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If you are into either baking or cleaning, you already know just how useful baking soda can be. However, you may sometimes come across references to bicarbonate of soda, and wonder if these two are the same. And then there is baking powder, which may or may not be something else entirely.
Are these three similarly sounding substances actually the same thing, or are they not interchangeable at all?
Let’s take a look at the differences (and similarities) between baking soda, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder.
Are Baking Soda and Bicarbonate of Soda the Same Thing?
Yes, baking soda and bicarbonate of soda (also called bicarb soda or bicarb) are the same thing.
The term baking soda is used in the US, while the UK, Australia and New Zealand use the term bicarb soda, or most often, just bicarb.
Are Baking Soda and Baking Powder the Same Thing?
No, baking soda and baking powder are not the same thing. Baking powder contains baking soda alongside another, dry acidic ingredient, but the two will act differently, and should not be substituted equally.
If you are out of one or the other, there are ways to work around the issue, but ideally, you want to keep a bit of both on hand, as they can come in very handy.
What is Baking Soda?
Baking soda is a pure leaving agent. It is an alkaline product, and needs to be mixed with moisture and an acidic ingredient to cause batter to rise.
It is commonly used with lemon juice, chocolate or buttermilk in baking. Since it can leave a slightly tangy flavour, make sure to sift it well, and follow the recipe’s instructions precisely to achieve the best taste.
What is Baking Powder?
Baking powder is bicarb soda mixed with a dry acidic ingredient – usually cream of tartar. It causes baking to rise when mixed with wet ingredients.
When you add moisture to baking powder, it produces carbon dioxide which adds air to the batter, and makes for lighter doughs and bakes.
Can You Substitute Baking Powder for Baking Soda?
In a pinch, you can substitute baking powder for baking soda, but you may end up with a bitter-tasting bake.
Baking soda is a much stronger agent than baking powder, so you would need around three times as much in order to achieve the same rising effect. This may however cause a chemical and bitter taste, so you may want to skip the bake if you have no baking soda on hand.
If your recipe calls for just one teaspoon of baking soda, you can add one tablespoon of baking powder, and get away with it. If you need more than a teaspoon, proceed at your own risk. Expect a less airy and fluffy bake.
Can You Substitute Baking Soda for Baking Powder?
Yes, you can substitute baking soda for baking powder, but you will need to increase the amount of acidic ingredients in your recipe too.
Since bicarb is three times stronger than baking powder, you will need extra lemon juice or vinegar to balance it out.
If you need to use a teaspoon of baking powder, add half a teaspoon of bicarb, and a teaspoon of your acid to get the desired result.
Substitutes for Baking Powder
If you don’t have baking powder on hand, there are other ingredients, alongside baking soda, you can use.
- Buttermilk: add half a cup of buttermilk and a quarter of a teaspoon of baking soda to substitute one teaspoon of baking powder. Make sure to reduce the amount of any other liquids you are using by the same half cup.
- Plain yoghurt: use half a cup of yoghurt and a quarter of a teaspoon of baking soda to replace one teaspoon of baking powder. Reduce the amount of other liquids again, to make up for the extra half cup.
- Sour milk: you can use half a cup of sour milk and a quarter of a teaspoon of baking soda to replace one teaspoon of baking powder. You will need to reduce the amount of other liquids once again.
- Molasses: you can use a quarter of a cup of molasses and a quarter of a teaspoon of baking soda to substitute one teaspoon of baking powder.
- Cream of tartar: since baking powder is essentially a 2:1 ratio of cream of tartar and baking soda, you can use this combination (at this ratio) as a substitute.
- Vinegar: you can use half a teaspoon of vinegar and a quarter of a teaspoon of baking soda to replace a teaspoon of baking powder.
- Lemon juice: you can half a teaspoon of lemon juice and a quarter of a teaspoon of baking soda to replace a teaspoon of baking powder.
- Club soda: you can also add club soda to your recipe to replace any baking powder. The best course of action is to replace all other liquids (milk or water for example) with club soda. This works especially well in pancakes.
