Making Cookies Without Baking Soda

By: Bob's Red Mill | August 8 2018
Baking is often considered an exact science, with finely tuned recipes broken down into specific measurements of ingredients, each included to play a specific role that affects the texture and taste of the cookie. Making adjustments to recipes can be daunting, particularly to a novice baker, as any small change may result in a significantly different result. Two of the most common ingredients included in a typical cookie recipe are baking soda or baking powder. Though they are often utilized in small amounts (like a teaspoon), their impact is incredibly important to the final result of the cookie. Substituting baking soda in a cookie recipe is a challenge, but not an impossible task. While baking soda is a powerful chemical agent that plays an important role in baking, there are substitutions that can be made to produce a delicious batch of cookies. To understand how to successfully prepare cookies without baking soda (and without a disappointing result), it is necessary to understand what baking soda is and how it functions within baking, the possible substitutions for baking soda in cookies and how they function, and tips to keep in mind when making cookies without baking soda.

What Is Baking Soda?

While baking soda is a common household ingredient, many people do not realize exactly what baking soda is. Baking soda is also known as sodium bicarbonate, bicarbonate of soda and sodium hydrogen carbonate. The chemical formula for baking soda is NaHCO3. This chemical formula shows that baking soda is comprised of sodium ions and bicarbonate ions. At its most base level, baking soda is a mineral, called nahcolite, that produces carbon dioxide when combined with something acidic. This definition conjures up images of bubbles emanating from a volcano at a science fair, so what does it have to do with baking? Baking soda is a frequently used ingredient because of its ability to act as a leavener. In baking a leavener helps cookie dough or batter to rise, as the cookies bake on the baking sheet. When baking soda is included in a cookie recipe, it often has an acidic ingredient as its counterpart, such as pumpkin, molasses, maple syrup, buttermilk, brown sugar or lemon juice. When baking soda is mixed with an acid, the baking soda produces bubbles and a carbon dioxide gas, which cause the raw dough or batter to rise as a result. When baking soda is used in cookies, it gives the cookies a chewy, coarse texture. You will know you forgot to add a leavener if your cookies turn out somewhat hard and flat. While it is often known for its uses in baking, baking soda is also utilized for a variety of functions outside of baking. Baking soda is an extremely versatile substance with a variety of uses. It is utilized in a variety of natural remedies and uses, because of its effectiveness and cost savings. Baking soda has been shown to help with neutralizing acid and improving pH balance within the body. Drinking a combination of water and baking soda may help return the body to a neutral state and can ease the symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux. In addition to its digestive benefits, baking soda has also been shown to kill bacteria and is thought to be effective in warding off skin and nail infections, yeasts and dermatophytes in human beings. Baking soda’s alkalizing effects have also made it useful in helping to combat urinary tract infections, which has been thought to alkalinize the urine and reduce acidic pH levels. In addition to these uses, baking soda is considered to be a natural remedy for a variety of ailments, including itchy skin and sunburns. Baking soda is also thought to be an effective natural teeth whitener. With this understanding of its basic structure and functions in mind, it is now possible to explore some of the best baking soda replacements for cookies.

Baking Soda Replacements for Cookies

When making cookies without baking soda, it is important to keep in mind the type of cookie you are making and the kinds of ingredients that the recipe calls for. Cookies that rely heavily on acidic ingredients will not be the best to substitute baking soda, as it may produce varied results. When substituting baking soda, it is better to stick to soft, sugar-based doughs like sugar cookies or chocolate-chip cookies or to traditionally dense, firm cookies such as shortbreads or English biscuits, which often have recipes without baking soda. Below is a list of baking soda replacements to try the next time you are making cookies.

