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Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder: Two Ways to Blow Baked Bubbles
What distinguishes baking soda from baking powder, and which one is more delicious? Impress your classmates by gently explaining the difference with Groupon’s help.
Without baking soda or baking powder, most baked goods would be dense, flat, and gummy. Both substances are leaveners, meaning they create carbon dioxide (CO2) bubbles that make cakes, breads, and cookies rise. And both are odorless, white powders that contain sodium bicarbonate.
So, what’s the difference? Baking soda is simply a fun nickname for sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3); it contains nothing else. Sodium bicarbonate only produces carbon dioxide when it reacts with an acid, so recipes that use baking soda must also contain acidic ingredients such as lemon, yogurt, buttermilk, or even unsweetened natural cocoa powder. Baking soda starts producing carbon dioxide as soon as it’s mixed with wet, acidic ingredients, so it’s important to bake right away before the bubbles pop and their precious gases escape. (For a dramatic illustration of this action, consider the classic childhood science project of blending baking soda and vinegar to make a “volcano” overflow.)
Baking powder, on the other hand, is a mixture of sodium bicarbonate, powdered acid salt (which will often show up as a sulfate or phosphate on the ingredient label), and cornstarch. Since the acid needed to produce carbon dioxide is already mixed in, baking powder can be used in recipes that don’t contain other acidic ingredients or when you want to make a working model of a long-dormant volcano. Most baking powder is labeled “double acting,” which means that it contains two types of acid. The first is a fast-acting acid that produces a small amount of carbon dioxide when stirred into wet ingredients. The second begins to react at high temperatures to produce carbon dioxide in the middle of baking, adding extra fluffiness.