What Is Baking Powder?

A Guide to Buying, Cooking With, and Storing Baking Powder

Baking powder

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Baking powder increases the volume and lightens the texture of baked goods. It's a dry leavening agent made from a mixture of carbonate or bicarbonate, a weak acid, and a filler. When combined with liquid, the baking powder creates an acid-base reaction, which releases carbon dioxide gas into the batter or dough. This causes bubbles, making the wet mixture expand and rise.

Fast Facts

  • Origins: Developed in the mid-1880s
  • Varieties: Single-acting and double-acting
  • Shelf life: 9 to 12 months

What Is Baking Powder?

Baking powder is a chemical leavening agent used for baking. It is inexpensive and has a long shelf life. Baking powder includes three ingredients: an acid, a base, and a buffering ingredient. It's made by combining these three ingredients in unique proportions and then packaging them.

Baking Powder vs. Baking Soda

Baking soda and baking powder are leavening agents that make your baked goods rise. Baking soda is alkaline, so it's activated by combining it with an acid such as vinegar—or, more commonly in baking, buttermilk. When that happens, it produces CO2 gas, which gives muffins their lift.

Baking powder works similarly because baking powder contains baking soda plus an acid ingredient. As long as the powder stays dry, the two ingredients remain separate. But once you add a liquid, the acid and alkaline ingredients combine and produce carbon dioxide.

Different brands of baking powder use different formulas, and they don't all include the same acid component. But cream of tartar is commonly used as the acid, and it's an ingredient you can buy in the spice or baking section of nearly any grocery store. Thus, as long as you have baking soda and cream of tartar, you can make your own baking powder in just a few seconds.

But whatever you do, don't try to substitute baking soda for baking powder. It won't work.


If you make homemade baking powder, there is only one release of gas when the ingredients are mixed, not during cooking. That means you don't have the luxury of letting your batter sit out. Rather, once you get it mixed, you need to put it into the oven right away. Therefore, homemade baking powder is best for quick bread and muffins and the like, rather than pancakes or waffles. It'll still work for pancakes and waffles, but you have less leeway when it comes to letting the batter sit while you cook.

Baking Powder Uses

Baking powder is used as a leavening agent in baked goods. It can also be used as a cleaning agent for household items. If it expires, it just means the leavening agents will not work as well, but you can still use it as you would baking soda.

There are single-acting and double-acting baking powders. Most commercial baking powders are double-acting, because they release some of their gas as soon as the wet ingredients and the dry ones come together, and then the heat of the oven or griddle triggers the release of more. This is why you should let your pancake batter rest for 20 minutes to give the lumps a chance to dissolve.

illustration showing facts about baking powder

The Spruce / Julie Bang

How to Cook With Baking Powder

Follow your baked goods recipe and use the amount of baking powder called for. If you need to make your own, measure 1 teaspoon baking soda and 2 teaspoons cream of tartar into a bowl and mix until thoroughly combined.

If you need more, you can just double the recipe. If you need to store it for some reason, just add a teaspoon of cornstarch (so that it doesn't clump), and store it in an airtight container.

What Does Baking Powder Taste Like?

Baking powder is non-toxic and has a slightly bitter taste. It should not be eaten in its powder form. It's made to mix into other ingredients.

Baking Powder Substitutions

If you don't have baking powder, you can make your own. You can also swap in plain yogurt, buttermilk, lemon juice, vinegar, or molasses.

Baking Powder Recipes

Baking powder is a key ingredient in many baked goods. Try some of these:

Where to Buy Baking Powder

You can buy baking powder in any grocery store in the baking aisle. An 8-ounce container is usually less than $2. For bulk sizes, buy larger quantities from a restaurant supply store or warehouse store.


Baking powder should be kept in a sealed container in a dark, dry place like a pantry. Pay attention to the expiration date. Once the baking powder is past its date, you can use it as baking soda. You can easily test if your baking powder is still active. Pour 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder in a cup and add 1/3 cup of hot water. If the mixture is intensely bubbling, the baking powder is still good. If there are no intense bubbles, the baking powder is expired.