How Do Baking Soda and Baking Powder Work?

Hi, I hope everyone is having a happy holiday weekend!

Have you ever wondered how a thick, creamy batter becomes a light, fluffy cake?  Of course, the obvious answer is baking soda or baking powder, but how exactly do these crucial ingredients work?


Both baking soda and baking powder produce carbon dioxide to raise or leaven mixes and dough.

Baking soda is pure sodium bicarbonate, NaHCO3.  When combined with moisture and an acidic substance such as brown sugar, molasses, honey, buttermilk, chocolate, or yogurt, the baking soda yields salt, water, and carbon dioxide gas.  While in the hot oven, these gas bubbles expand creating an airy dough.  However, the reaction happens immediately, so if not baked right away, the mix falls flat.

Additionally, since baking soda is a base, it effectively balances the acid in recipes. Acidic substances like brown sugar or lemon juice, can sometimes yield a treat that is too sour. Baking soda neutralizes the acid, producing a milder flavor instead of one that is too tart. On the other hand, adding too much baking soda forms a bitter dessert.

Here is the reaction of sodium bicarbonate with citric acid found in lemon juice:

3 NaHCO3(aq) + H3C6H5O7(aq) => Na3C6H5O7(aq) + 3 CO2(g) + 3 H2O(l)

Or the common chemical reaction:

Base + Acid => Salt + Carbon Dioxide + Water

Similarly, baking powder contains sodium bicarbonate, but also includes a dried acidic agent, such as cream of tartar, or potassium bitartrate, KHC4H4O6.  Unlike baking soda, baking powder does not need an additional acid to react, only moisture. Baking powder is completely neutral, so it will not affect the taste of the dish.

NaHCO3(aq) + KHC4H4O6(aq) => KNaC4H4O6(aq) + CO2(g) + H2O(l)

Moreover, most baking powders are double-reacting. In addition to the immediate reaction, the baking powder also reacts at higher temperatures to produce more carbon dioxide. While in the oven, the reaction continues, forming even more bubbles in the dough. However, both reactions are important, and like recipes with baking soda, those with baking powder should be baked quickly after prepared.

Usually, a recipe requires just enough baking soda to neutralize the acid, plus extra baking powder to sufficiently raise the mix. Using one teaspoon of baking powder for every one cup of flour yields the best results. Baking soda can get a little tricky and really depends on the other ingredients used in the mixture.

Sometimes, a recipe calls for more baking soda than necessary to counteract the acid. This creates an alkaline environment suitable for the Millard reaction. This reaction is responsible for the browning of foods and their distinct baked flavors and scents. By rearranging amino acids and simple sugars, the reaction forms new rings, which produce a beautiful brown color and the satisfying aromas of roasting, baking and frying. High temperatures, dehydration, and alkaline substances increase the rate of the Millard reaction, so adding more baking soda will definitely boost the coloring and taste of a dish.

In spirit of the holiday, I decided to share my favorite Easter recipe:

Carrot Cake Cupcakes


This recipe uses both baking powder to leaven the heavy carrots and baking soda to achieve beautiful, bronzed tops.


A good amount of vanilla and cinnamon ensure great taste.


And of course, carrots are the main ingredient.  My batch needed six medium to large carrots to reach three cups, but it really depends on the size of the carrots used.


This recipe can make adorable cupcakes or a delicious layered cake.


Either way, just make sure that the cake is completely cooked before removing it from the oven.  A toothpick, when inserted, should come out clean.  Also look for tops that are brown and firm, not sticky.  This may take a little longer than the average cupcake or cake.  I baked mine for about thirty five minutes.


These scrumptious cupcakes are beautifully bronzed on the outside, yet fluffy and moist on the inside.  Enjoy warm, or let cool and top with your favorite cream cheese frosting.  I added cinnamon to mine for extra flavor.


Enjoy and I hope everyone has a happy Easter!

Carrot Cake Cupcakes

2 cups flour

2 tsp baking soda

2 tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

2 tsp ground cinnamon

4 eggs

2 cups sugar

1 ¼ cup oil

2 tsp vanilla

3 cups carrots, grated

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

Sift together the dry ingredients.

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together. Mix in the oil and vanilla.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in two batches, stirring until just combined. Gently fold in the carrots.

Pour the batter into cupcake liners and bake for 35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean and the tops are firm and golden.

Let cool completely before frosting.

Makes 28 cupcakes

For a layered cake, use 2 9-inch round pans and bake for 45 to 50 minutes. Fill with cream cheese frosting and top with more frosting and chopped pecans for a little crunch.

Thanks to these websites for all of the information on baking soda and baking powder:

The Accidental Scientist

About Education

About Education

Serious Eats

PRL Overview

Modernist Cuisine


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