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The Science Behind Baking Powder

Baking Powder Basics

Before we delve into the nitty-gritty of its chemistry, let’s start with the basics. Baking powder is a leavening agent, a substance that helps baked goods rise. It’s composed of a few key ingredients:

  • Sodium Bicarbonate (Baking Soda): This is the primary player in baking powder. It’s a base, and when it comes into contact with an acid (more on that later), it produces carbon dioxide gas, which creates bubbles in the batter, causing the baked goods to rise.
  • Acidic Component: Baking powder includes an acidic ingredient, typically cream of tartar, sodium aluminum sulfate, or calcium acid phosphate. This acid reacts with the baking soda to trigger the production of carbon dioxide gas.
  • Starch: The starch in baking powder serves as a buffer, preventing the acidic and alkaline components from reacting prematurely.

The Double-Acting Miracle

One remarkable feature of baking powder is its double-acting nature. This means that it produces carbon dioxide gas in two stages: first when it’s mixed with liquid and then when it’s exposed to heat during baking. Let’s break down this two-step process:

  • Immediate Reaction: As soon as you mix baking powder into your batter and add liquids, the acid and baking soda begin to react. This initial reaction results in the formation of some carbon dioxide bubbles. This is why you often see your batter rise slightly as soon as you combine the ingredients.
  • Oven Magic: The real magic happens in the oven. When your baking creation is exposed to heat, the remaining carbon dioxide is released. This second round of gas production ensures your baked goods rise and stay light and airy.

The Importance of Balance

Achieving the perfect balance between the acidic and alkaline components in baking powder is crucial. Too much acid can result in a sour taste, while too little can lead to insufficient leavening. That’s why commercial baking powder manufacturers carefully control the ratios of these ingredients to ensure consistent results.

Baking Powder vs. Baking Soda

Now, let’s briefly touch on the difference between baking powder and its close relative, baking soda. Baking soda is pure sodium bicarbonate, with no added acid or starch. It requires an external acidic ingredient (such as buttermilk, yogurt, or vinegar) to activate it. Baking powder, on the other hand, contains all the necessary components for leavening, making it a more convenient choice for many recipes.

Why Choosing the Right Baking Powder Matters

The Role of Baking Powder in Baking

Before we dive into the importance of choosing the best baking powder, let’s revisit the fundamental role it plays in your recipes. Baking powder is a leavening agent that’s responsible for creating those delightful pockets of air in your cakes, muffins, and biscuits. It’s what gives your baked goods that airy and fluffy texture.

The Consequences of the Wrong Choice

Now, let’s talk about what happens when you don’t choose the right baking powder:

  • Flat and Dense Bakes: Using an inferior or expired baking powder can result in your baked goods falling flat – literally. Without proper leavening, your cakes might turn out dense, muffins lackluster, and biscuits as heavy as bricks.
  • Off-putting Taste: Baking powders with subpar ingredients or an unbalanced composition can leave an unpleasant aftertaste in your creations. This is something no one wants to experience, especially after putting time and effort into baking.
  • Inconsistent Results: Different brands and types of baking powder can vary in their leavening power. Using the wrong one for a specific recipe can lead to inconsistent results, causing frustration in the kitchen.

Understanding Baking Powder Types

Not all baking powders are created equal, and it’s essential to understand the different types available:

  • Single-Acting Baking Powder: This type of baking powder contains only one acid component. It starts releasing gas as soon as it’s mixed with liquid. While it’s suitable for some recipes, it may not be the best choice for others.
  • Double-Acting Baking Powder: This is the most commonly used baking powder, and for a good reason. It releases gas in two stages – first when mixed with liquid and then when exposed to heat during baking. This double-action ensures a more consistent rise and a light, tender texture in your baked goods.

Making the Right Choice

To ensure your baking endeavors turn out as delightful as you envision, here are some tips for choosing the best baking powder:

  • Check the Expiration Date: Always check the expiration date on the packaging. Fresh baking powder is essential for optimal results.
  • Consider Double-Acting: Unless your recipe specifically calls for a single-acting baking powder, opt for double-acting for its reliability and versatility.
  • Brand Matters: While many brands produce high-quality baking powders, some are known for their consistency and performance. Do a bit of research or ask fellow bakers for recommendations.

Top Baking Powder Brands

Now, let’s dive into the top baking powder brands that have earned the trust of bakers worldwide:

1. Clabber Girl Baking Powder

  • Type: Double-Acting
  • Sodium-Free Option: Available
  • Gluten-Free: Yes

Clabber Girl has been a household name for over a century, known for its consistent performance. It’s a double-acting baking powder, making it suitable for a wide range of recipes. With a sodium-free option and gluten-free certification, it’s a versatile choice for all bakers.