Potassium Bicarbonate

One of the most commonly used substitutes for baking soda in cookies is potassium bicarbonate. Potassium bicarbonate is often used by individuals who are looking to limit their sodium intake, as it contains none of the sodium that baking soda has--despite having the same leavening capabilities. Because it does not contain sodium, this option is often recommended for individuals who have circulatory or heart issues. Unfortunately, potassium bicarbonate is not as widely available as baking soda and is often not available in a typical grocery store. However, if you are looking to swap out baking soda in your cookie recipe, this is perhaps the best option available. To find it, look in the supplement section of a drugstore or health store, since it is sometimes utilized to help individuals who have acid reflux or high blood pressure. When substituting potassium bicarbonate for baking soda in a cookie recipe, you will not need to adjust the ingredient amounts. That is to say if you are using a cookie recipe that calls for one teaspoon of baking soda, substitute it with one teaspoon of potassium bicarbonate instead. When using potassium bicarbonate as a baking soda substitute, be sure to pay close attention to the acid in the recipe. It is recommended that if the recipe calls for an acidic ingredient like yogurt or sour cream, that it be substituted with milk or water to achieve the same effects in the cookie, since potassium bicarbonate will have a slightly different effect than traditional baking soda. In addition, the cookie may be lacking a bit of the salt flavor it would have normally gotten from the baking soda. If you are not sodium restricted, add one teaspoon of salt for every two to three teaspoons of potassium bicarbonate used to enhance the flavor of the cookie dough.

Baking Powder as a Baking Soda Substitute

When looking for baking soda replacements, you may find many sources referring to baking powder as one of the best substitutes for baking soda. However, this can be misleading, since many sources do not delve into the composition of baking powder. It is necessary to understand what baking powder is and how it differs from baking soda. While baking soda is pure sodium bicarbonate, baking powder is a combination of baking soda plus another acid that is also in the presence of an inactive ingredient that keeps the mixture from reacting (an inert stabilizer). Essentially, baking powder is baking soda, cream of tartar (a dry acid, one of many dry ingredients) and sometimes cornstarch. If you are truly looking to avoid using baking soda, baking powder is not a viable substitute since at its most base level, it is comprised of baking soda. With that being said, if you are not averse to a substance that contains baking soda and additional chemical agents, baking powder can be used as a substitute for baking soda in cookies. When using baking powder as a baking soda substitute, keep in mind that baking soda is much stronger than baking powder. Baking soda is generally three to four times stronger than baking powder. If you are using baking powder as a baking soda substitute, for every one teaspoon of baking soda a recipe calls for, substitute three teaspoons of baking powder. In addition, baking powder produces a slightly different texture in cookies than baking soda does. While baking soda will create a coarse, chewy cookie texture, baking powder will produce a light, fine cookie texture. To achieve the best cookie results, use a double-acting baking powder as a substitute. A double-acting baking powder will achieve a better rise in the cookies that the single-acting variety, which may not have enough power to raise the cookies properly. If using baking powder as a substitute for baking soda, it is also recommended to replace the acidic liquid in the cookie recipe with a non-acidic liquid. The reasoning behind this recommendation has to do with the leavening process of double-acting baking powder. When the double-acting baking powder is exposed to liquids, it experiences its first leavening reaction. The acid that is present in liquids like buttermilk can halt that leavening reaction and result in cookies that have not risen adequately. When replacing acidic liquids in a cookie recipe with non-acidic liquid, use a one to one ratio. For trickier acids, such as citrus juice, you can still replace it with water or milk, but be sure to include citrus zest in the recipe as well to achieve the flavor profile that the cookie recipe calls for.

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  1. Karan
    Verify your information before posting on the internet!!!!
    Baking powder obviously has sodium as it is comprised of Baking Soda....
  2. Princess Bryanna
    Princess Bryanna
    Most people googling this and reading this result aren’t “looking too avoid baking soda” they just don’t have it On hand.
  3. Chuck Tom
    Thanks for the information, I understand why baking soda is used in oatmeal raisin cookies now instead of baking powder. I did not know that brown sugar has an acidic component in it (e.g. molasses). “…it often has an acidic ingredient as its counterpart, such as pumpkin, molasses, maple syrup, buttermilk, brown sugar or lemon juice.” Thanks for this list, I feel like I can do some experimenting.

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