Can Baking Soda Substitute for Baking Powder?

4th, 5th and 6th Cooking Science Fair Project
Photo © 2011 Isabelle Palatin, Flickr

Ever been dreaming about your mom's famous chocolate cupcakes, decide to make them, only to find that you're out of baking powder? Ever wonder if baking soda would be a good substitute? If your child or student is interested in cooking and food science, this cool science fair project from Dr. Andrew Olson of Science Buddiesexploring that very question, is sure to be a hit!

Baking Powder v. Baking Soda

Both baking power and baking soda are used as leavening agents - meaning they are added to baked goods (specifically "quick breads" like muffins, biscuits, pancakes, etc. that do not require yeast and hours to rise) before they're cooked because they produce carbon dioxide bubbles during the baking process, creating air pockets in the batter that expand when heated, and resulting in a fluffy (leavened) baked good. This concept is supported by the very texture of a muffin (or other type of quick bread) which appears very porous and "meshlike".

Baking soda is pure sodium bicarbonate and must be combined with moisture as well as an acidic ingredient in order to produce the chemical reaction needed for leavening.

Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is actually a component of Baking powder. Its other components include an acidic ingredient (usually cream of tartar) as well as a drying agent (usually starch).

The key concept: while they are used for the same job, whether a recipe calls for baking soda or baking powder, depends upon the other ingredients in the recipe!

Project Overview

But since baking soda is a component of baking powder and cream of tartar is a readily available ingredient, it stands to reason that, should you find yourself out of baking powder, you could make your own substitution. This project sets out to explore this very concept through a bit of baking fun! Students (with the help of an adult, of course) are charged with the task of making five separate batches of their favorite muffins - the first batch making use of actual baking powder, while the last four are made using different ratios of baking soda and cream of tartar (i.e. homemade baking powder). Sounds like some yummy fun!

For more background information on the project, step-by-step procedure (including a muffin recipe), directions on making muffin comparisons, several project variations, and additional project resources, be sure to check out the full science fair project at Science Buddies!