Imagine this: you’re about to start your baking session. You’ve prepared every ingredient except one; you forgot the baking powder! You realize you have baking soda in the pantry, but, wait, are they the same?
Baking powder is such a common ingredient in baking that the two are almost synonymous. You may think you can’t bake without baking powder, but the truth is you most definitely can! All you need is baking soda and a little dose of experimentation (more on this later).
You don’t have to settle for baking powder. If you’re looking for a baking powder substitute, then you’ll be glad to know that there’s a long list of alternatives to baking powder that are waiting for you to discover.
What the Difference between Baking Soda and Baking Powder?
If you’re into baking, you’ve probably tried at least once to substitute baking powder with baking soda. It’s a common baking mistake as they sound and look similar. They’re also both useful in baking, but they don’t have the same uses (and not to mention, they get very different results). How do they differ from each other?
Baking soda is an alkaline compound that contains a single ingredient called sodium bicarbonate—incidentally used as a cure-all for digestive problems. As a base, sodium bicarbonate reacts with acids like vinegar and lemon to release carbon dioxide (why it has bubbles). What’s unique about baking soda is its ability to spread, so you don’t need to put a lot of soda to get that much-awaited ‘rise.’
You also don’t need to heat baking soda. Just mix it with the wet ingredients and you’re ready to go. Put the mixture in the oven as soon as you’re done. This retains the gas and ensures that your cake isn’t flat.
Now, baking powder is a little extra. It’s a mix of baking soda and an acid or two—usually cream of tartar. There’s no need to add acid to the mix, which is probably why it’s a popular baking ingredient. If you’re wondering whether you should use soda or powder, just remember that baking soda is best with acidic ingredients and baking powder goes well with recipes that require some acid.
Types of Baking Powder: Single, Slow, and Double Acting
Baking powder comes in three forms: single-acting, slow-acting, and double-acting:
- The double-acting kind is more common in groceries. It requires heat before the sodium bicarbonate in the baking soda reacts with the two acids, allowing the dough to rise for a much longer time. So if you’re looking for a puffier end-product, you should really go for double-acting baking powder.
- Another type, single-acting baking powder, is much harder to find these days. It’s usually combined with cream of tartar or tartaric acid and its leavening effect quickly evaporates when not immediately baked.
- The third type is a phosphate-based baking powder that acts slowly and releases carbon dioxide before and after heating. This is equally less visible in supermarkets.
Among all three types, what you want is the “double-acting” kind as it releases gas at different stages of the process and achieves a more balanced aesthetic in baked goods.
How to Find Out If Your Baking Powder Is Still Good
Humidity and other factors may affect the potency of baking powder, so it’s important to test it before using if it’s been on the shelf for some time. One way to do this is by mixing half a teaspoon of baking powder with one-third cup of water.
If you see bubbles, it’s still good to use. If not, time to buy a new batch. You can extend baking powder’s shelf life up to a year if you store it in a dry location.
List of 10 Wonderful Substitutes for Baking Powder
Now, if your baking powder actually went bad or you’re looking for baking powder alternatives, many options available at the supermarket are healthier or even better than baking powder. Here are ten that you should give a try:
Cream of Tartar
Cream of tartar also called potassium bitartrate and potassium hydrogen tartrate is the result of making wine or processing grape juice. It’s derived from tartaric acid and can both be used in baking and cleaning.
In baking, cream of tartar is commonly used to stabilize whipped egg whites in recipes like meringue and angel food cake. After the whites are whipped, cream of tartar is added to help contain the water and air. Its acidity also helps add volume to egg whites.
Lemon juice is a miracle concoction. It’s packed with nutrients and several health benefits. Like oranges, lemons are rich in vitamin C. Researchers have found that lemons may help fight cancer and can avert kidney stones from developing. Drinking a mix of lemon juice and baking soda first thing in the morning may help with your digestion for the rest of the day.
Aside from drinking this interesting mix, you can use lemons and baking soda for baking. The citric acid in lemon juice is the perfect blend for baking soda’s alkaline state.
