When trawling the internet for new recipes, I so often find recipes which call for bicarbonate of soda, baking soda and baking powder.
Now, being in the U.K., our staples are baking powder and bicarbonate of soda... so, when an American recipe calls for baking soda I am perplexed:
Should I go for the first word (baking – thus reaching for my baking powder) or focus on the second word (soda – meaning my bicarb is the component I need)?!
I swear, it has been YEARS that I have questioned which is the right way to go. Before, I would fearfully throw in both (as I reasoned that at least one HAD to be correct). Sadly, this ended up really nasty tasting bakes which didn’t rise as I’d like.
So… I did some digging to find out why this minor part of baking had such a huge impact.
Okay, here’s something to get you started. And, I must warn you, it’s a major revelation: baking soda and bicarbonate of soda are exactly the same thing.
I repeat – baking soda and bicarbonate of soda are exactly the same thing!!!
They both have the same ingredient, which is sodium bicarbonate. This is what is used to react to acids, such as yogurt, lemon juice and vinegar, of which then creates carbon dioxide and thus leads to foaming (if you’ve ever made a DIY metal cleaner with bicarb and white vinegar you’ll know what I mean). It is this carbon dioxide which makes them both a great leavening agent for baked goods, such as cakes and dough.
Baking soda is much stronger than baking powder
It is also worth remembering that baking soda is around 3-4 times stronger than baking powder, so it is crucial you don’t overdo it in your baking. Putting more in that the recipe asks won’t give your bake extra lift; it needs just the right amount to react with the acid, so stick to the recipe if you don’t want a super tangy treat.
Substituting baking powder for bicarb is not recommended
If you are ever halfway through a recipe and realise you only have bicarb, you might be able to switch it out (although it’s not recommended); to make it work you would need to strategically add *just* the right amount of extra acid to the bake so that there is enough leavening agent, whilst reducing your amount of bicarb (as it is that much stronger than baking powder).
Baking powder doesn’t need acidity
Baking powder, on the other hand, is something completely different. While it contains bicarbonate of soda, it also comes with the acidic components already in the powder. This means acidic ingredients which are necessary for the chemical reaction in baking soda/bicarb are not needed for baking power goods. The acidic ingredient regularly used in baking powder is cream of tartar.
You can substitute bicarb for baking powder (but be careful)
If you have a recipe calling for baking soda (or bicarbonate of soda) and all you have is baking powder, it is possible to substitute it in, but remember that as it is much milder than bicarb, you will need to put in around 3-4 times more than the recipe asks.