Baking Powder vs. Baking Soda

By: Bob's Red Mill | October 15 2022

Baking powder and baking soda are two of the most commonly used items in the kitchen. Almost every baked good calls for one or the other, however often it's extremely hard to tell them apart. Knowing the difference between baking soda vs baking powder is crucial when it comes to baking the perfect treat. And while they may seem similar, they are definitely not the same.

While baking soda and baking powder are both leaveners, the chemicals in them are completely different. This difference in chemicals plays a crucial role in the successful cooking of a baked good, and it's important to know why you're using the ingredient chosen. To effectively tell the two apart before we get into their similarities and differences, let's figure out what is in each leavening agent and what they're most commonly used for.

Are Baking Powder and Baking Soda the Same?

The short answer is no, baking powder and baking soda are not the same. They are used differently and their chemical reactions are different. Some recipes will use both to achieve the desired texture of baked goods. Whether you are making cake, cookies, muffins and even bread, make sure you follow the recipe and know the difference between baking soda and baking powder.

baking powder vs. baking soda

Baking Soda

Baking soda, aka sodium bicarbonate, is a commonly known food additive and baking ingredient. While there are many uses of baking soda, it is commonly found in recipes as a leavening agent to help baked goods rise. When chemically reactive, it produces carbon dioxide bubbles that expand under hot temperatures and cause baked goods to rise. This chemical reaction is triggered when baking soda comes in contact with moisture and an acidic ingredient like lemon juice, buttermilk, sour cream or a dry acid.

Because baking soda is used as a base, it must be mixed with an acid to produce the chemical reaction desired to create carbon dioxide gas. This desired effect is what baked goods need to expand, rise and bake properly.

Omitting baking soda in a baking recipe that calls for it will cause baked goods to fall flat and not cook properly. When using baking soda, it's important to note that it is a strong ingredient and the right amount must be added to the recipe to achieve the proper rise. The use of too much baking soda will result in a soapy taste.

Check out Bob's Red Mill Baking Soda for nutritional information about baking soda and recipe ideas!

Baking Powder

Much like baking soda, baking powder is also made of sodium bicarbonate. However, the thing that sets the two apart is that baking powder already contains both an acidifying agent and drying agent. These two components are usually made of cream of tartar (potassium bitartrate) and a starch. This means you can make your own baking powder out of baking soda and cream of tartar if you don’t have baking powder in your pantry.

While baking powder already has more ingredients from the start, this does not mean that it's easier to use. In fact, sometimes it can be much more challenging. Most grocery stores sell two different types of baking powder. The first is single acting and the second is double acting. Because single-acting baking powder requires moisture to be activated, once it does come in contact with moisture the recipe must be baked immediately after mixing.

Double-acting powders, on the other hand, go through two different phases of activation. It enters the first phase of activation once a wet ingredient is added, and the second when heat is applied. Because of these two activation states, double-acting baking powder can sit for longer before baking.

While both single and double acting baking powder both have a drying agent and an acidic compound, double acting is the more popular option when it comes to homemade baked goods.

uses for baking soda and baking powder

Check out Bob’s Red Mill Baking Powder for a quick double-acting baking powder free of aluminum and bitter aftertaste!

What Is the Difference Between Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder

The key difference between baking soda and baking powder is that baking soda is simply sodium bicarbonate while baking powder is sodium bicarbonate mixed with an acidifying agent and drying agent already. Where baking soda needs a liquid and an acid to become active, baking powder only needs the liquid. This is why they serve different purposes in the baking and cooking process. Depending on what you’re making, the recipes might call for one or the other, or in many cases sometimes both.

When to Use Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder

Now that we’ve distinguished the differences between baking powder and baking soda, how do you know which chemical leavening agent to use in your recipes? The goal of both ingredients is to produce a baked good with the desired lift and texture. The ingredients in the recipe determine which ingredient is needed to achieve this result.

Because of baking soda’s bitter taste, it must be paired with a sweeter tasting acidic compound. Baking soda is most commonly used in cookie and muffin recipes. Baking powder, however, already contains an acid and a base and has a more neutral taste, which works great when baking cakes and bread. In rare cases when recipes contain too many acidic ingredients, the recipe will call for both baking soda and baking powder to neutralize the batter or dough.

infographic that describes baking soda vs. baking powder

What Happens if You Use Baking Soda Instead of Baking Powder and Vice Versa?

Ultimately, baking is a science. Incorporating baking soda or baking powder is one part of the chemical reaction. If you change up one piece of the science, you have to make sure that it’s balanced out in other ways. Ultimately, not following a recipe by using baking soda instead of baking powder and vice versa could lead to a change in the texture and even taste of the food. You’re best off following the recipe, but in case you can’t, here are some things that might help you.

Substituting Baking Soda and Baking Powder

So you're halfway through mixing a recipe when you realize it calls for baking soda but you only have baking powder. Can the two be substituted for one another? The quick answer is yes, but only in one circumstance. While baking powder can be a baking soda substitute, baking soda cannot be used in place of baking powder because it does not contain the proper acidic ingredients to make the baked good rise.

Lastly, it’s important to remember that both baking soda and baking powder do expire and can be prematurely activated if you keep it in a moist environment. It’s always important to check for freshness before using either one in a baked good!

