts) that does not tend to crack.
When using single acting baking powder, you have to be very quick and pop your baked goods into the often quickly, as if you prepare the batter and let it sit for a while, the carbonation process will complete long before you begin to bake the product.
Single acting baking powder is rarely found at your local grocery store, so you may need to go to a specialty store, or buy it online at a location such as Amazon. You may also need to pay more for single acting baking powder,
When to use baking powder instead of baking soda?
Since baking soda requires the addition of an acid acid and baking powder does not, the answer depends upon the recipe. If it does not have vinegar, lemon juice, buttermilk or yogurt in it, go with baking powder.
Pay close attention to the recipe. If the recipe does include acid acides, too much baking soda will completely neutralize the baked product. And if you feel a little experimental, its actually a good idea to use a mix of baking soda and baking powder. Chances are, that way, there will be enough tang left in the recipe to add a bit of zest and flavor.
On the other hand, baked goods brown much better in an alkaline environment, so adding a little baking soda (just a little, not a lot as baking soda is 4 times as strong) will likely produce a better browning of your baked products.
Substituting baking powder for baking soda
It is possible if a recipe calls for baking soda and you do not have any, to use baking powder rather than baking soda. However, remember to use around 1/3 to 1/4th of what the recipe calls for in baking soda. However, substituting is risky. You may end up with a baked product that is too acidic and bitter as a result of too much baking powder.
On the other hand, if you don’t add enough baking powder, your baked goods may wind up quite dense and hard.
In addition, by substituting baking powder for baking soda, your baked goods may also wind up a bit too salty. Baking powder contains significantly more salt than does baking soda. And quite obviously, baking soda is not a substitute for baking powder. Baking soda requires an acidic addition to the recipe, and without that, your baked goods won’t rise at all.
As a substitute for baking powder, some people will use ordinary baking soda and add cream of tartar to make homemade baking powder.
Two other methods are to use whipped eggs, which do contain tiny air bubbles or to add club soda to baking soda, as clubbed soda does contain carbonated water that can help in the rising process.
When it comes to substitution, however, substituting baking powder for baking soda tends to work much better than substituting baking soda for baking powder.
If a recipe calls for both baking soda and baking powder and you don’t have either, it is possible to use self-rising flour, which contains flour, salt, and baking powder.
In general, though, we believe it’s best to stick to the recipe unless you are a mad scientist in the kitchen.
How long do baking soda and baking powder last?
Both baking powder and baking soda are safe on the shelf for a long time. However, over time, they do tend to lose their potency.
Baking soda will tend to be fully potent, so to speak for up to 2 years, while baking powder will tend to last around 18 months.
You can test whether baking soda is still potent by stirring 1/4 of a teaspoon of baking soda into a bowl and mixing it with around three tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar. If it bubbles up, it’s still good for your baking needs.
To test baking powder for freshness and potency, merely stir 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder together with about a tablespoon of hot water. If the mixture bubbles, then you are good to go.
Storage of baking powder and soda
Store both baking soda and baking powder in an airtight container in the cupboard. Just make sure that no humidity gets in to cause any type of reaction.
Thus it’s best to keep storage away from stoves, dishwashers, and sinks.