Baking powder in jar

Soda versus powder

In the wonderful world of baking, mixing up baking powder and baking soda can be disastrous.

You may be thinking what’s the big deal?

The only time when mixing up the two could genuinely serious situation would be when your bakes have to be gluten free. A lot of people don’t realise that baking powder contains a third ingredient, flour: a clear issue if your cakes are being eaten by anyone with a wheat allergy. Even fewer realise that although baking soda in its pure form wouldn’t contain any wheat, sometimes it’s sold diluted with flour.

But besides the allergen aspect, there is some pretty substantial science behind why the two should never be thought of as interchangeable.

In the simplest terms, baking powder contains both ingredients needed for the  key chemical reaction which makes bakes grow while they’re in the oven. Baking soda has only one of the two key ingredients. Sometimes you can just about get away with it, but in other cases when the recipe is quite challenging or delicate, this can cause a baking disaster.

Some recipes of course are very successful using baking soda, either because they have compensated for the lack of the other half of the reaction, or the baking soda is being used for a reason other than increasing size.  A prime example of this is biscuits, which use baking soda for the golden brown colour.

With only half the ingredients needed for the chemical reaction of leavening, the amount of air given off by baking soda is only about half of what baking powder can give off.  This means smaller cakes which actually have an unpleasant taste and colour too as a result of all the baking soda that’s still there.

So, next time if you’ve been searching in your cupboards for baking powder, and only found the soda, please please please go to the shops and buy some more!  Your cakes will thank you for it, happy baking!


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