2. Rumford Baking Powder

  • Type: Aluminum-Free, Non-GMO
  • Aluminum-Free: Yes
  • Non-GMO: Yes

Rumford Baking Powder is an excellent option for those looking for an aluminum-free and non-GMO alternative. It’s a double-acting powder that delivers reliable results. If you have dietary concerns or preferences, this brand is worth considering.

3. Calumet Baking Powder

  • Type: Double-Acting
  • Gluten-Free: Yes
  • Kosher: Yes

Calumet has a long history of providing quality baking powder. It’s a double-acting powder suitable for various recipes. If you require gluten-free or kosher options, Calumet has you covered.

4. Davis Baking Powder

  • Type: Double-Acting
  • Aluminum-Free Option: Available

Davis Baking Powder is another trusted name in the world of baking. It offers a double-acting option and even provides an aluminum-free version for those with specific preferences.

Considerations When Selecting Baking Powder

Now, let’s explore the critical factors to keep in mind when choosing the right baking powder for your baking adventures:

1. Recipe Requirements:

Before anything else, consider the recipe you’ll be working on. Some recipes may specifically call for a particular type of baking powder. Ensure you follow these guidelines for the best results.

2. Sodium Content:

For those watching their sodium intake, sodium-free baking powder options are available. Be sure to check the label if you have dietary restrictions or preferences.

3. Gluten-Free Options:

If you or someone you’re baking for has a gluten sensitivity or allergy, there are gluten-free baking powders on the market. Always check for this label if needed.

4. Aluminum-Free:

Some people prefer to avoid baking powders that contain aluminum. Look for baking powders labeled as “aluminum-free” to meet this preference.

5. Non-GMO:

For those who prioritize non-genetically modified ingredients, you can find baking powders that proudly carry the “non-GMO” label.

6. Brand Reputation:

Different brands may have variations in performance and consistency. Seek recommendations from fellow bakers or conduct research to identify trusted brands that align with your requirements.

7. Storage and Expiry:

Always check the expiration date on the packaging and ensure proper storage to maintain the freshness and effectiveness of your baking powder.

Homemade Baking Powder

Now, let’s uncover the magic of homemade baking powder. It’s a simple recipe that can come in handy if you ever find yourself out of store-bought baking powder or prefer a DIY approach:


  • 1 part baking soda
  • 2 parts cream of tartar
  • 1 part cornstarch (optional)


  • Mix the baking soda and cream of tartar thoroughly. This combination serves as the leavening agent.
  • If you’d like to include cornstarch to keep the ingredients from clumping, add it in and mix well.
  • Store your homemade baking powder in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.
  • Use it in your recipes just like you would with store-bought baking powder.

Potential Substitutes for Baking Powder

Now, let’s explore potential substitutes for baking powder. If you ever find yourself without this essential ingredient, these alternatives can save the day:

  • Baking Soda and Acidic Component: Mix 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda with 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar or vinegar to replace 1 teaspoon of baking powder. This combination mimics the leavening action of baking powder.
  • Buttermilk or Yogurt: In recipes calling for baking powder, consider substituting it with an equal amount of buttermilk or yogurt. These dairy products contain natural acids that can help with leavening.
  • Whipped Egg Whites: For recipes where the leavening is crucial, whipping egg whites until stiff peaks form and folding them into the batter can provide lift and fluffiness.
  • Self-Rising Flour: If your recipe calls for both flour and baking powder, you can use self-rising flour instead. It already contains baking powder and salt in the right proportions.

Common Baking Mistakes Involving Baking Powder

Now, let’s explore some common baking mistakes related to baking powder that you should steer clear of to ensure your baked goods turn out perfectly:

  • Using Expired Baking Powder: Always check the expiration date on your baking powder container. Expired baking powder loses its leavening power and can result in flat, dense baked goods.
  • Incorrect Measurement: Precision is key in baking. Ensure you use the right measurements of baking powder as specified in your recipe. Too much or too little can lead to undesirable results.
  • Stirring Too Much: Overmixing the batter can cause the carbon dioxide gas produced by baking powder to escape, resulting in less rise and a tougher texture in your baked goods. Mix only until ingredients are combined.
  • Substituting Baking Soda for Baking Powder: Baking soda and baking powder are not interchangeable. Baking soda requires an acidic component to activate it, whereas baking powder contains its own acid. Substituting one for the other can lead to baking disasters.
  • Letting Batter Sit Too Long: Once you mix baking powder into your batter, get it into the oven promptly. Delaying can cause the gas to escape, leading to less rise and fluffiness.

How to Test the Potency of Baking Powder

Ensuring that your baking powder is still potent is vital for achieving successful baking results. Here’s a simple test to determine its potency:

Materials Needed:

  • 1/2 cup hot water
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder


  • Dissolve Baking Powder: Take the 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder and dissolve it in the 1/2 cup of hot water. Stir until thoroughly mixed.
  • Observe Reaction: A fresh and potent baking powder should produce immediate fizzing and bubbling in the hot water. This effervescent reaction is a sign that the baking powder is active and ready to use.
  • No Fizz? Replace It: If there’s no significant fizz or bubbling, your baking powder has likely lost its potency and should be replaced to ensure the best baking results.

