Baking Powder vs Baking Soda

Everybody is busy searching for good cake recipes so that they can bake one for their loved ones on the occasion of the valentine day. Baking powder and baking soda are two very common ingredients that we come across while preparing baked goods. Many people get confused between the two. I get many queries regarding baking powder and baking soda on my YouTube videos as also on Facebook Fan Page. So let’s study a little more about baking powder and baking soda.  Both are used as leavening agents yet there is a difference between them.

To begin with let’s talk about leavening agents. Leavening agents are those that cause food to rise.

Air is the first leavening agent that we are going to talk about. When we beat eggs along with sugar, what we are actually doing is, we are incorporating air which helps to make the cake light and fluffy.

When the air is released where does it get entrapped? Cake or bread or any other leavened product forms a 3D structure of starch and glucose from the proteins in which air gets entrapped and then heating makes this structure firm and thus air remains inside the baked product.

The next leavening agent is steam. In the recipe of idli, the agent that causes it to rise is air. The rice is the main ingredient in it and when it is steamed, the volume increase and the idli becomes nice and soft.

Yeast is yet another leavening ingredient. It is available in two forms – fresh yeast and dried yeast. Yeast is a fungus and when it comes in contact with sugar and moisture, it undergoes the process of fermentation. The carbohydrates are converted into carbon dioxide and alcohol and the carbon dioxide causes the food to rise.

Chemical leavening agents
Baking powder and baking soda are chemical leavening agents. In many baking recipes we either use baking powder or baking soda. Let’s find out the difference between the two. Baking Powder and Baking Soda are added to the food to release the carbon dioxide which causes the food to rise and makes it light and fluffy.

Baking Soda
Baking soda is pure sodium bicarbonate. When it is combined with moisture and an acidic agent like yogurt, buttermilk, lemon juice, orange juice or lemon zest, it releases carbon dioxide which causes food to rise at oven temperature or cooking temperature. By cooking temperature we mean to say that while steaming food items like dhokla, we add lemon juice combined with baking soda (or cooking soda) just before steaming. The carbon dioxide will cause the dhokla to puff up only while it is being steamed. You need to bake or cook the food as soon as baking soda is added to it or else leavening action will fail and the food will not rise.

Baking Powder
Baking powder is sodium bicarbonate plus an acidifying agent like cream of tartar and starch.
In spite of having acid and alkali as components, they do not react with each other. The starch separates them from each other but when they come in contact with moisture, they start reacting.

There are two types of baking powder.

Single Acting Baking powder – This baking powder is activated only when it comes in contact with moisture and hence you should bake the food as soon as you add it.

Double acting baking powder – This baking powder can wait for baking. It basically reacts in two phases. Some of the carbon dioxide gets released at room temperature while majority of the gas is released while baking.

How are recipes determined?
Some recipes have baking soda as one of the ingredients while others have baking powder. Baking soda is alkaline in nature and hence it is used when one of the other ingredients in the recipe is acidic. The baking soda will taste bitter unless it is used along with acidic ingredient. Baking powder is neutral in taste since it has both alkali and acid and hence it is used with neutral tasting ingredients like milk.

Some points that one should keep in mind while baking
If you do not mix the leavening agents properly into cake or cookie batter, it will make the product dense. What you need to do is, sift the leaving agents along with dry ingredients like refined flour, cocoa powder so that it is mixed properly.

If the leavening agents are added in excess the result will be a dry or crumbly texture. Too much leavening agents can also cause cake to sink along with a bitter aftertaste.

In most cakes, where ingredients like date, dried fruits or carrots are used, the recipe calls for both baking powder and baking soda. Baking powder does most of the leavening whereas the baking soda neutralizes the acids and adds some tenderness to the product. The quantity of baking soda is always less than baking powder in this case.

Too much baking soda will result in soapy taste and coarse texture.

Both baking powder and baking soda should be stored in cool, dry area. Make sure that the packet is properly sealed after the use.

Check if it is active
How to check if the baking powder is active – add a teaspoon of baking powder to one fourth cup of hot water, if the mixture bubbles, baking powder is still active and fit for use.

How to check if the baking soda is active – it is same as the test for baking powder. You just need to add one fourth teaspoon of vinegar to the water. If the mixture bubbles up, the baking soda is active and fit for use.

Look at the ‘best before’ or the ‘expiry date’ on the box for both of them.

While I was shooting for a TV show, I made a unique cake. It was coffee and prune cake. The recipe had both baking powder and baking soda as ingredients. I used both of them because, as mentioned earlier, the cake was a heavy one since it had dried prunes. In this case baking powder did most of the leavening. Baking soda was added to react with the buttermilk and make the cake rise and at the same time retain the moisture in the cake.

Indian snacks like handvo and dhokla are the savoury versions of cake. In these recipes sour ingredients like yogurt and lemon juice are used and hence soda bicarbonate is used to make the product rise.

I am sure that now all your confusion about the two leavening agents would have cleared and henceforth you will be able to use them without any fear of goofing up the recipe. But the best suggestion I can give all enthusiastic bakers, please follow the recipe to the T. That way you will never go wrong.

Here are some recipes that will require you to use baking powder or soda, make sure you try them out.

     Khaman Dhokla                    Carrot Cake            Chocolate Chip cookies


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