Now that you know the difference between baking powder and baking soda, it's time to get in the kitchen. Whether you're baking cakes or bread, knowing how to use these chemical leavener ingredients will ensure positive baking results in all of your favorite recipes.

substituting baking powder for baking soda





  1. Helen
    The article says they don't expire, but to check for freshness. How do you check for freshness?
    1. Cassidy Stockton
      This tidbit from Taste of Home should do the trick: for baking powder, place 1 teaspoon baking powder in a cup and add 1/3 cup hot tap water. For baking soda, place 1/4 teaspoon baking soda in a cup and add 2 teaspoons vinegar. If active bubbling occurs, the products are fine to use. If not, they should be replaced.
    2. Roxanne Stickler
      Roxanne Stickler
      There is usually a "best by" date on the container.
  2. catek
    What is the best way to test these for freshness?
    1. Cassidy Stockton
      This tidbit from Taste of Home should do the trick: for baking powder, place 1 teaspoon baking powder in a cup and add 1/3 cup hot tap water. For baking soda, place 1/4 teaspoon baking soda in a cup and add 2 teaspoons vinegar. If active bubbling occurs, the products are fine to use. If not, they should be replaced.
  3. deborah
    just made "MAGICALLY MOIST ALMONT CAKE: ,,,,,, i followed the recipe, and the only thing i switched or somewhat substituted was that they asked for 3/4 cup unsalted butter. and I used 1/2 cup unsalted butter and then used "under" 1/4 cup of vegetable oil. Instead of a cake i made muffins and in 45 minutes the middle of the cupcakes is still heavy with dampness and won't rise.
    the onlyyyyyyy other thing I can think of for having such a wet center to the muffins, is, the 4 eggs it asks for, the organic eggs i used had some extra watery liquid in the eggshell.
    Any suggestions, like maybe 3 eggs next time??????
    thank you
    1. Sarena Shasteen
      You can't substitute oil for butter. One is a liquid and the other is a solid. That will definitely add moisture to your recipe. Also, if your eggs had extra water, that could have added to the problem.
  4. deborah
    Hi again,
    just one more thing, the cupcakes were falling apart and crumbling all over on the inside.
    should i use a little xanthan gum ----- it doesn't call for it, but have read that there are reasons things fall apart and so was wondering.
    I am totally new to baking anything from scratch and have purchased loads of BRM's flours of all kinds.
    THANK YOU for any suggestions you can make.
    have a great day.
    1. Sarena Shasteen
      We haven't tested this recipe as a cupcake. When the ingredients were changed and the cake shape, that can all lead to a different crumb to your finished product. You shouldn't need to add xanthan gum to the original recipe. Good luck! We hope you're enjoying the new baking adventures.
  5. Sheila
    I love Bobs Red Mill products. My favorite is the extra thick rolled oats. I use the almond flour, coconut flour also. I'll look for the baking powder and soda. Thanks
  6. Beth
    Thanks for the explanation! I use these ingredients frequently, but I didn't know the whole story.
  7. Susan
    Bobs Red Mill - please make/sell a corn-free baking powder for people with corn allergies. We make our own with baking soda and arrowroot but it would be nice to have a store bought option.
  8. Beth
    This is a great post! I homeschool my daughter and we studied the chemical/physical reactions of baking soda, baking powder, and yeast. We did some different recipes and tried them out. We made breads, cookies, pretzels, and a few other fun yummy things! This was a great addition to the project!!!! Thank you! ( I learned a few new things also )
  9. Andrea Stoeckel
    Andrea Stoeckel
    Did you know Vincent Price’s Father, Who was a pharmacologist developed baking powder?
  10. Dawn
    I have been using both for years but didn't really know the real difference with them. Most of the time when baking baked goods I follow recipes. I never really understood the reason why some called for one and some called for the other. Maybe now I can step my recipes up and create some baking ones on my own :)

    I also now understand why one of my pancake recipes turned out a little more flat.
  11. Phyllis Gibson
    Phyllis Gibson
    To Helen: While your question is still valid, the text reads as follows:
    “ it’s important to remember that both baking soda and baking powder {do} expire...”
  12. Linda Anselmo
    What is the best way of storing Baking Soda and Baking Powder? I have been keeping them in the refrigerator. Is this the best way of storing?
    1. Whitney Barnes
      Hi Linda, we suggest storing them in a cool, dry place in an airtight container. The pantry/cupboard is great storage for these items.

      If your storage container is not airtight, the Baking Powder and Baking Soda may absorb flavors/smells from the items in your refrigerator.
    Rather than bake and freeze your bran muffins, can I keep the batter in the fridge and bake one in the microwave each day (refrigerator muffins as I knew them)? If so, how long will the batter keep in the fridge? Tks
    1. Whitney Barnes
      Hi Elizabeth, that's not something we've tested. The baking soda and baking powder in the batter will start to immediately produce gases when mixed, losing their "leavening power" over time - this would result in flat muffins. I think you could likely store the batter in the refrigerator overnight, but I wouldn't recommend going beyond that. Freezing the baked muffins is likely the better way to go.
  14. Gina
    I have a carrot cake recipe that I love... well, the flavor I love, the texture, not so much. The texture is very dense and moist. I've tried baking longer, using less oil and adding applesauce in lieu, but the texture is still heavy and dense.
    The recipe calls for baking soda, but not baking powder. Should I try to add baking powder as well?
  15. MJ Flan
    Can I freeze baking powder? I have a 14 oz bag, and won’t use that much by the expiration date.
    1. Elisabeth Allie
      Hi MJ! Storage in a refrigerator or freezer is not recommended, due to condensation causing the baking powder to react.

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