Baking Soda Substitutes: Here’s What to Use Instead

Out of baking soda? Luckily, you can replace the leavening agent with a few common foods for the same rising effect.

Baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate, is a common ingredient widely used in baking. The alkaline substance produces a chemical reaction when combined with acidic ingredients, like lemon juice, vinegar, sugar or buttermilk, to create carbon dioxide or gas bubbles. These bubbles leaven the dough or batter, giving baked goods a fluffiness and lightness. Baking soda can also enhance the browning effect of baked products—the shiny surfaces you see on soft pretzels and bagels are due to the baking soda’s chemical properties.

Beyond baking, baking soda has other functionalities in cooking. For example, adding a pinch of baking soda to beans while they soak results in them cooking faster. It is also used to retain the green color of vegetables when added to a pot of boiling water. Beyond food, baking soda is also a household cleaning agent.

With so many uses, it’s helpful to keep a box of baking soda in your pantry—but what happens when you run out? Before you dash out to get more from the grocery store, you may be surprised to learn that there are baking soda substitutes—read on to find out what they are.

Can You Leave Baking Soda Out?

You could opt out of adding baking soda, depending on what you make. For example, pancakes and cookies are generally flat and don’t require a lift in volume—leaving baking soda out may not affect their appearance much, but they may taste slightly chewier than when baking soda is present. Nonetheless, some cookie recipes are delicious and don’t require baking soda!

For baked products that need height, volume and fluffiness, though, such as bread and cakes, you will need baking soda or an alternative rising agent.

5 Baking Soda Substitutes

Baking Powder

Many people often mistake baking soda and baking powder as identical ingredients, but they have different properties and functionalities. However, with the appropriate conversion, baking powder can be a substitute for baking soda.

Baking powder has three ingredients—baking soda, acid and cornstarch. Since baking powder already includes an acid in its mixture, and doesn’t have to rely on another acidic ingredient like baking soda does, you will notice the dough or batter begin to rise as soon as the powder is added.

To replace baking soda in baked goods like cookies and muffins, add three times the amount of baking powder to produce the same leavening effect. However, be aware that larger amounts of baking powder may leave your baked goods tasting saltier, so you may need to adjust your recipe’s salt content.

Conversely, if you only have baking soda and your recipe calls for baking powder, add an acid to the baking soda, such as lemon juice or vinegar, to produce the same functionalities as baking powder. Add ¼ teaspoon baking soda and ½ teaspoon lemon juice or vinegar to equal 1 teaspoon of baking powder.

Whipped Egg Whites

When egg whites are whipped, they form tiny air bubbles, making the whites airy and light. They are a perfect ingredient to use as a leavening agent instead of baking soda for sponge cakes, meringues or soufflés that need the volume. The amount of whipped egg whites you need to replace baking soda may vary depending on the recipe. Generally, you will need one egg white for every ½ teaspoon of baking soda.

To whip egg whites, add ⅛ teaspoon cream of tartar or ½ teaspoon lemon juice for every egg white. Beat the egg whites slowly until they become foamy. Increase the speed until you see soft peaks form. To maintain the fluffiness of your baked item, gently fold the ingredients into the whipped egg whites instead of mixing them.

Club Soda

If you love drinking club soda, you may be surprised to learn that this fizzy beverage contains baking soda, making it a possible alternative when you run out of the leavening agent. Keep in mind that club soda may not produce the same volume and fluffiness you would expect from using baking soda. But you can still use unflavored club soda as a substitute in recipes that need a slight lift in volume, like pancakes. If your recipe contains at least ½ cup of liquid, you may try replacing ¼ cup of the liquid with club soda.

Self-Rising Flour

Flour is a vital ingredient for making dough or batter for pancakes, waffles, cakes, cookies, quick loaves, bread and more. When making these goodies, you can use either self-rising or all-purpose flour. The difference is that the former has baking powder and salt added during processing, while the latter doesn’t have additional ingredients. In other words, if your recipe asks for flour and calls for baking soda or baking powder, you can use self-rising flour without adding more baking soda or baking powder. However, you shouldn’t substitute self-rising flour for baking soda in recipes that don’t use flour because it will change the recipe’s consistency, resulting in a completely different product.

Baker’s Ammonia

Before baking soda and baking powder were around, baker’s ammonia, also known as ammonium bicarbonate, was widely used in baking. Baker’s ammonia has a strong scent, but don’t worry about the alkaline smell and flavor sticking around—it will fade and disappear during the cooking process. Depending on the recipe, you can replace the same ratio of baking soda with baker’s ammonia in your dough or batter. This leavening agent substitute is best used in low-moisture baked goods like biscotti, cookies or crackers where the ammonia scent can fully evaporate. It will also give these baked goods a unique crisp. We don’t recommend using the substitute in cakes as the ammonia might not dissipate, leaving an unpleasant odor and taste.

The Bottom Line

Many recipes call for baking soda, an essential ingredient that creates an airy and light texture in baked goods. When you are out of baking soda, you could use an alternative like baking powder or egg whites to produce a similar flavor and texture in your product.

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