Baking Powder vs. Yeast vs. Baking Soda - Bob's Red Mill Blog
Baking Powder vs. Yeast vs. Baking Soda

Baking Powder vs. Yeast vs. Baking Soda

Whether you are a long-tenured baker or just starting out, chances are you have run into three common baking ingredients: baking powder, yeast, and baking soda. Since they are all leavening agents (they help the dough or batter rise in baked goods), baking soda, baking powder, and yeast are often confused for one another in baking recipes. Though they may have similar effects, they are very different in nature and the unfortunate result of a mistaken swap can be substantial. Though baking powder, baking soda, and yeast are often mistaken for one another, it is important to understand how each of these respectively interacts with other ingredients and how they affect the overall recipe.

Baking Soda

Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, is one of the most commonly used leavening agents in baked goods. Baking soda is naturally found in crystalline form but when used for cooking, is ground to a fine powder. Baking soda is often used to leaven quick-bake items such as pancakes, muffins, scones, cakes, and even some fried foods.

Considering baking soda is a base, it will react with any acid it encounters. Due to the alkaline chemical compound of baking soda, when it is mixed with acid it will produce small gaseous carbon dioxide bubbles. When baking a cake, the acid comes in the form of vinegar, lemon, buttermilk, yogurt, cream of tartar, or even coffee. Moreover, in cake batter, once the baking soda has reacted with the acid, it is important to immediately put the batter in the oven because the air bubbles can be lost over time. However, when baking cookies, the acid that triggers the reaction with baking soda generally comes from dry ingredients such as brown sugar or cocoa powder. This is why cookie dough can keep much longer in the refrigerator. The chemical reaction does not effectively occur until the cookie dough is placed in the oven.

Aside from leavening, baking soda also increases the pH of the dough it is added to. This creates thickness, while weakening the gluten, to create tender baked goods. Compared to baking powder, baking soda is about four times as strong, and as such, recipes generally only call for a small amount. If too much baking soda is used, it can create a metallic aftertaste. Baking soda differs from yeast and baking powder, because it produces carbon dioxide gas (and loses it) quickly. Once exposed to heat, it will expand and become rigid. Baking powder or yeast is generally sought after in place of baking soda when a recipe calls for an extended chemical reaction (aka rising of dough) rather than a quick release.

Baking Powder

Baking powder is comprised of a mixture of ingredients including baking soda, cream of tartar, and occasionally, cornstarch. Baking powder can either be single-acting or double-acting, with the latter of the two being most commonplace. Single-acting baking powder involves one initial activation process that occurs once the liquid is added to the mixture. This is due to the fact that the acid and base are already combined in the mixture that is baking powder. Double-acting baking powder refers to the idea that CO2 is produced at different stages of the baking process, rather than immediately upon initial activation. This means that much like the single-acting process that occurs, the initial leavening occurs once the baking powder encounters liquid. This is why some batters cannot be prepped ahead of time, because the CO2 is already being released.

Baking powder is most commonly used in recipes that do not call for an additional acid, like yogurt, cream of tartar, lemon, or vinegar. This is because baking powder contains two acids: monocalcium phosphate and either sodium acid pyrophosphate or sodium aluminum sulfate. The monocalcium phosphate reacts with the baking soda once it is wet, therefore causing the initial leavening. However, the secondary chemical leavening process occurs when either the sodium acid pyrophosphate or sodium aluminum sulfate is both wet and hot. This means that the secondary leavening process won’t occur until after the dough is placed in the oven. This causes the batter to rise over a longer period of time and resulting in a lighter end product like a cake or muffin.

Occasionally, recipes that contain some sort of acid will call for both baking powder and baking soda. This is generally because the volume is so great that the CO2 created from the acid and baking soda does not leaven the batter to the degree necessary. Though baking powder is similar to yeast by way of leavening baked goods, the way in which they work differs greatly. One is a chemical reaction, and the other is a biological reaction, and the time frame associated with the activation of yeast is much greater.

Yeast

Yeast is made up of small, single-celled organisms that consume sugars and excrete carbon dioxide. Through this biological reaction, the leavening of dough occurs. Though yeast can be found either fresh or dried, when it is first purchased at the store, it is generally in a dormant state due to shelf stability. In order to activate dried yeast and have it “wake up,” it needs to be combined with (commonly) a warm liquid to hydrate it, and sugar, including honey, fruit juice, or plain table sugar, for it to feed on. As the yeast consumes the sugar, the CO2 and alcohol byproduct allows dough to rise and to develop gluten and flavor. When baking bread, yeast can help strengthen the elasticity of the dough (the gluten) resulting in a chewier and fluffier bread. Without gluten, the CO2 bubbles in bread would be lost, resulting in a much denser loaf. Whether in the form of active dry yeast or homemade starter, yeast is essential for bread to rise, not only because of the CO2 that is produced but also by way of alcohol. The alcohol evaporates as the bread bakes, which helps to strengthen and develop the gluten. The yeast also provides for the main underlying flavor of bread through the process of fermentation. The enzymes in the yeast break down the starch into a greater depth of flavor. Factors that set yeast apart from the other two leavening agents (baking powder and baking soda) include the increased time it takes for the leavening process to occur, the strengthening of gluten, and the biological reaction that occurs.

