Baking Soda vs Baking powder, Part 2

Aluminum-Free Baking Powder

Aluminum-Free Baking Powder

By Cat, Nov 2014 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

Baking soda and baking powder are leavening agents for quick-breads, muffins, cakes, and cookies. In Part 1 we discussed how they are similar, how they are different, and how to convert between them. We also discussed the different types of baking powder and how to avoid GMO and/or toxic components, or make your own baking powder at home.

In Part 2 we explore how much baking soda and/or baking powder is needed for a particular recipe, and which to use.

How Much to Use?

When creating your own recipe, or altering an existing recipe, it helps to know how much baking soda is needed to leaven the batter; this is also called ‘soda equivalent’.* There are three main factors (detailed below).

  1. The first 2 factors each yield a number, but may not always lead to the same amount of baking soda; in this case, if they are close, use an amount in the middle. If they are not close, start with the amount based on total flour in the recipe.
  2. The third factor is more esoteric: if you want the baked product to be browned, use a little extra soda equivalent.
  3. Then decide whether you want to do this as all soda, all baking powder, or a bit of both.
  4. Do a trial recipe and determine if more/less is needed, or if the result is satisfactory.

NOTE: To understand the meaning of “soda equivalent” see “Determining Soda Equivalent” section, below.

Factor #1: Soda equivalent based on amount of flour

Use this as a rule of thumb/beginning point (the final result will also depend on the other ingredients in the recipe, and how they are mixed. (1, 3, 7)):

  • For 1 cup of flour, use 1/4 – 1/2 tsp soda equivalent (or 1 – 2 tsp baking powder)

Factor #2: Soda equivalent based on amount of acidic ingredients

If the recipe includes acidic ingredients (such as an old-fahioned recipe or a pre-soak flour recipe), determine how much soda is needed to neutralize most of the acid (which also leavens the bread).

  • For 1 cup buttermilk, use 2 tsp soda equivalent.

NOTE: I used a recipe for cornbread in Nourishing Traditions (8) as a guide to derive the equivalence. The recipe calls for 2 tsp baking soda and no baking powder for 1 cup buttermilk (and 3 cups flour/cornmeal).

The 2 tsp soda equivalence of the acid compares in the same ball-park with the 1 1/2 tsp soda equivalent needed to leaven the 3 cups of flour/cornmeal in the recipe. But for some recipes, this factor will lead to a larger soda equivalence than the flour factor. In this case, the excess buttermilk or other acidic ingredient is needed for texture or flavor, or it could be a mistake.

Factor #3: Browning 

If you want the baked goodie to be nicely golden brown, you want just enough of the soda to remain (not be neutralized) to enhance browning via the Maillard reaction (between amino acids and sugars in the mix). (7)

Clearly, there are a lot of variables to consider, that only testing can resolve and reveal.

Some recipes include both baking soda and baking powder

Such recipes are hedging their bets. Baking soda is added to neutralize the acid already in the recipe, and baking powder is added for leavening. But do you really need both?

Brian Geiger in a Fine Cooking article (2) writes;

A baked good is a delicate dance of flavor, appearance, and body. Some acid gives a nice flavor to a dough, but too much might overwhelm, and it will certainly keep the baked good from browning as much as it can. Still, the batter might not have enough acid to lift the entire quick bread enough just using baking soda—thus, some recipes call for both ingredients [baking powder includes an acid].

Using only baking soda in quick breads

This is certainly possible (baking soda was used long before baking powder was invented in the 1800s (6)), if you keep the following in mind. If the recipe is:

  • Already acidic (contains buttermilk, yogurt, vinegar, lemon or other citrus juice) and uses baking soda: you do not need to make any changes unless you change the amount of flour or acidic ingredient.
  • Already acidic but uses baking powder: replace with half as much baking soda as baking powder specified in the recipe (because baking soda is at least twice as effective). You may need to add cream of tarter if the recipe doesn’t provide enough acid and the resulting product doesn’t rise or has a bitter taste.
  • Not already acidic and uses baking powder: replace with half as much baking soda, and add 2 parts cream of tartar for every 1 part of soda. For example, if recipe uses 4 tsp baking powder, replace with 2 tsp baking soda, and add 4 tsp cream of tartar.

It is important to note that once you have baking soda and an acid together in a batter, it begins to produce CO2 immediately. Act quickly to get it into the oven before all the CO2 is released.

Determining Soda Equivalence

This applies mainly when the recipe uses both baking soda and baking powder. The ‘soda equivalence’ is the total of baking soda used in the recipe, plus the amount of soda that would replace the amount of baking powder in the recipe. To do this calculation, keep the ratio of baking powder’s basic ingredients in mind: 4 parts baking powder contains:

  • 1 part baking soda
  • 2 parts cream of tartar (and/or other acidic powders)
  • 1 part cornstarch

In other words, each 1 tsp baking powder contains ¼ tsp soda and ½ tsp cream of tartar, plus ¼ tsp cornstarch to total 1 tsp of the mixture.

Another way to look at this is the amount of baking soda and cornstarch are each ¼ of the amount of baking powder, and the amount of cornstarch is ½ the amount of baking powder.

Then calculate the soda equivalence as follows:

  1. Determine amount of baking soda cited in the recipe;
  2. Determine amount of baking soda needed to replace the amount of baking powder in the recipe;
  3. Add these amounts of soda together to get the soda equivalence for the recipe.

Also determine amount of additional acid (in the form of cream of tartar) from the amount of baking powder in the recipe. If there is no baking powder in the recipe, you will likely not need additional acid.

For example: A recipe calls for 1 tsp baking soda and 2 tsp baking powder. The baking powder contains 1/2 tsp baking soda and 1 tsp cream of tartar; thus the total soda equivalence is 1 1/2 tsp and the amount of cream of tartar is 1 tsp.

This is your starting point to begin testing and refining your recipe.


  1. Joy of Baking (
  2. Fine Cooking article by Brian Geiger (
  3. Fine Cooking article by Shirley Corriher (
  4. Chemistry About: How to substitute baking powder and baking soda (
  5. Baker Bettie (
  6. Serious Eats’ Food Lab (
  7. Decoding Delicious (
  8. Nourishing Traditions recipe for pre-soak cornbread, by Sally Fallon with Mary G. Enig, PhD.
  9. Bob’s Red Mill non-GMO policy (blog.bobsredmill. com/featured-articles/our-policy-regarding-gmos) (link deactivated at their request)

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