This Is the Real Difference Between Baking Soda and Baking Powder

They have almost the same name and look identical... so what's the difference?

bakingsodabakingpowderGts/ShutterstockLet’s start with the nitty-gritty. As defined by Merriam-Webster, baking soda is, “A white crystalline weakly alkaline salt used especially in baking powders and fire extinguishers and in medicine as an antacid.” Also as defined by Merriam-Webster, baking powder is, “A powder used as a leavening agent in making baked goods that typically consist of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), an acidic substance, and starch or flour.” So what does that mean?

The sole definition of baking powder gives us a clue that baking soda is one of its ingredients. In other words, baking powder is actually a combination of three dry ingredients: an acid, a base, and a filler; it does not exist independently. Due to the nature of its ingredients, if combined with a liquid, bubbles (carbon dioxide) are produced. Those bubbles are what leavens your baked goods, like in these homemade biscuits or this chocolate almond biscotti. Baking powder’s instantaneous lifting abilities are what make it such a convenient ingredient in baking. If bakers were to just use yeast, it would take hours, sometimes even overnight, to leaven their dough.

So if baking powder is primarily used in baking, what uses are there for baking soda? The answers are almost endless! If there’s any staple that you should have in your house, it’s this. You might be wondering, “Why not just use baking soda by itself when baking, if it creates the same leavening as baking powder?” The answer lies within the taste of the food. Without an acid combined with the baking soda, you’re left with what some would describe as an “alkaline-y” flavor. To counteract unpleasant taste, adding an acid to the soda (thus creating baking powder) neutralized the mixture, leaving room for a tastier flavor to take over.

Now imagine those bubbles lifting stains off your clothes, linens, and even carpets. Baking soda is an excellent non-toxic cleaning agent because it does exactly that (here are some easy homemade baking soda and vinegar cleaning solutions to try at home). Out of toothpaste, shampoo, or deodorant? It’s baking soda to the rescue.

We know, now you want to know every other thing you can possibly do with baking soda. Check out these 17 brilliant uses for baking soda you never knew you needed.


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