Need to know the difference between baking soda, baking powder and bicarb soda? While bicarb soda and baking powder are completely separate ingredients, bicarb soda and baking soda are simply two different terms that are used to describe the exact same thing. You see, it’s totally dependent on what country you live in: in Australia, we mostly refer to it as bicarb soda, while overseas (e.g. the USA) it’s known as baking soda.
It’s important to note that bicarb soda and baking powder aren’t interchangeable. However, they are both leavening agents which are used to make food rise or spread. When a leavening agent is added to a batter (say, for cakes, cookies or muffins) that’s then stirred, whipped or beaten, it causes air bubbles that expand when heated.
So, what are the main distinctions between bicarb soda (or baking soda) and baking powder, you ask? Here, we’ve broken them down:
Bicarb soda is derived from pure soda ash, also known as sodium carbonate. It is a naturally occurring substance that comes out of the ground in the form of minerals (nahcolite and trona) that are then refined and turned into bicarb soda. Baking powder can contain a number of things, although it predominantly it involves a base (bicarb soda), an acid (cream of tartar), and a filler (corn-starch.)
Bicarb soda requires moisture and an acidic ingredient (such as lemon juice, chocolate or honey) in order to work. On the other hand, as baking powder already contains an acidic ingredient, it can used as is.
RELATED: Bircher muesli with chia seeds
Taste, colour and texture:
Bicarb soda has a tangy taste that can be overpowering if measurements aren’t followed exactly. It is white in colour and comes as a fine powder-like substance but can turn lumpy if not sifted. It also creates a distinct thick, foamy texture when added to food.
Baking powder is flavourless and is fine to use in recipes with other mild-tasting ingredients (such as milk.) It is similar to bicarb in colour and consistency but is slightly grainier.
When it comes to cooking, bicarb soda is mainly used in (such as scones and pancakes) or to make baked goods spread, (for example chocolate chip cookies.) It can also work as a natural beauty product (think hair cleanser, face and body exfoliant) and a non-chemical cleaner (to kill mould, polish silver and take the stench and stains out of clothes and furniture.)
Baking powder is best for baked goods you want to rise without ruining their shape, (e.g. cakes and muffins) or anything that needs a little longer to cook. While it can be used for cleaning, it’s much cheaper and way more efficient to use baking soda.
Bicarb soda can last for years when stored correctly (in a cool, dry location). Hint: you can check if it’s edible by adding a little vinegar to it – if it bubbles, it’s still fresh. Baking powder has a slightly shorter expiration date (it goes off after approx. 3 months to a year.) Hint: to test if it’s fine to use, mix in some water – if it foams, you’re good to go!
Need a substitute for bicarb soda and baking powder? Here are a few replacements you may already have on hand (keep in mind that this can alter the taste and colour of your cooking):
- Baker’s yeast
- Potassium bicarbonate
- Club soda
- Club soda
- Lemon juice paired with baking soda