Two very common ingredients found in the kitchen are similar in appearance and in name. They are even both used in baking. So what is the difference between baking soda and baking powder?
Baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate, is a leavening agent, which means that it aids in the rising of the dough. It’s a white powder that has quite a number of uses.
Its primary use, as its name suggests, is in baking. Baking soda is a common ingredient in cake and some bread recipes. Baking soda reacts to the acids found in some foods, causing the baking soda itself to release carbon dioxide (CO2) during the baking process. This will give the final baked product a sponge-like texture. You may remember the grade school volcano experiment in which baking soda is mixed with vinegar to simulate an eruption. What happens is that when the baking soda is mixed with vinegar, the acid in the vinegar causes the baking soda to release CO2.
Baking powder consists of baking soda, acid salts, and starch. Acid salts are chemicals such as tartaric acid, monocalcium phosphate, sodium aluminum sulfate, sodium aluminum phosphate, and sodium acid pyrophosphate. Corn or potato starch is commonly used as the starch.
Around the turn of the century, baking powder was developed so that cooks would not have to add an acidic ingredient like vinegar or buttermilk to get their baked goods to rise. When using baking powder, there is no need to add acidic ingredients for it to work. Baking powder in its dry state is totally inert. But once you add a liquid, it starts to create bubbles of carbon dioxide without the need for an external acid source.
Baking powders can be fast-acting, slow-acting, or both (double-acting). Many quick-bread recipes call for baking powder that is fast-acting, while other items such as certain cakes may require a second rising and so call for double-acting baking powder.
During baking, however, there is no chemical reaction with baking soda; instead, heat causes a mechanical reaction. It begins to release CO2 when it reaches a certain temperature. With baking powder, a chemical reaction happens and begins as soon as the wet ingredients are mixed in, at which point CO2 immediately begins being released either rapidly or slowly depending on the type of acid salt in the baking powder.
When using baking powder, acid salts in the baking powder, because they are dry, will not begin to cause the chemical reaction with the baking soda (releasing the CO2) until they come into contact with moisture. The differences in the speed of the reactions depend on the kind of acid salt used in the baking powder. Some yield rapid reactions, while others react more slowly.
Baking powder’s advantage is that it is not necessary to add acidic ingredients for it to work. Some cooks also believe it gives a more controlled rise to baked goods.
Baking soda, on the other hand, has quite a number of kitchen uses besides baking. It can be placed in the refrigerator to prolong the freshness of produce. It also absorbs odors, so it can be placed anywhere odors may occur. It can be used as a meat tenderizer. And it can be mixed in with soap or detergent to help clean some kitchen utensils and cookware.
Baking soda and baking powder are both very useful items to keep in your kitchen. If you do a lot of baking, the powder will become your friend. Even if you don’t really bake a lot, baking soda is still very versatile with its myriad of uses.
The recipe below uses good old-fashion acidic ingredients for the baking soda to react, and modern-day baking powder.
By Annie Mahle
Makes 1 loaf
4 ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup shortening
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons buttermilk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease one loaf pan.
In a small bowl, pour the lemon juice and buttermilk over the mashed bananas; set aside. In a large bowl, beat the sugar, shortening, and eggs until fluffy.
In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, and salt.
Mix about 1/3 of the flour mixture into the sugar and egg mixture, then mix in about 1/3 of the banana/milk mixture. Repeat two more times until everything is mixed in.
Bake for 1 hour, or until a fork comes out clean. Cool for 20 minutes in the pan before removing.
For more recipes from Annie Mahle, visit http://athomeatsea.com. Permission to reprint recipe given by Theheartofnewengland.com.
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