You know this story well: you’re in the kitchen baking, and the recipe calls for some baking powder, so you reach into your pantry and grab some. Right before you go to pour it into the mixing bowl, you stop yourself and breathe a sigh of relief— you grabbed the baking soda by mistake, but caught yourself in time. Still, you wonder, “What really would have happened?”
Or how about this: your fridge is smelling not-so-great, and you want to freshen it up. You know that baking soda is the go-to answer, but you’re all out. You do have baking powder, except that won’t work the same way— but why?
Or, what about when a recipe calls for both baking soda and baking powder, and you spend the whole time checking and double-checking that you’re not mixing up the amounts and when they need to be mixed into the batter? How bad would it really be if you got the two switched? What is the real difference between the two?
That’s what we’re going to learn today. Here’s everything every baker should know about the difference between baking powder and baking soda.
1- Baking Soda
You know that baking soda plays a part not only in our baking, but in our cleaning, our crafts, our home remedies, and all other sorts of DIY reasons. Why is it so versatile? Well, see if you remember this fun fact from science class: baking soda is a chemical compound officially called sodium bicarbonate, and also sometimes known as bicarbonate soda. It’s about as basic an ingredient as things can get— and we mean that it both senses of the word. Baking soda is not only basic in the sense of being an essential, foundational item, but because it’s the opposite of acidic; it has a pH level higher than something like, say, vinegar.
We can feel those of you who hated science class nodding off, but stay with us! So, we know baking soda is basic, so what happens when it reacts with something acidic— something in a recipe like vinegar, or buttermilk, or lemon juice, or brown sugar? The two react and create carbon dioxide, usually noticeable in the form of bubbles.
That’s right— at its baking-related heart, baking soda is a leavening agent. We need it to create air and create rise, and you do that by combining it with another, acidic ingredient that will react with it. Baking soda will also create this effect on its own when you heat it, but the result is a metallic taste associated with basic pH levels. So the acid not only helps with the reaction, it also balances out the taste so you get the air bubbles without the problems.
Also, guys, that box you keep in your fridge to absorb smells? Don’t bake with it. You don’t want those leftover scents transferred to your cookies and cakes!
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