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Baking Soda Vs. Baking Powder: Know Which is Better and Why

Yash Gode Mar 12, 2019
When it comes to choosing between baking soda and baking powder, people have different preferences while making cakes, cookies, or muffins.
The middle of the 19th century saw yeast being replaced by chemical agents for making fluffy breads and cakes. Carbon dioxide emitted by the growth and respiration of yeast would raise up the bread.
The chemical that replaced yeast, and which had a similar property of emitting CO2 was sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3), commonly known as baking soda. On the contrary, baking powder is a mixture, whose main constituent is baking soda.

Differentiating between Baking Soda and Baking Powder

Although, baking soda is the main component of baking powder, there's a vast difference between the two. Before understanding this difference, we need to know how baking soda works.
NaHCO3 is nothing but an alkali (base) that is opposite of an acid. When this alkali reacts with any acidic solution, it emits CO2, which is responsible for a baked recipe's fluffy character.
NaHCO3 + CH3COOH → NaCH3COO + H2CO3 → H2O + CO2

Where, CH3COOH→Acetic Acid (vinegar) and NaCH3COO →Sodium Acetate

When we add baking soda to any dough, it reacts with the acidic components in it, like yogurt, sour cream, lemonade, or buttermilk, which we deliberately add while baking. This reaction discharges CO2 bubbles that makes the dough to rise.
Baking powder is a mixture of baking soda and some dehydrated acid (mostly cream of tartar); i.e., the acid with which the soda is supposed to react while baking. It is already added to the main agent.
While baking, when we add baking powder to water or milk, this liquid medium facilitates the alkali-acid reaction, which is not possible when they are in dry powder form. This reaction produces CO2. To maintain dryness, baking powder always has an added drying agent (mostly starch).

The Better of the Two

The answer simply depends on their uses. It is necessary to use baking soda for some recipes, while others may call for the addition of baking powder. This essentially depends on which other ingredients are used in the recipe.
Pure baking soda is alkaline, and if added in excess, without proper acid neutralization, it will impart a bitter taste. It is always advisable to use baking soda instead of baking powder in cookies as we add enough acidic ingredients, such as buttermilk or lemonade, to neutralize the alkalinity.
On the other hand, baking powder is a mix of both a base and an acid. Taste-wise, it has a neutral effect. In most recipes that use this powder, there are often other neutral-tasting ingredients (like milk). Baking powder is the commonly used ingredient in cakes.
Apart from cooking, the baking soda vs. baking powder war is waged on another battleground. Both are commonly used for cleaning and deodorizing purpose. While differentiating between them, cleaning is one aspect that can't be overlooked, as both compounds are widely used for such purposes.
For general cleaning, baking soda is recommended, as a wet swab or cloth is mostly used in such cases. If baking powder is used for wet cleaning purposes, an acid-base reaction might take place. But, for cleaning stubborn patches like burnt food stains, this powder can prove highly effective.
Baking soda works as a good deodorant, and baking powder can also be used for this purpose. If placed in refrigerators or store rooms, they can quickly get rid of any foul smell.
Again, one should ensure complete dryness while using baking powder, as moisture will make it ineffective, and may enhance the odor instead. Other applications of baking soda includes brushing teeth with it.