The Differences

Though baking soda, baking powder, and yeast all result in the production of carbon dioxide gas and leaven dough, there are many differences. Baking soda is a simple base and therefore needs to be combined with an acid of some sort, such as yogurt, lemon, or vinegar, in order to become activated. Due to the rapid nature of the gas bubbles that are produced through the reaction of acid plus sodium bicarbonate, baking soda is generally used for quick bake recipes like muffins, scones, and pancakes. On the other hand, baking powder is a combination of both a base (baking soda) and a dry acid, such as cream of tartar. This allows for a double-acting leavening process where CO2 gas bubbles are released at two separate intervals: during the addition of liquid and later, during the heating process. Baking powder is most commonly used in recipes that do not contain an additional acid, therefore, solely water and heat are required. Yeast differs from both baking soda and baking powder, mainly because it is a live organism and takes substantially longer to leaven dough. Unlike baking powder and baking soda, yeast leavens dough through a biological process and results in fermentation. Through fermentation, yeast can affect the taste associated with dough through residual alcohol, making it a great option for bread.

When it comes to baking, it can be difficult to decipher which leavening product to use and what the result will be. When using baking soda, baking powder, or yeast, it can be helpful to ask yourself a few questions regarding time, ending result, ingredients, and flavor. Is time of concern? If you are baking and time is of concern, it is best to forego yeast for either baking powder or baking soda. Does the recipe contain an acid such as vinegar or yogurt? If so, baking soda would provide the base needed for the recipe. Is the volume of the batter larger than expected? If the volume of the batter you are making is large, it is advisable to use either baking powder or a combination of baking powder and baking soda.


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35 Comments

  1. Roseann Noll
    I enjoy the information
    Reply
  2. Marsha
    Great information
    Reply
  3. Joyce
    Gluten is the elastic substance that allows bread to raise into a light and fluffy product. Gluten free flours lack this substance. Consequently, they never are quite the same texture. I use yeast with gluten free flours anyway. Just allow plenty of time for dough to rise. Love the way breads taste.
    Reply
    1. Nora
      Hi Joyce,
      Would you please share your gluten free yeas bread recipe with me? I certainly am unable to find one. I would greatly appreciate it.
      Reply
  4. […] Baking Powder vs. Yeast vs. Baking Soda […]
    Reply
  5. […] Baking Powder vs. Yeast vs. Baking Soda […]
    Reply
  6. Todd
    Would you ever use baking powder, baking soda, and yeast all in the same recipe?
    Reply
  7. William Marytn
    Nice blog. I read your post. The way of providing the information is very good. this kind of information is very useful for everyone. I really appreciate your post
    Reply
  8. Elizabeth A
    This is a great article. I really appreciate this. I get the part about differences between baking soda vs powder but Iv often wondered if I really do need yeast for bread since it's not an ingredient I always have at home as I rarely bake bread. The few times iv tried to substitute yeast with soda it ended up looking like scones or cake. I'm considering buying yeast now
    Reply
  9. J. Austin
    I make muffins that call for 1 tsp baking soda and 1 1/2 tsp baking powder. Can I substitute yeast for either or both? If so, what would be the measurement of yeast?
    Reply
    1. Whitney Barnes
      Whitney Barnes
      Hi J., unfortunately we don't have a tested method for subbing in yeast for baking powder/soda. Yeast typically takes time to proof whereas baking powder and soda are activated by heat and acidity. If you have more questions please contact our Customer Service team.

