Difference Between Baking Soda and Baking Powder | Life

What is baking soda used for? What is baking powder used for? What is the difference between both ?

When I got your question, I headed straight for my kitchen cabinet. I grabbed some baking soda and baking powder off the shelf and made some observations.

Not only did baking soda and baking powder look alike, but they both contained an ingredient called baking soda.

To learn more about this mysterious ingredient, I spoke to my friend, Stephanie Smith, a professor who teaches food science at Washington State University.

She reminded me that sodium bicarbonate is a chemical compound. A compound is something made up of atoms or molecules. This particular chemical compound can react with certain ingredients to create tender and chewy textures in our baked goods.

While baking powder and baking soda may serve a similar purpose, they work in slightly different ways, Smith adds.

If you’ve ever mixed baking soda and vinegar, you know that the mixture foams up quickly. When this happens, the mixture releases a gas called carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide is actually what helps give everything from muffins to cookies to cakes their nice, chewy textures. The gas creates small air pockets in your cookie mix or cake batter. This ultimately helps the final product to puff up.

Baking soda is just sodium bicarbonate. It needs a few things to help it react with other ingredients in our mixing bowls. First, it needs an acid. There are all kinds of acids in our world. When it comes to baking, some of the acids we use include buttermilk or lemon juice.

Once you have an acid, you will also need a liquid, such as water or milk. Finally, bubbles of carbon dioxide will be able to form.

Meanwhile, the baking powder is basically just baking soda, plus a bit of dry acid. Since it already has the acid, all you have to do is add water or another liquid to get those carbon dioxide bubbles.

There is also another ingredient that we can sometimes use in cooking to create carbon dioxide. Perhaps you have already heard of it. Unlike baking soda and baking powder, this particular ingredient is a living organism.

It is an ingredient that is also often used to make bread or pizza dough. If you’re thinking yeast, you’re right. Yeast is a kind of microbe that can eat the sugar in your dough and release carbon dioxide to help bread rise.

Whether you use yeast, baking soda, or baking powder, there’s definitely a lot of science behind how baked goods rise and become fluffy. You know, the kitchen is a great place to ask big questions about how and why things work.

Maybe one day your questions will take you even further into the fascinating worlds of baking, chemistry or even food science.

Do you have a scientific question? Ask Dr. Wendy Sue Universe, WSU Scientist Cat and Writer in Residence, via email at [email protected]