Just be careful not to overdo the lemon juice as it produces a strong sour taste. You wouldn’t want your guests to grimace while munching your cooking. This is why it’s best to use this particular substitute for a recipe that doesn’t ask for a lot of baking powder in the first place.
What house doesn’t have vinegar? This is one baking powder replacement that you can easily find in your kitchen. Red wine, balsamic, white, and apple cider are just a few examples of cooking vinegar. They all come from unique sources, namely red wine, grape juice, distilled alcohol, and apples—basically anything that can ferment.
If you’re thinking of using this for baking, try using white vinegar as it has a clear color and milder taste. Balsamic vinegar might be everywhere these days, but its intense flavor should only be used for recipes that require a strong taste. Similarly, apple cider vinegar can be overwhelming and its yellowish hue may look bad with some recipes.
Also known as club soda or sparkling water, carbonated water is what gives soda drinks that fizzing effect. It has the same hydrating power as regular water plus fun bubbles, but unlike water, it can slightly erode your teeth because of the carbonic acid it produces. Still, experts agree it’s better than soda drinks since it doesn’t have sugar yet it has the same bubbly effect.
It’s an excellent alternative if you don’t have baking powder and baking soda as it also contains sodium bicarbonate, a.k.a. baking soda. You can swap it with any liquid ingredient such as water or milk so your baked goods can get that extra fluff. For example, you can use club soda as a much simpler baking powder replacement in your pancake mix.
Self-rising flour is another excellent substitute for baking powder. It mixes regular flour, salt, and, you guessed it, baking powder, so no need to add a leavening agent like baking powder or baking soda. It gives cakes and pastries a nice even rise, so it has always been a favorite among old-time bakers.
You simply replace the flour in your recipe with self-rising flour and you won’t have to add baking powder.
But if you’re interested in making your own self-rising flour at home, you can do this by mixing one cup of all-purpose flour with one and a half teaspoons (1 ½) of baking powder and a quarter (1/4) teaspoon salt.
Whipped Egg Whites
If you like French goodies like mousses, soufflés, and meringues, then you have whipped egg whites to thank for the fluffy and airy quality of these famous desserts. The first secret to a perfectly good meringue, for example, is to use eggs that are 3-4 days old because older eggs have thinner egg whites that add volume to your sweet treats.
Another important secret is to whip the egg whites with the proper technique. You start beating the egg whites at low speed until you see foam and then continue beating the whites to medium and medium-high before combining with other mixtures.
Like it or hate it, yogurt is good for you. It’s what you get when you mix fresh milk with ‘good’ bacteria. Its fermentation process produces lactic acid, so it’s an ideal partner for baking soda.
Just make sure to use the flavorless variety of yogurt as a replacement for baking powder. The flavored yogurt available in the supermarket is estimated to have 27 grams of sugar for six ounces of yogurt and 60 more calories than plain, sugar-free yogurt.
Buttermilk is a type of dairy milk. Its original form comes from the leftover of making butter from cultured cream, but nowadays it’s fermented in its own right, so we have cultured buttermilk.
If you’re worried about the fat, you can find low-fat brands in stores, but most of them are more likely skimmed or 100% fat. If you’re toying with the idea of making your own buttermilk, banish the idea for now. Commercial buttermilk is better for baking because it has higher acidity and a tangier taste.
Its acid content makes it perfect for baking soda. Since it contains lactic acid, buttermilk can last up to 3 weeks after its stated expiration date, making it a very reliable alternative to baking powder.
Who knew spoiled milk can be good? If you don’t have buttermilk on hand, one thing you can use as an alternative is sour milk (yes, the milk you left in the fridge way past its expiration). Like yogurt, buttermilk and sour milk benefit from the good bacteria that naturally grows in them. In the case of sour milk, the kind of bacteria is unpredictable so the taste of sour milk can be wildly different from that of buttermilk.
For those looking for other ways to use spoiled milk and don’t mind the potentially surprising taste, replacing baking powder with sour milk is the way to go. It’s perfect for a wide array of recipes. You can use it for baked goods like bread and pastries as well as creamy dishes like casseroles and potato gratins. Of course, if the milk gives off a truly bad smell or has molds in it, you need to throw it away.
