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Bicarbonate of soda (also known as bicarb or baking soda) is a type of rising agent that’s used to achieve light and fluffy bakes. Its active ingredient is called sodium bicarbonate and it’s a chemical compound that is natural alkali.
Not sure exactly what bicarbonate of soda is good for? Because baking soda is alkaline, it needs to be mixed with something acidic to help activate it. It’s brilliant at adding extra lift to certain kinds of bakes, particularly recipes for things like sticky gingerbread, delicious soda bread and melt-in-the-mouth cookies.
Bicarbonate of soda is also well-known as one of the key ingredients in baking powder. This is another popular leavening agent, and it’s made up of bicarbonate of soda (an alkali), cream of tartar (an acid) and starch (which helps keep the powder free from any excess moisture).
As well as acting as a fantastic rising agent for some of your favourite bakes, bicarbonate of soda has plenty of other uses.
It’s perfect for creating crispy batters for meat, veg and seafood. You could also add a pinch of baking soda to your saucepan when boiling greens to help them keep their vibrant colour. And bicarbonate of soda is often added to homemade marmalade to help thicken it.
You don’t just have to use baking soda for cooking. It’s also great for tackling all kinds of tasks around the home thanks to its alkali properties:
• Try mixing bicarbonate of soda with vinegar to create a kitchen cleaning spray;
• Make a paste with lemon juice to help remove grease from your oven;
• Add a scoop to your washing machine to get rid of stains in clothing;
• Alternatively, pop some in an open bowl in your fridge to eliminate any unsavoury odours.
Baking soda has its place in the health and beauty world too. Its ability to absorb odours makes it a key ingredient in many natural deodorants, while many brands of whitening toothpaste also include it. Like to use mouthwash before or after you brush? Make your own by mixing half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda with 120ml of water.
So, is baking powder the same as bicarbonate of soda? The short answer is no. While baking powder contains bicarb as a key ingredient, they are not always interchangeable,
Baking powder tends to be the more popular of the two rising agents. That’s because it’s not quite as strong as bicarbonate of soda and can therefore be used in a wider range of recipes. It also doesn’t need anything added to it – besides a little liquid – to activate it.
Baking soda still has its uses though. It’s often included in recipes which have an acidic ingredient, such as lemon juice, yoghurt or brown sugar, which might give it a bitter taste. Adding some bicarbonate of soda will help neutralise the mix and ensure it rises correctly.
In some cases, you might even spot recipes that use both bicarbonate of soda and baking powder. This is probably because there are not enough acidic ingredients in the recipe, so a little bit of baking powder is needed to help give it a boost.
Opened up your kitchen cupboard only to find your baking soda has run out? Don’t fret! There are several alternatives to bicarbonate of soda that you can try out instead.
Baking powder is the most obvious option – partly because it contains bicarb as a key ingredient. When substituting it in though, you’ll likely need to use more as it’s not quite as strong as baking soda. The recommended ratio is one teaspoon of baking powder per every quarter teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda. As baking powder contains acid, you might want to alter or remove any other acidic ingredients to avoid your bake having an unwanted tangy flavour.
There are several other things you can substitute bicarbonate of soda with. This includes potassium bicarbonate, which can be swapped one for one with baking soda, and self-raising flour, which has baking powder added to it.
There’s also baker’s ammonia. It’s been used as a leavening agent since medieval times and is particularly good if you want to make cookies, crackers and other sweet treats with a crispier finish. Just be warned that it can have an unpleasant smell when activated!
It’s possible to substitute baking powder with bicarbonate of soda or even use it to make your own baking powder. Because bicarbonate of soda is more powerful than baking powder as a rising agent, you’ll want to use less and remember to neutralise it with some kind of acidic ingredient.
Yes, bicarbonate of soda is most commonly added to recipes with plain flour. That’s because self-raising flour contains baking powder and the combination of the two rising agents can sometimes give your final bakes an acidic taste. Unless the recipe calls specifically for self-raising flour, it’s best to use plain.
Unlike baking powder, which often contains wheat-based starch to keep it dry, bicarbonate of soda is naturally gluten-free.
Accidentally tipped too much baking soda into your mixing bowl? It could impact your bake’s final taste and appearance. When it comes to cakes, it could also cause them to rise too quickly and then collapse in the middle, resulting in a dense, soggy sponge.