      Contact Us
      Reply
  10. David M. Delo
    Thanks. This is third explanation of I have read, and it is the clearest.
    Reply
    1. Sarena Shasteen
      We're so happy this was helpful for you.
      Reply
  11. FRANK HERNANDEZ
    RETIRED AN HAVE PLENTY OF TIME TO DO ALL MY HOBBIES,, THE INFO YOU HAVE HERE OPENS THE DOOR FURTHER FOR ME TO ACHIEVE A BETTER BAKING EXPERIENCE
    Reply
  12. Sunny
    Satisfied with the information
    Reply
  13. Shruti
    Very informative. I always remain confused in all the 3 baking ingredients when baking or cooking which needs leavening.. but your article made it very clear how and when to use what. Thanks.
    Reply
  14. David Topham
    Thanks for the detailed explanations!
    Reply
  15. Goody
    Thanks for your detailed info.It is really helpful.
    Reply
  16. Rebecca
    Was very helpful. Thanks for sharing!
    Reply
  17. Karen
    Thanks for posting this article! This provides a great explanation of these ingredients. Most of my baking is cakes and banana bread type of loaves. Your article makes reference to "If the volume of the batter you are making is large, it is advisable to use either baking powder or a combination of baking powder and baking soda.". Can you please explain what a large volume means? Are you referring to the depth/size of the pan or something else like the density of the batter? The deepest pan I use (so far) are the loaf pans for things like banana bread and the batter is quite dense/thick compared to cake batter. All of the recipes I have seen use baking soda although some also add baking powder.
    Reply
    1. Whitney Barnes
      Hi Karen! If you are making a small batch of muffins, a combination of baking powder and baking soda is not always necessary. On the other hand, if you are baking a large 10-cup bundt cake, both will likely be needed.
      Reply
  18. Ankur Arora
    That's a very clear explanation. So does baking banana bread require yeast or a combination of baking soda and baking powder good enough?
    Thank you for the article.
    Reply
    1. Sarena Shasteen
      That really depends on the recipe you are following. Typically banana bread does not use yeast though. Most recipes use baking soda and/or baking powder.
      Reply
  19. Mark Ziino
    Thank you for this explanation! I working on tweaking a Neapolitan pizza dough recipe using yeast and 13 grams of salt or 2.3 tsb. I have a sodium restriction and the amount of salt needed to aid the yeast is very problematic.

    The yeast and a long leavening period (8-24 hours) is desired i believe for the taste and texture of the fermenting process with the yeast. I'm going to need to experiment i know, but my questions are... 1. if I use a low sodium baking powder, will the initial leavening process actually work for 8 hours or longer ?and 2. can I cut back on the sodium maybe by 1/2 or 2/3 and use both yeast and low sodium baking power? I realize this is such an off the wall situation but hopefully you have encountered a similar situation that might offer some guidance. If it helps, I'm using Type 00 flour. Thank you!
    Reply
    1. Sarena Shasteen
      Hi Mark, these are great questions, but unfortunately, without knowing what recipe you are using, we can't answer these questions. We have an incredible recipe specialist on staff. You can ask her detailed questions based on specific recipes. You can reach her at (800) 349-2173 or [email protected]
      Reply
  20. Hank S.
    I’ve been making a simple orange cake for years, using baking soda and apple cider vinegar as rising agent. (Recipe uses white flour, sugar, vegetable oil, vanilla, a bit of salt.) But I’m wondering how the addition of alcohol, I.e. a tablespoon or so of Grand Marnier, might affect the way the cake rises, if at all. Any helpful ideas? Thanks in advance. Hank S.
    Reply
    1. Whitney Barnes
      Hi Hank - the addition of Grand Marnier sounds delicious! I do not think it would affect the leavening agents in the recipe.
      Reply
  21. Eszter V.
    Thank you for the information. I have a question. I baked buns with Bob's red Mill oat flour with baking powder (German type). I used less than 1 tsp for 300g flour but I could still taste that bitter taste of the baking powder. The recipe contained eggs, water and salt. Could you please recommend what would be the ideal amount of baking powder? Or should I use something else for leavening?
    Thank you for your answer in advance.
    Eszter V.
    Reply
    1. Whitney Barnes
      Hi Eszter, that ratio of baking powder to flour isn't abnormal and you shouldn't taste any off-flavors from the baking powder. It's possible that the baking powder may have absorbed a smell/flavor from something else stored nearby. I suggest testing the same recipe with a fresh bag of baking powder.
      Reply
  22. Sebastian Calderon Zapata
    Sebastian Calderon Zapata
    Great!!! thanks for the information
    Reply
  23. Lorraine Mallon
    Lorraine Mallon
    I recently made a scallion bread that called for baking powder AND yeast. Per the instructions, I only let the dough rise once, which I thought unusual for filled and shaped yeast breads. My limited experience is that those rise after assembly, but I followed the recipe exactly. The result was good, although I wished it were fluffier, but maybe that was my dough handling error. Can you explain why baking powder and yeast would be used together?
    Reply
    1. Whitney Barnes
      Hi Lorraine - it's not very common to use both baking powder and yeast in a bread recipe. Baking powder leavens with carbon dioxide release twice - once when acid/base ingredients are mixed and then again when heated. Yeast also creates carbon dioxide, though by a different reaction. In your recipe, it sounds like yeast is there as a flavor component and the baking powder is there as a secondary leavening agent, though it's hard to say exactly without seeing the recipe.

      If you're up for trying another scallion bread recipe, we highly recommend these two options from Lisa Lin at Healthy Nibbles.
      - Baked Scallion Bread
      - Flaky Scallion Pancakes with Shallots
      Reply
  24. Joanne
    Would it be a mistake to knead the dough if I'm using baking powder instead of yeast?
    Reply
    1. Whitney Barnes
      Whitney Barnes
      Hi Joanne - Most breads that are leavened with baking powder (known as "quick breads") do not require kneading, though it would depend on your specific recipe. If you want to chat with our recipe specialist, please email us at [email protected]
      Reply
  25. Joanne
    Thank you so much for your reply!
    Reply

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