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Baking Powder vs Baking Soda vs Yeast

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Baked goods often include an ingredient that helps the final product rise (leaven).
To get your cake, bread, muffin (or whatever) to rise, you need to add something to the batter to produce a gas that gets caught in the dough, causing expansion. Carbon dioxide is a good gas for this, and is easy to produce with food-safe ingredients. You'll find recipes calling for baking powder, baking soda, or yeast, or even some combination of those to aid rising.

Which ingredients you use and their combination will affect the taste and texture. But what is the real difference?
Yeast is a little organism called a fungus, that when activated, consumes the sugars in flour and releases carbon dioxide as waste. When making a traditional (“slow”) bread, you combine it with flour, sugar, some liquid and other ingredients. When you knead the dough, the proteins inside form a stretchy matrix called gluten. This matrix traps the little gas bubbles produced by the yeast. Without a leavening agent like yeast, you'll end up with a dense blob that works better as a building material instead of bread*

*Side note: Don't build anything important with this.

The yeast produces gas when you let the dough rest for a while after kneading, and then expands again once heated in the oven. Once your ball of gas-filled gluten gets hot enough, it sets into the spongy, fluffy structure we call bread.
You'll notice that baking bread takes a while due to all of this waiting for yeast to work. We have some faster alternatives that instead rely on a chemical reaction between an acid and base to produce carbon dioxide.

Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate. It will react with a liquid, acidic ingredient to produce carbon dioxide. You can see this for yourself by adding a bit of vinegar to a little baking soda in a small bowl. It will start to fizz immediately after adding the vinegar. Because the reaction is so fast, foods made with baking soda must be cooked immediately after mixing. For instance, pancakes made with baking soda will come out tall and fluffy if you can get it onto the griddle right away. However, if you let the batter sit for a while, say 30 minutes, they'll come out dense with a gummy center (yuck) since the gas was lost while sitting.

Baking soda also adds flavor and color to pancakes, muffins, and cookies by hastening browning.

Baking powder is essentially baking soda mixed with a starch and powdered acid. Activating the reaction to generate carbon dioxide requires adding a liquid, like water. Most baking powders are “double acting”, which means they produce gas when moisture is added, and again when heated. This means that goods leavened with baking powder tend to be lighter and fluffier compared to foods leavened with only baking soda. Substituting baking powder with baking soda is possible, but the final product won't have the same flavor since it won't have the extra acidic ingredient that baking powder brings.

For a homemade baking powder, you can substitute a teaspoon of store-bought baking powder for a ¼ teaspoon of cornstarch, ¼ teaspoon of cream of tartar, and ¼ teaspoon of baking soda. This will not be double acting, so you'll need to be very quick about getting your batter or dough onto the griddle or the oven.

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Marie lynn on 2018-11-20

how do you know how much baking soda to baking powder should be used in quick breads

Lin Bee on 2017-12-23

This was very helpful, however, I would like to know why my gluten free bread did not rise when I used all the right stuff and, in fact, it actually fell a bit in center making it about 2-2.5 inches in depth. Should have risen at least 2+ inches. Forget the sandwiches unless I am serving for The Lord of the Ring cast. I want to sub yeast for BP and /or BS. Any help would be appreciated.

Armani on 2017-11-24

Thanks for a short and clear explanation.

Delansha Fontenelle on 2017-10-03

Thank you very much for this information

Aaronunjub on 2017-05-01

Hello. And Bye.

Aaronunjub on 2017-04-29

Hello. And Bye.

Shiv on 2017-03-01

Best and information oriented website

BakerGirl7 on 2016-11-24

thanks SO much this is the best website EVER!!!

MAN2000 on 2016-11-21

i love u this is a great infos

Person on 2016-11-21

thx this is gr8

Monica on 2016-11-03

So yes I can use yezt to replace baking soda and powder?

Anu on 2016-01-27

Superb explanation. I always wondered what is the difference and what and why each one of these are for. Now i think i need not have to google further. Thanks a lot.

Andreu on 2015-12-02

Thank you for your recipe. One thing, NEVER comsune hot water from the faucet. It is toxic. Lead pipe in hot water heater gets lead in your hot water in a matter of minutes. Causes learning disabilities in children, just like lead paint. You Tube will not let me post the CDC link but Google LEAD IN HOT TAP WATER.

Thina on 2015-10-19

Let me give you a really easy quick bread reicpe.Beer Bread3 cups of self rising flour1 can of beer3 T of Honey or sugarMix it up really good, knead it a little and put it in a bread pan with 1/2 stick of melted butter over the top.Bake at 375 for about 45 minutes or so.Very good, and no it doesn't really taste like beer.

Martine on 2015-08-22

Excellent explanation; thank you.

Martine on 2015-08-22

Excellent explanation; thank you.

DVS GILL on 2015-03-21

One simple Question I need to make Korean sweet pancakes I don't have yeast but I have baking powder I understand it will work but what I want know is will the dough rise quickly n how quickly will it be ready for cooking it needs an hour to rise with yeast.

telsted on 2015-01-10

Q: "didnt really tell me a answer, curious wich one works best as a leavening agent?"

A: there is no definitive 'best' - read the description again, it's all there:
- Yeast is organic (as in living) and the leavening process is natural. The process is slow, but gives a more natural flavour = If you have time, use yeast for bread (generally).

- Baking soda and baking powder work by chemical reaction, but works much faster than yeast. Does not add good flavour, at best neutral. Good for quick breads and cake recipes (generally).

So it really depends what you are leavening, and under what circumstances.

cake man on 2014-08-31

cake good

Patty Tronier on 2014-06-15

I am gluten free and a vegan. How do i use yeast with baking soda & powder in breads. Yeast along the bread does not rise. 

jaclyn on 2014-04-03

Thank You!
I am retired.  And I just begin to lean baking.
After recent ZigZag try out failure try to making Sweet Roll that came out like a play dough(followed web instruction), I came to this site. 
What a relief!  May my dough rise properly!!!

unicorn man on 2014-03-24

didnt really tell me a answer, curious wich one works best as a leavening agent?

donald bundang on 2013-11-18

this site is great for student and for amature bakers :)