Baking soda… baking powder… what’s the difference!? They’re as common as flour and sugar but why do we need them? I never really appreciated their purpose until I started modifying recipes. They may appear as a minor ingredient because so little is needed, but they have a huge impact on the rise and success of your baked goods.
Baking soda was created in 1846 to ease the process of cake baking. Before baking soda, bakers needed to make their own leavening agent by fermenting foods, such as fruit. It wasn’t uncommon to take 24-48 hours to make a cake from start to finish.
Baking powder was created ten years later, in 1856, to make it one step easier. Baking soda required mixing with an acid to get the chemical reaction of leavening. Baking powder is basically baking soda with an acid already included, so you only needed one ingredient instead of two.
What’s the Difference?
Baking soda is a base that reacts when comes in contact with an acid (just like when you were a kid and mixed baking soda and vinegar to make a volcano). The reaction produces carbon dioxide, causing bubbles to form in the batter which is referred to as “chemical leavening”. The CO2 bubbles help the batter rise. The downfall with baking soda is that it reacts right away, but baking powder reacts after its exposure to wet and heat.
Baking powder is essentially baking soda with an acid added. Baking powder works perfectly for baking muffins and cakes because it doesn’t react until it’s in the oven. As you can probably guess, baking powder is more commonly used of the two.
Once your dough has risen, it needs protein to maintain the fluffy shape. The protein (likely the eggs) in the batter will denature when exposed to heat, which will allow the rising batter to form a solid structure, giving cakes and muffins their shape.