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Baking Soda vs Baking Powder

Baking Soda vs Baking Powder

They look almost identical. They're both used to leaven baked goods. Is there any difference between baking soda and baking powder? Yes, a crucial difference.

Tiny Bubbles

Baking powder and baking soda are both powders that react chemically to release a profusion of tiny carbon dioxide bubbles. When heated, these bubbles expand, working to lift and lighten all kinds of batters - including muffins, quick breads, pancakes, cakes, cookies, brownies - before the batter sets in the oven. Such baked goods cook quickly and tend to be relatively delicate in texture. The style of recipes in which these two leaveners are used, however, is about as far as the similarities go.

Baking Soda Basic

Just as an experiment, try dropping 1/4 teaspoon baking soda into a drinking glass. Mix in 1/4 cup water. Nothing happens. Add 1 tablespoon lemon juice and it will immediately begin to fizz and bubble like carbonated water. Baking soda is an alkali, or base, made of a naturally occurring compound known as sodium bicarbonate. As the experiment demonstrates, for baking soda to release carbon dioxide bubbles, it needs to react with an acidic ingredient. Some common acids in baking are buttermilk, cream of tartar, brown sugar, lemon juice, sour cream and chocolate. The catch with baking soda is that it must be properly balanced with the acidic ingredient so that it is fully neutralized. If not, the leftover baking soda will leave a soapy and bitter flavor.

The power of baking Powder

Baking powder works on the same principle as baking soda. Ad acid and an alkali react to release carbon dioxide bubbles. The difference is that baking powder contains both components. It consists of baking soda and one or two acids. Just add something wet, even water, and bubble will start to form. Most supermarkets carry "double-acting" baking powder, which contains two acids that react at different times in the baking process. The first acid reacts with the baking soda when a liquid is mixed in. The second acid reacts with the baking soda when exposed to heat. Single-acting baking powder contains only one acid and is not often found in supermarkets. Most contemporary recipes are developed with double-acting baking powder.

Mix and Mismatch

While you can't swap baking soda for baking powder, or vice versa, you can make baking powder at home. Homemade baking powder is single-acting, so use it for dough or batters that will be baked right away. You may wonder why some recipes call for both baking powder and baking soda. Usually, the amount of baking soda used to neutralize the recipe's acid is not enough to sufficiently leaven the baked good. So, baking powder is added as a back-up leavener. Another often-asked question : How come a favorite recipe, such as a muffin or cake, turns out light and airy one time and heavy and deflated another? The culprit just might be the baking powder, which loses its effectiveness about 3 months after opening.

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