While baking soda, bicarbonate soda and baking powder may share the same look and smell, they are actually quite different from one another!
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It really is the question on every baking enthusiast's lips: what is the difference between baking powder, baking soda, and bicarbonate of soda? And what are their different uses?
What are baking soda and bicarbonate soda?
Baking soda is actually the same as bicarbonate soda. In Australia, we tend to refer to it as bicarbonate soda (or bi-carb soda), but in other countries – like America – it's referred to as baking soda. While not 100 per cent interchangeable, both are leaving agents.
When included in a batter, the leavening agent causes air bubbles (produced by stirring, whipping or beating) to expand when cooked, causing it to 'rise'. It needs to be mixed with moisture and an acidic ingredient for the necessary chemical reaction to take place to make food rise. Because it needs an acid to create the rising quality, it is often used in recipes where there is already an acidic ingredient present, such as lemon juice, chocolate, buttermilk, or honey.
Aside from helping to give a lift to baked goods, it also makes for a great cleaning product
around the home.
What is baking powder?
On the other hand, baking powder is an expanded version of baking soda combined with monocalcium phosphate and either sodium acid pyrophosphate or sodium aluminium sulfate. It already contains an acidic ingredient in which baking soda is missing – so all you need to do is add moisture!
You can actually even make your own baking powder by mixing two parts cream of tartar with one part bicarbonate of soda.
Baking powder has a more neutral taste and is often used in recipes that have other neutral-tasting ingredients, like milk.
Can I use bicarbonate soda instead of baking powder?
Here in Australia, we usually just cook with self-raising flour when a leaving agent is needed. Bicarbonate soda has a slightly different quality to baking powder when used in cooking – it can have a 'tangy' taste and creates a lovely golden colour. It also creates a very specific texture that isn't achievable with baking powder.
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