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 between baking soda and baking powder?

what is the difference between baking soda and baking powderGts/Shutterstock

What are baking soda and baking powder?

Let’s start with the nitty-gritty. You can guess the difference between baking soda and baking powder just by looking at their definitions. 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 consists of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), an acidic substance…and starch or flour.” So, no, they’re not identical—and neither are these 50 other words you think mean the same thing, but don’t.

What is the difference between baking soda and baking powder?

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. The baking soda is the base. Due to the nature of its ingredients, if baking powder is 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.

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. 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. Out of toothpaste, shampoo, or deodorant? It’s baking soda to the rescue. Want to know every other thing you can possibly do with baking soda? Check out these 10 brilliant uses for baking soda you never knew you needed.

You might be wondering, “Why not just use baking soda by itself when baking, if it creates the same leavening as baking powder with fewer ingredients?” The answer lies within the taste of the food, another difference between baking soda and baking powder. Without an acid combined with the baking soda, you’re left with what some would describe as an “alkaline-y” flavor. To counteract the unpleasant taste, adding an acid to the soda (thus creating baking powder) neutralizes the mixture, leaving room for a tastier flavor to take over. Now that you know the difference between baking soda and baking powder, find out the difference between 9 other confusing food pairs you never knew.

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Brittany Gibson
Brittany Gibson is a regular contributor to RD.com’s culture, food, health, and travel sections. She was previously an editorial intern for RD.com and Westchester Magazine. Her articles have appeared on Buzzfeed, Business Insider, AOL, Yahoo, and MSN, among other sites. She earned a BA in English from the University of Connecticut