The difference between baking powder, baking soda and sodium bicarbonate

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    The difference between baking powder, baking soda and sodium bicarbonate
    Life is full of mysterious white powders (Picture: Pexels)

    I have a rough idea of what most cake ingredients are.

    Eggs come from chickens, flour from ground-up grains, butter from cows, sugar from plants (gold star, please).

    You can now get vegan afternoon tea at The Egerton House Hotel in Knightsbridge

    Until sodium bicarbonate comes into the mix, anyway.

    Perhaps it’s the same thing as baking powder – but then again, what even is baking powder? Or is it called baking soda?

    Either way, it’s white, it’s dusty, but it’s not flour – an overwhelming concept for some of us.

    So what are they, and how are they different?

    Sodium bicarbonate

    Bread
    Not all of us are this good at baking (Picture: Pexels)

    It may have been granted the least-catchy name, but sodium bicarbonate is the most essential member of the mystery baking substance family.

    Also known as bicarbonate of soda, it’s a mixture of sodium and hydrogen carbonate, is alkaline, and has a bitter taste.

    The main thing we use it for being – you guessed it – baking.

    According to BBC Good Food, when combined with an acid such as milk or yoghurt, it produces carbon dioxide, which causes the baking mixture to expand before it’s replaced with air.

    So we tend to use it in cakes or soda bread.

    Baking powder

    Kneading bread
    There are subtle differences between the powders (Picture: Pexels)

    Baking powder is made up of several ingredients – and one of these is sodium bicarbonate.

    That plus an acid, as well as cream of tartar, plus a filler like cornflour to absorb the moisture.

    Now that you know sodium bicarbonate needs acid to react, you can probably guess what the acid in baking powder is for – it’s like a pre-packaged version of sodium bicarbonate and the ingredients it’s often matched with, which you need only add water to.

    And it reacts in the same way, which is why we use it in similar foods.

    Baking soda

    Well, it’s just another name for sodium bicarbonate.

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