Also known as treacle, molasses is a thick, sticky syrup derived from sugar cane or beet juice. Three grades of molasses are extracted at different points in its manufacturing. The first grade of molasses has a lighter color and more sugar than those extracted at the second or third extraction points. It’s the lighter kind that’s commonly used in baking as a natural sweetener.
You’ll be pleased to know that molasses is good for your health. It contains trace minerals and vitamins like magnesium and calcium, so it helps strengthen your bones and prevent heart disease. But if you have diabetes, keep in mind that molasses has sugar.
Factors to Consider When Choosing Baking Powder Substitute
It might take some trial and error before you get the perfect baking powder substitute. I wish there’s one absolute replacement that I can recommend, but it largely depends on your baking needs. Still, there are some factors that you should consider when you decide on the best replacement for you.
Think about the flavor you want
Certain ingredients can fundamentally change the taste of your finished product. For instance, acidic replacements like vinegar and lemon juice have strong sour tastes, so it’s best to use them as substitutes if you’re preparing something that doesn’t require a lot of baking powder.
Meanwhile, ingredients like molasses are better suited for pastries and desserts because of their high sugar content.
Follow the correct ratio
The main draw of baking powder is its acidity, so many of the substitutes on the list are also very acidic. This is why it’s important to observe proper proportioning when baking.
Most of the listed items, for instance, require baking soda to work. Sodium bicarbonate is four times more potent than baking powder, so it’s important to tone down the amount of baking soda.
You need a quarter (1/4) teaspoon of baking soda for every teaspoon of baking powder in a recipe. That’s ¼ to a whole teaspoon. When you combine soda with an acid, be careful not to overpower the acidic ingredient. For example, use half a teaspoon of baking soda for one (1) cup of buttermilk or one (1) teaspoon lemon juice. That’s ½ baking soda to one whole cup or teaspoon of acid.
Be wary of wet ingredients
When using a liquid substitute like yogurt, you will need to reduce the quantity of other liquid ingredients in your recipe. This balances the amount of liquid substitute with that of other wet ingredients and ensures that you still get the texture and consistency that you like. In the same vein, you probably need to adjust the portion of your other ingredients when you’re using a strong-flavored baking powder substitute so you can still get the taste you’re aiming for.
Are the Alternatives Healthier Than the Actual Baking Powder?
As described above, many of the listed substitutes have a few health benefits. They’re also mostly natural ingredients that have their own distinct flavors.
If you’re looking for a natural sweetener, you have molasses to try out. If you’re trying to be more health conscious and watch your sugar intake, maybe carbonated water is the one for you. If you want something that tastes like you fermented your own dough, use vinegar or sour milk. They all have unique benefits. Choose the substitute that coincides with your current baking (as well as life) goals.
How to Make Your Own Baking Powder Substitute at Home
As you’ve probably noticed so far, baking soda alone is not enough as a baking powder substitute, but almost all of the home-made recipes above have baking soda in them.
If you use baking soda without any acidic ingredients, you’ll end up with a flat product. It won’t have the chemical reaction necessary to lift, say, the cake or pancake. If you want to make your own baking powder substitute at home, here’s a common recipe you can follow:
Prepare baking soda and cream of tartar. Mix ½ teaspoon of cream of tartar with ¼ teaspoon of baking soda, equivalent to 1 teaspoon of baking powder. If the recipe says you need 2 teaspoons of baking powder, just multiply this to two by combining 1 teaspoon of cream of tartar with half a teaspoon of baking soda. You can also replace cream of tartar with an acidic ingredient from the list above.
You never know when but baking powder may not always be available at home. Perhaps, you’re even looking to switch to a tastier baking powder alternative. Whatever the reason may be, you should know that you have a long list of possible replacements just waiting for you to discover.
One important virtue in every baker is an openness to new culinary adventures. Don’t hesitate to be creative and try out any baking powder substitute I described above. You never know what best-selling recipe you’ll discover next.