Whether you bake for fun, or you’ve honed your skills to be a complete professional, you’ll know that baking soda is a pretty important and basic ingredient to have in the kitchen.
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It’s what will turn whatever it is you’re baking from a batter, to a delicious baked goodie, as it is what causes it to rise and become all fluffy and full.
But what happens if you don’t have baking soda? Or maybe, for whatever reason (there can be plenty), you don’t want to use baking soda and would rather find an alternative. What can you do?
Well, you could go ahead and bake the recipe without it, but the outcome won’t be at all what it’s supposed to look like.
Instead, you can use something else to replace it, as there are plenty of other things that you can use as a substitute for baking soda.
The main four substitutes for baking soda that we’ll talk about here are:
- Baking powder
- Baker’s ammonia
- Potassium bicarbonate and salt
- Self-rising flour
Determining the best option out of those can then depend on different factors, but mainly it’s down to your personal preferences!
What is baking soda?
Before we get into the possible substitutes, let’s address the very basics of what baking soda is, so that it’s easier to understand where said substitutes come from and why they are chosen.
So let’s start with the obvious question: what is baking soda?
Baking soda is properly known as sodium bicarbonate, and it is a chemical compound. It essentially is a salt composed of a sodium cation, and a bicarbonate anion.
And we could go into more detail about it, but this isn’t a science class, so we’ll leave it at that!
What is baking soda used for?
Okay, so what is baking soda used for? It’s an incredibly versatile product, and therefore has many uses, amongst which is cleaning in different ways around the household. It can be found in many DIY cleaning hacks, for example.
But primarily, the most common purpose and use of baking soda is cooking. (Specifically, baking, just as the name suggests!)
For use in baking, baking soda acts as a leavening agent. It activates when it comes in contact with an acidic ingredient and a liquid, and the reaction causes it to release carbon dioxide. This then causes the batter to expand (as if it is filling up with air), and it forms the typical texture found in cakes, types of bread, and similar.
So essentially, baking soda is what will make your baked goods all fluffy and cake-like, and it’s what makes them rise while they’re baking. Without it, whatever you’re baking will fall flat, and won’t really have the right texture.
Substitutes for baking soda:
If for any reason, you can’t get any baking soda, or you don’t want to use it, then you’re going to have to find an alternative.
After all, you still want your baked goods to rise and be as best as they can, right?
Let’s take a look at the four main and most commonly used substitutes for baking soda:
This is one of the most common substitutes for baking soda, and they both are actually often confused, due to the similar name and the similar appearance.
Baking powder is a sort of combination between baking soda and cream of tartar (which is also similar to baking soda).
Baking powder acts in the exact same way as baking soda, as it also releases carbon dioxide when exposed to liquid and heat, causing whatever you are baking to rise. So it’s easy to see it as the main substitute, as it does the exact same thing and looks the same.
However, baking powder isn’t as strong as baking soda, so you need to use a lot more of it in order to obtain the same final result.
It also gives a slightly saltier end flavor to the baked food, so this is something to take into account when you’re measuring out the amount of salt needed in the recipe!
The cream of tartar within the baking powder also provides a slightly more acidic end result, so again, you might want to accommodate for this with the measurements for the other ingredients.
Baker’s ammonia, properly known as ammonium carbonate, is another commonly used substitute for baking soda, but it’s usually best to only use it with smaller baked goods, instead of large or dense cakes.
This is what was majorly and most popularly used in baking before baking soda and baking powder were introduced, and it was the main chemical leavening agent during the 13th century, so there’s some history to it! It’s also what you will find in most old-fashioned traditional baked goods.
One of the main distinguishing features of baker’s ammonia is that it adds very distinct crispiness to whatever it is you’re baking, something that is especially sought after in cookies and crackers.
So if you’re baking thin and light foods, this is not only a great substitute but often a preferred product. It’s also very easy to use as a replacement, as you can use the same exact amount as you would with baking soda.
When the baker’s ammonia is combined with heat and acid, it produces the carbon dioxide that makes the baking rise. However, it also creates ammonia, and this can have a very strong and unpleasant smell.
With light and thin textured baked goods, such as cookies, the smell will easily dissipate. But with thick muffins and big or dense cakes, the odor will remain, which is why it’s not desirable to use it with them.
Potassium bicarbonate and salt:
Potassium bicarbonate is an alkaline mineral, usually used as a dietary supplement. However, it can also be used as a valid substitute for baking soda.
One of the main reasons why it is used by some, as a substitute, is that it doesn’t contain sodium. Therefore, it is the ideal leavening agent for those cutting down on their sodium intake for whatever reason.
It’s very easy to use as an alternative replacement, as you can simply use the same amount of potassium bicarbonate as you would baking soda. However, it has a very low amount of salt, meaning the end result flavor might lack in that regard.
This is where the ‘and salt’ part of the substitution comes into play. On average, you should add around a quarter to a half of a teaspoon of salt, for every teaspoon of potassium bicarbonate used.
But do remember that this is completely optional and that it might take some experimenting depending on the recipe you’re following!
Self-rising is the last of our four main substitutes for baking soda, and it is perhaps the most advanced, in that it is the one that requires the most recipe adjustments.
But it is an excellent substitute, and there are actually plenty of recipes that straight up favor the use of self-rising flour, above all other options.
Self-rising flour contains a combination of normal flour, baking powder, and salt. So it acts as the flour, as the salt, and as the leavening agent, all in one.
So just as the name indicates, it is flour that self rises, as it contains baking powder within its mix. If you want to know the exact percentage of each you can check the packaging.
But usually, there is around one and a half teaspoon of baking powder, and a quarter of a teaspoon of salt, for every 120 grams of self-rising flour.
As self-rising flour doesn’t need an acid ingredient with which to react, you can replace the more acidic ingredients with more neutral flavoring, to keep a good balance going.
For example, instead of buttermilk, you could just use regular milk. And as it also contains salt, you probably won’t have to add much more, if any at all.
This is why we say that self-rising flour is better suited for more advanced bakers. If the recipe you’re following asks for self-rising flour, then there’s nothing to worry about.
But if you’re truly using it as a substitute for baking soda, you have to know how to adapt the recipe and exchange certain ingredients for others if needed. But the beauty of baking is to learn through experimenting!
The best substitute for baking soda:
Okay, so out of the four main common substitutions for baking soda we’ve gone over, which is the best? Well, it depends on your own personal preferences, and of the things that you’re prioritizing when baking.
Here are the main pros and cons of each substitute, followed by an overall verdict!
- Provides the exact same end-result as baking soda, they are very similar
- Very commonly used substitute, sometimes used more than baking soda itself
- You need around three times more amount than when using baking soda (it’s not as strong)
- Can be used on a 1:1 ratio
- Adds distinctive crispiness, ideal for cookies and other thin baked goods
- Releases ammonia, which has a very strong and unpleasant smell that will remain if used in larger and thicker baked goods, such as cakes
Potassium bicarbonate and salt:
- Can be used on a 1:1 ratio
- Does not contain sodium, ideal for those cutting it out of their diet
- Lacks in salt, and adding the right amount of salt can be tricky
- Excellent substitute that provides great end results
- Some recipes favor the use of self-rising flour over the baking soda
- As a substitute, the recipe needs to be readjusted carefully, making it better suited to more advanced bakers
Overall, we’d say that the best substitute for baking soda is baking powder, as it is the most alike, and requires the least amount of recipe changes. Its only downside is that you have to use three times as much, but it’s the easiest to use.
For advanced bakers, on the other hand, we recommend going for the self-rising flour, as it will provide excellent end results and the recipe adjustment can serve as a way to develop the baking skills further!