Price and Availability

When it comes to purchasing baking powder, price and availability can vary depending on your location and the brand you choose. Here’s a general idea of what you can expect:



Price Range


Clabber Girl Baking Powder

8.1 oz can

$1.50 – $2.50

Widely available in grocery stores

Rumford Baking Powder

8.1 oz can

$2.00 – $3.00

Available in most major supermarkets

Calumet Baking Powder

7 oz can

$1.50 – $2.50

Easily found in grocery stores and online

Davis Baking Powder

8.1 oz can

$2.00 – $3.00

Available in various retailers and online

Please note that prices may vary depending on your location and the store you visit. It’s always a good idea to check local prices and promotions.

FAQ Baking Soda and Baking Powder

What makes the dough rise effectively when using double acting baking powder?

Double acting baking powder contains two types of acids that react at different times during baking, one reacting when wet and the other due to the heat during baking. This dual-action ensures a reliable rise of the dough, producing a light, airy crumb structure in baked goods.

Why do some consumers prefer aluminum-free baking powder when preparing pancake batter?

Consumers often choose aluminum-free baking powder to avoid a metallic taste left by aluminum-based acids like aluminum sulfate or aluminum phosphate. This ensures the pancake batter retains its intended flavor profile, making pancakes that taste fresher and more like their key ingredients.

Is “Great Value” considered a good brand compared to “Bob’s Red Mill” regarding aluminum-free baking powder for making a cake recipe?

While “Great Value” offers affordable options, “Bob’s Red Mill” is often preferred for its commitment to natural ingredients. For a cake recipe requiring aluminum-free baking powder, “Bob’s Red Mill” is favored due to its reputation for containing purely sourced and natural ingredients, crucial for maintaining flavor integrity in cakes made.

What is the combination of baking soda and another ingredient that can mimic the leavening effect of regular baking powder in a dough?

A combination of baking soda and an acid like lemon juice or white vinegar can replicate the leavening effect of regular baking powder. For each teaspoon of baking powder in dough, you can substitute with 1/4 teaspoon baking soda mixed with 1/2 teaspoon of an acidic ingredient like lemon juice.

Among different brands of baking powder, how do I determine if my “Red Mill” baking powder without aluminum is still good to use in a batter or dough?

To ensure it’s still good, you can test the “Red Mill” aluminum-free baking powder’s effectiveness by adding a teaspoon to a 1/3 cup of hot water. If it bubbles vigorously, it indicates an active chemical reaction, meaning the baking powder is still potent and can effectively leaven a batter or dough.

For a pancake recipe, if I only have all-purpose flour and need to make baking powder, what ingredients are necessary to create a homemade version?

To make homemade baking powder, you’d combine 1 teaspoon baking soda, 2 teaspoons cream of tartar, and 1 teaspoon cornstarch. The cornstarch absorbs moisture, preventing a premature chemical reaction, while the cream of tartar acts as the acidic element, ensuring the all-purpose flour pancake mixture becomes light and fluffy.

In a quick breads recipe calling for buttermilk and I only have a regular kind, how can I alter other ingredients like baking powder to maintain the correct leavening?

If substituting regular milk for buttermilk in quick breads, you need to reduce the baking powder slightly and add an acid like lemon juice or white vinegar. For each cup of milk, mix in one tablespoon of acid to replicate the tangy pH balance like buttermilk, crucial for activating the baking powder.

Why is it essential to use aluminum-free baking powder in goods like cakes and pancakes?

Using aluminum-free baking powder is vital in cakes and pancakes to avoid the slightly bitter or metallic taste that can occur with aluminum-based compounds. It ensures the flavor of the cakes made remains untainted and natural, enhancing the overall eating experience.

Can I substitute for 1 teaspoon of double-acting baking powder with a mixture of baking soda and cider vinegar in a cake recipe?

Yes, you can substitute 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda mixed with an acid like 1/2 teaspoon of cider vinegar for 1 teaspoon of double-acting baking powder in a cake recipe. This combination creates a chemical reaction that releases carbon dioxide, similar to baking powder, helping the cake maintain a light crumb.

How do I store homemade baking powder to ensure it maintains a good shelf life, and what is the best ratio for all-purpose flour in a pancake recipe?

Store homemade baking powder in a cool and dry place in an airtight container to prevent moisture and air from triggering the chemical reactions, thereby extending its shelf life. For pancake recipes, a standard ratio is 1 to 1.5 teaspoons of homemade baking powder per cup of all-purpose flour to achieve fluffy pancakes.