Substitutes for Baking Soda
There are other ingredients you can use, other than baking powder, if you don’t have any baking soda on hand.
- Self-raising flour: self-raising flour is a combination of all-purpose flour and baking powder, with a bit of salt. A cup of self-raising flour will contain approximately one and a half teaspoons of baking powder and a quarter of a teaspoon of salt, so use that to calculate how much of it you need. Don’t forget to factor in the salt contents as well.
- Egg whites: beaten egg whites can also serve as a substitute for baking soda, if you have nothing else on hand. Remove the same amount of liquid as you’ve added egg whites, to balance the recipe out.
- Club soda: club soda can come in hand once again. Remember to cut down on your other liquid ingredients too.
Note that nothing will work quite as well as baking soda in a recipe, so aim to always have some on hand in your kitchen cupboard. It lasts for a long time, and it can help you bake and clean all kinds of things.
What Can You Use Baking Soda For?
Baking soda has a variety of uses, and is one of the best all-purpose agents you can have in the home.
- Naturally, you can use it to make bread, pancakes, cakes and other recipes.
- You can also use it to whiten your teeth and freshen up your mouth. Add a bit of water to a tablespoon of baking soda, until you get a smooth paste. Brush it over your teeth and leave it to work for a couple of minutes. Or, add a teaspoon of baking soda to half a glass of water, swish it around your mouth, and gargle it a bit in your throat. Spit it out into the sink.
- Baking soda is also a great way to neutralise any smells. You can put it in your trash can, you can place it in the refrigerator, or you can add it to your food cupboards.
- Finally, baking soda is a great cleaning agent. You can either mix it with water to create a paste and use it to scrub everything from your tub to your grout lines, or you can pour it down your sinks and chase it with some white vinegar to clean and unclog your drains.
What Can You Use Baking Powder For?
Baking powder can be used for the same cleaning and refreshing purposes as baking soda.
However, since baking soda is the stronger agent, it’s advised to reserve baking powder to your recipes, and use baking soda to clean and neutralise unpleasant odours.
How Long Does Baking Soda Last?
Baking soda has an infinite shelf life, however, it will lose some of its potency over time.
This means that it will be safe to eat no matter how long it’s been sitting on the shelf. However, for the best possible results, you should replace an opened container of baking soda after 6 months (just use it to clean your entire house). An unopened container will be at its most potent for 2 years, after which time it will start to lose some of its efficacy.
How Long Does Baking Powder Last?
Baking powder has an infinite shelf life, and it will always be safe to eat. It will lose its strength over time though.
An unopened can of baking powder will be at its best for 18 months, while an open container will start to lose its power after 3 to 6 months. If you store it in a dry and dark space, it should hold out for longer. Remember that it reacts to moisture, so if you keep it somewhere humid, it won’t be as effective, and may cause sub-par baking results
How to Test if Baking Soda is Still Good?
To test if baking soda is still good, drop a small amount into a bowl and add a bit of vinegar or lemon juice. If it bubbles, you can use it in your recipe.
You won’t get an upset stomach if you use baking soda that has been sitting on the shelf for a long time: it just won’t have the same rising strength as a fresh batch would.
How to Test if Baking Powder is Still Good?
To test if baking powder is still good, add some to a bowl and then pour building water over it. If it starts to foam, it’s okay to use.
Its infinite shelf life means that baking powder can’t cause any health issues, but if you’ve left it sitting in the cupboard for too long, your bakes won’t come out as fluffy.
The Best Ways to Store Baking Powder and Baking Soda
Both baking soda and baking powder should be stored in a dry cupboard, as far away from the stove, sink and dishwasher as possible.
If exposed to any humidity or moisture, both will start to react, and won’t be as potent as when stored properly.
Wrapping It Up
Bicarb and baking powder are both extremely useful, both in the kitchen, and as an all-purpose cleaning agent. Store them carefully and enjoy the magic they lend to your baking and scrubbing efforts.