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How Chemical Leaving Agents Work (the difference between baking soda and baking powder)

Ruby asks: I am working on a science project that determines if you add baking soda in a cupcake recipe that calls for baking powder, will it make a difference, and I cant remember which cupcakes I put baking soda/powder in!! Any suggestions to help me determine which is which? Please answer ASAP!!!!

Baking S.O.S. says: I hope I’m not too late to respond to your S.O.S. call for help!

It sounds like you are trying to determine which cupcake is which AFTER they have finished baking, is that right? If so, then you will probably have to go by color, taste, and how much the cupcakes rose (or didn’t, as the case may have been).

Visually and taste-wise, any baked good that contains too much baking powder will turn yellowish in color and taste bitter. But in your case, it sounds like your original recipe called for baking powder, so you would not experience this effect if you omitted the baking powder and substituted baking soda in its place.

So the next indicator will probably be how much the cupcakes rose. In order to detect which cupcake had baking soda and which had baking powder, you first need to know how each chemical leaving agent works.

Chemical leavening agents work by creating a chemical reaction between an acid ingredient and a base ingredient. When the two ingredients combine together, they create that chemical reaction that produces gases and air which cause baked goods to rise.

Baking powder contains both an acid and a base ingredient, so it contains everything necessary to make a baked good rise.

Baking soda, however, is only a base. It must be mixed with an acidic ingredient in the recipe (such as buttermilk, sour cream, cocoa powder, lemon juice, etc.) in order to activate the chemical leavening process.

So…..you should now have all the information you need to know–both to determine which cupcake is which, and ALSO to answer your science project question! (If you get a blue ribbon on your project, do I get some credit for answering it for you??!!) :)

[In case you didn’t figure it out on your own, the cupcake that didn’t rise as much should be the one where you substituted baking soda in place of the baking powder. If the recipe did not call for any other acidic ingredients to activate the baking soda, it would not rise as much as the cupcake with the baking powder. And the short answer to your science project is that baking soda and baking powder are NOT interchangeable. They each react differently in baking.]

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