They’re both powdery. They’re both white. They’re both used in baking. So what’s the difference between baking soda and baking powder? And how do you remember which is which?

Both baking soda and baking powder are leavening agents, which are used to make tasty baked goods to rise. They bring the carbon dioxide air bubbles to your bread and the height to your stack of Saturday pancakes. While the two substances look similar in color and texture, their chemical compositions and how they interact with other ingredients differ.

Let’s dig in.

What is Baking soda?

Baking soda (or bicarbonate of soda or sodium bicarbonate) is a base that reacts whenever it is combined with liquid and an acid. Baking soda itself is not acidic, but when combined with an an acid, like buttermilk, lemon juice, or yogurt, it releases carbon dioxide air bubbles. Without baking soda, cookies and cakes would be flat and dense.

Also see, how to make a buttermilk substitute at home. 

What is Baking Powder?

Baking powder on the other hand, is a mixture of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and also a powdered acid—like cream of tartar or sodium aluminum sulfate—that releases carbon dioxide whenever it’s combined with liquid and heat. Because it already contains an acid, baking powder can be used on its own to leaven baked goods without the need for an additional acidic ingredient.

So what’s the difference?

The major difference between baking soda and baking powder is that baking powder already contains an acid that will release carbon dioxide (when wet), whereas baking soda does not contain this acid and requires you to add your own.

When should I use each?

Use baking soda in recipes that already have an acidic ingredient like buttermilk, lemon juice, or vinegar. Use baking powder if a recipe does not have an acid ingredient but still needs to rise, like pancakes, corn bread, and biscuits.

Can I substitute one for the other?

Sort of.

Baking is a science so substituting isn’t ideal. However, if you understand how each is used, you may be able to pull it off.

Baking soda and baking powder are two different products with different contents, but if you find you are fresh out of baking soda, you may be able to substitute with baking powder. Baking powder is about 3-4 times weaker than baking soda, so substitute about three to four times the amount of baking soda the recipe calls for. For example, if the recipe calls for one teaspoon of baking soda, use three or four teaspoons or baking powder.

This may work fine, but it could also backfire. Your final produce could be bitter or too salty since baking powder contains more sodium than baking soda.

You could also make your own baking powder.

How to make your own baking powder

  1. Use club soda in place of other liquids in the recipe. Club soda is carbonated water with baking powder added, so it will help batter rise.
  2. Mix your own. Mix two parts cream of tartar with one part baking soda. If storing long-term, add a teaspoon of cornstarch to keep mixture dry.

Also see, Avoid these 10 common baking mistakes for better baked goods. 

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Meghan is a full-time writer exploring the fun facts behind food. She lives a healthy lifestyle but lives for breakfast, dessert and anything with marinara. She’s thrown away just as many meals as she’s proud of.