Baking Powder vs Baking Soda

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What’s the difference between baking powder and baking soda? Here’s what you need to know to avoid messing up your recipe.

baking powder can and baking soda box on wooden cutting board.

There are many questions surrounding baking soda and baking powder. After all, they sound and look the same, and both act as a leavening agent.

But the truth is, they are very different. Using one instead of another can be a catastrophic baking mistake.

Most home cooks and chefs will make this mistake at least once, but learning from this mistake will prevent it in the future. Knowing which type to use, what they do, and how to substitute will make for a better home cook or chef.

What is baking powder?

baking powder can on wooden cutting board

Baking powder is a leavening agent with a base, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), and an acid (cream of tartar) already mixed in.

The base and the acid work together to make a reaction. That causes the baked goods to rise.

Since the acid is already included in baking powder, it only needs moisture for the reaction to occur. Baking powder is also naturally gluten-free.

Double Acting vs. Single Acting Baking Powder 

Most of the baking powder found in grocery stores is double-acting. Double-acting baking powder means that the reaction happens twice.

The first reaction occurs as soon as the wet ingredients are mixed with the dry ingredients. The second leavening reaction takes place once the baking powder is heated.

A double-acting baking powder is easier to use since the batter or dough can sit out for a while before baking. Bakeries and restaurants prefer to use double-acting baking powder since the batter can be made one day and then baked the next.

Single-acting baking powder reacts only once, and it begins to leaven pretty quickly after it is hydrated. It needs to be immediately baked for the dough to leaven.

Single-acting baking powder is best for baked goods that need to react quickly. For example, a doughnut right before cooking in hot oil. 

What is baking soda?

baking soda box on wooden cutting board

Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, is a base that needs to be mixed with an acid such as yogurt, molasses, lemon juice, or vinegar in order to leaven. That is why most baking recipes that have baking soda on the ingredients list will always have a type of acid.

Once this chemical reaction occurs, the batter or dough will rise. Baking soda is also three to four times stronger than baking powder since it is entirely made of sodium bicarbonate. It is best to use around ¼ teaspoon of baking soda per 1 cup of flour.

When to use each 

Baking powder should be used when the recipe does not include an acidic ingredient, since it already includes an acid. On the other hand, baking soda should be used in recipes with acidic ingredients such as buttermilk, vinegar, or lemon juice. 

If you leave out baking powder or baking soda in baked goods, the end result will be flat or dense. 

Using the wrong leavening agent

If you accidentally add baking soda instead of baking powder to baked goods, they won’t rise because there is not enough acid.

To fix this, add about one tablespoon of white or apple cider vinegar for every half teaspoon of baking soda to the liquids before mixing with the dry ingredients.
Using too much baking soda will cause the baked goods to have a soapy flavor and a metallic aftertaste.

If you use baking powder instead of baking soda, add a total of three times the amount of baking powder than the recipe recommends for baking soda to “fix” the mistake.
However, keep in mind that adding too much baking powder can cause the baked goods to taste bitter. The batter can also rise too quickly and then fall.


It’s best to store baking powder and baking soda in a dry, sealed container in the cupboard. Keep away from areas that have moisture, such as next to a sink or dishwasher.

Baking powder and baking soda go bad after about 6 months to two years, depending on whether the containers have been opened.

How can I tell if baking soda is still active?

To test if your baking soda is still active, add ¼ teaspoon of baking soda to 3 tablespoons of an acid such as vinegar or lemon juice. If there are bubbles, it’s still active. 

How can I tell if baking powder is still active?

To test if baking powder is still active, add ½ teaspoon of baking powder to 1 tablespoon of hot water. If there are bubbles, it’s still active. 

Can I use baking soda instead of baking powder?

To substitute for baking powder, mix two parts cream of tartar with one part baking soda.

Can I use baking powder instead of baking soda?

To substitute for baking soda, use three or four times as much baking powder. For example, 1 teaspoon of baking soda = 3 teaspoons of baking powder

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  1. Mary Dahlberg says:

    Last night I put baking soda instead of powder in cornbread. It was uneatable. Since I baked it, this moving I put it in the Vitamix and crumbled it up. I then added apple cider vinegar a little more flour, sugar, milk and an egg and rebaked it. It worked! Thanks for the tip.

  2. Deborah Fischer says:

    While making muffins, I used baking soda instead of baking powder. How can I fix it?

    1. Hi Deborah,
      If they are already baked, then there is not much you can do at this point. If you would like to use baking soda again, add about one tablespoon of vinegar (white or apple cider) per half teaspoon of baking soda to the liquid ingredients before mixing the batter.