I can't tell you how many times I've gone to grab baking soda, only to realize that all I have is baking powder, or vice versa. I end up using the wrong ingredient and my result is a sad, dense bake good. Each time this happens, I wonder how there's such a big difference between baking powder vs baking soda. 

But what is the difference? They're both leaveners and they both have 'baking' in their name, so how can soda and powder be so different? If you'll recall high school chemistry, you might remember that they're chemically different and they do different things. So here's the breakdown of the difference between baking powder vs baking soda for anyone who's made one too many failed baked goods like I have. 

Baking Soda

milk, sweet, salt
Jedd Marrero

Baking soda is a base, which means it reacts with acid. Do you remember your days in middle school when you made erupting volcanoes in science class with baking soda and vinegar? Translate this to baking; baking soda will react with an acid when it's baking. If we're using baking soda, the recipe will usually call for an acid like lemon juice, vinegar, buttermilk, cream of tartar, brown sugar, cocoa powder, and so on.

The point of this is that when baking soda and the acid combine their chemical reaction creates carbon dioxide, which allows for the baked good to rise. It's a delicate relationship; too much baking soda and there won't be enough acid to react with it, and you might be left with a soapy tasting treat. Too little baking soda and you'll have a too much of your acid remaining. 

#SpoonTip: Baking soda can be used for so much more than baking. Here are 15 clever uses for baking soda you've probably never tried. 

Baking Powder

Scott Harrington

Baking powder is also a leavener, but it's actually a mixture of a few things baking soda and cream of tartar (sometimes cornstarch). You often use baking powder when the recipe doesn't call for an additional acidic ingredient. Baking powder produces a similar effect to plain baking soda. When you mix water with the baking powder, it triggers a chemical reaction thanks to the blend of baking soda and cream of tartar.

Baking powder is typically used in something that doesn't require a lot of lift, like these vegan chocolate crinkle cookies. For these cookies you'll want them to be a little puffy but not totally raised. However, some recipes will call for baking powder and an added acid, so just follow the recipe.

When to Use Baking Powder vs Baking Soda

sweet, bread, cake, biscuits, pastry, cookie, butter, dairy product, pancake
Jocelyn Hsu

When deciding when to use baking powder vs baking soda, there are a few key things you should remember. 

1. When in doubt, always follow the recipe. 

2. Use baking soda with acids or when you need a lot of lift and chewiness, like when you make these yummy homemade soft pretzels

3. Use baking powder when you need a slight rise, like when you make these delicious single-serving pancakes

4. Use both when making something like a strawberry shortcake. If a recipe calls for both ingredients, it means the recipe needs a little extra lift. 

Though they sound very similar, there's a major difference between baking powder vs baking soda. Next time you find yourself staring at a flat cookie, think to yourself, "did I use the correct leavening agent?" These two simple ingredients pack a punch and really do matter to the chemical structure of your bake good.