Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder

March 26, 2013 | By | Comments (22)

baking-cookie-cutoutsIf you learn nothing else from this post, remember this:
Baking powder puffs (rises).
Baking soda spreads.

Let’s take the example of cookies. (Yum, cookies!)

For perfect cut-out cookies, you’d use baking powder because it allows the dough to rise but doesn’t make your proud gingerbread man look like he had a close encounter with a car tire.

But for chocolate chip cookies, you’d use baking soda because it allows the dough to spread, and you get thinner, crisp edges with a tender center. (Now I’m craving cookies!)

That, in an easy-to-remember nutshell, is the science behind baking powder and baking soda. Of course, I’m not going to leave it there.

Deb Wise, our resident baking expert and Test Kitchen Recipe Developer and Tester, walked through the science of the two ingredients with me: Both are chemical leaveners–that is, they both break down in the presence of moisture and/or heat and release carbon dioxide bubbles. The gas bubbles are trapped by the starch in the batter or dough and cause the baked good to expand while in the oven. In essence, these leaveners are responsible for making baked goods so light, porous, and fluffy.

Baking soda needs an acid–buttermilk, lemon juice, vinegar, or sour cream may be used–to begin reacting, releasing gas bubbles, and rising. Baking soda is also typically responsible for any chemical flavor you might taste in a baked good–that bitter or metallic taste is a sign you’ve used too much baking soda in your recipe, and you have unreacted baking soda left in the food.

Baking powder needs first a liquid (as when mixed into a batter) and heat (from the oven) to react and begin releasing gases. You may see this described as “double-acting” baking powder.


Shelf Lives
Baking powder needs to be replaced every 6 to 12 months (follow the expiration date on the can). Baking soda, however, can last you several years, if stored correctly–that is, in a cool, dry place. Because she is a kitchen nerd, Deb likes to date her new can or box so she can remember when to replace it.

Test your baking soda to see if it’s still a viable product by pouring 2 teaspoons vinegar in a bowl with 1/4 teaspoon baking soda. If the mixture bubbles immediately, your soda is still good for baking. If it makes a paste but no bubble, toss the soda.

Test your baking powder by combining 1/2 cup hot water with 1 teaspoon baking powder. If it bubbles, your baking powder gets the thumbs up. If it doesn’t, thumbs down. Toss it, and get another container.

Don’t have baking powder? You can actually make your own. For one teaspoon of baking powder, combine 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch. (The cornstarch absorbs any moisture and prevents a reaction before the DIY baking powder is in the batter, so don’t skip it.)

Be sure to sift or whisk together your baking powder or baking soda with your flour and other dry ingredients (such as salt, cinnamon, etc.) before combining it with wet ingredients in your recipe. Otherwise, you might end up with very large holes throughout your baked good. And a nasty bite tasting like you licked the inside of a rusty can.

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  1. Janette

    I tried making lemon muffins and the result was horrible: like a solid, flat, cake crust. I am trying to figure out what went wrong… maybe it was the gluten-free flour… or the baking powder. All I know is that it did not rise whatsoever.

    Also: what is the acid in chocolate chip cookies that the baking soda reacts to?

    June 8, 2016 at 12:17 pm
  2. What Went Wrong This Time?! – eightarmchair

    […] subtitle, I thought the problem was related to the lack of baking soda. However, after some basic research, I wonder if that’s not that case. Essentially, as I understand it, the properties of baking soda […]

    June 4, 2016 at 9:45 pm
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  4. Snickerdoodles | wanna come with?

    […] to this article at Cooking Light, cookies made with baking powder will tend to puff up, while cookies made with baking soda are more […]

    May 31, 2015 at 2:08 am
  5. Rhee

    My chocolate chip cookies are cakey . Would baking powder be a better choice ?…. I add coconut to most of my cookie recipes … Does that make a difference in which one I use ?… Should I change the amount of soda I use ?

    May 19, 2015 at 12:35 am
    • Beverly Y Carney

      Rhee, I would cut back on the amount of flour you are using. Coconut shouldn’t be a problem unless it is coconut flour which seems, in my experience, to suck up liquid. I have intentionally used more flour when I want a cakey cookie, less when chewy.

      May 19, 2015 at 5:24 am
  6. Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder | We Dish Nutrition
    May 6, 2015 at 9:06 am
  7. Karissa Steward

    Hello I am a student at ECOT and this source has been very helpful for my project.

    April 23, 2015 at 3:29 pm
  8. Cathy Tjomasd

    I used baking powder by mistake in my cc cookies. Can I add some soda to it.

    April 3, 2015 at 10:44 am
  9. Noemi

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    February 12, 2015 at 12:30 pm
  10. blazferlinc

    PH of baking soda, if not neutralized by acids, increases the browning of food, for example toast, meat, French fries, pastries, etc… Cakes can be very brown and looks almost burnt, the flavor can be bitterer. More about this here:

    January 29, 2015 at 4:55 am
  11. Bev Carney

    Christin, I too was curious about the acid in the chocolate chip recipe. I mistakenly used baking powder instead of soda in the ATK Ultimate chocolate chip cookie with horrible results. So I did a bit of research and found that there is no acid in the recipe. THe baking soda is used to aid in the browning. The paragraph below is from

    “The most interesting side effect of using baking soda in a recipe is that it affects browning in a major way. The Maillard reaction, named after Louise-Camille Maillard who first described its processes in the early 20th century, is the set of reactions responsible for that beautiful brown crust on your steak and the deep hue of a good loaf of bread. Asides from cosmetics, the reaction also produces hundreds of aromatic compounds that add an inimitable savoriness and complexity to foods.”

    December 8, 2014 at 6:50 am
  12. How Much Baking Soda Vs Baking Powder | We Get Healthy

    […] Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder | Cooking Light – If you learn nothing else from this post, remember this: Baking powder puffs (rises). Baking soda spreads. Let’s take the example of cookies. (Yum, cookies!)… […]

    December 6, 2014 at 1:47 am
  13. Cowboy

    Thanks, Kimberly !

    I don’t bake a lot, but recently have tried a couple of recipes, and you have really helped me figure out a way to experiment with a particular recipe that I want to get to rise more than it does.

    Have a good day,


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    […] a very useful explanation of baking powder and what it does/how it works, try this article – well written and informative (so many cookery explanations are […]

    April 6, 2014 at 9:38 am
  16. sarapearsdixon

    This is really helpful. And easy to read! Thanks. I will do a link to this explanation for my next blog if that’s okay.

    March 23, 2014 at 5:10 am
  17. doris

    If a cookie recipe calls for baking soda, can I use baking powder instead since that is all I presently have. Would I use the same amount of either or is there difference in that? Your advice is appreciated.

    December 31, 2013 at 1:30 pm
    • Kimberly Holland

      You could use the same amount of baking powder instead of baking soda, but the resulting cookie will be different than the recipe intended. Not bad, just different. Probably not as crisp or brown, or have the intended texture.

      January 3, 2014 at 6:47 pm
  18. Christin Davies

    What is the acid in Chocolate Chip cookies that the Baking Sode reacts to?

    December 16, 2013 at 11:12 am
  19. Gail Pelton

    Very informative Thank-you. I am going to share it on my facebbok page

    March 27, 2013 at 5:42 pm
  20. Charlotte J. Rogers

    You are joking, of course?

    March 26, 2013 at 5:20 pm

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