What Is Baking Soda?

A Guide to Buying, Using, and Storing Baking Soda

Baking soda

skhoward / Getty Images

Baking soda, a staple leavening agent, makes baked goods rise. Known chemically as bicarbonate of soda or sodium bicarbonate, it can stand alone in some recipes, but it also adds the alkaline ingredient to baking powder, which includes the acid necessary to trigger the reaction that creates the lift. Baking soda used separately must be combined in a recipe with an acid ingredient such as brown sugar, vinegar, honey, or buttermilk to work.

Fast Facts

  • Culinary Uses: Leavening agent and tenderizes meat
  • Household Uses: Cleans and deoderizes
  • Health Uses: Antacid, teeth whitener
  • Shelf Life: Two years unopened; six months after opening

What Is Baking Soda?

Baking soda, an alkaline compound, produces carbon dioxide bubbles when combined with an acid. The bubbles get trapped, causing dough or batter to expand, or rise. This creates an airy texture in pancakes, cakes, bread, and other foods. When mixed with acidic ingredients such as buttermilk, vinegar, yogurt, or lemon juice, the baking soda releases carbon dioxide.

Baking soda also releases gas as it decomposes. When exposed to temperatures above 176 degrees Fahrenheit (80 degrees Celsius) in the oven, baking soda release bubbles and can cause food to rise.

Baking soda has many non-culinary uses around the house, from putting out small fires to easing irritation from bug bites, polishing silver, deodorizing, and more. Baking soda is inexpensive and widely available.

Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder

Baking soda is pure sodium bicarbonate. Baking powder contains sodium bicarbonate, but also includes an acidifying agent and a drying agent. Recipes may call for both baking soda and baking powder, but you cannot use the two interchangeably. Baking soda begins to release gas upon activation, so items prepared with baking soda alone must be baked immediately to gain the benefits. Baking powder is sold as single- or double-acting. Single-acting powders are activated when they get mixed with moist ingredients, and like with baking soda, must be baked immediately, before the gas dissipates. Double-acting powder contains a second leavening agent activated by heat, so items containing this ingredient can rest or chill before baking and will still rise in the oven.

Baking Soda Uses

Mix baking soda with the other dry ingredients in your recipe to evenly distribute it and protect it from the wet ingredients, which could activate it before you're ready.

Kitchen lore often recommends adding a small amount of baking soda to boiling water before you blanch green vegetables, as a way to preserve their color, but doing this actually strips them of vitamin C and causes them to soften more quickly, sometimes to the point of mush.

In addition to baking, baking soda can be used in refrigerators and other odor-prone areas because it is a natural deodorizer. For a natural cleaner, mix baking soda with some warm water to clean aluminum items such as baking sheets. It can remove tarnish from silver if the silver comes into contact with aluminum foil. Stained enamel cookware can be renewed by scrubbing it in a baking soda/water mixture. Baking soda is also used with cold water to remove surface rust. (Hot water can corrode steel). It is also useful when mixed with warm water to clean tea and coffee stains from the inside of mugs.

Baking soda also works to unclog a sink. Sprinkle a few teaspoons of baking soda down the drain and splash some white vinegar on top. It will fizz up and clean the pipes, often removing clogs at the same time.

What Does It Taste Like?

Baking soda, a base substance, tastes mildly bitter, but it should not be consumed on its own. Combined with an acid and a liquid, a chemical reaction causes carbon dioxide bubbles to form. As they expand, they cause the dough or batter to rise, eventually causing the baking soda to fully dissipate. If you add baking soda to a recipe without adequate moisture or acid to cause a complete reaction, you may detect a bitter, unpleasant taste from the lingering sodium bicarbonate.

Baking Soda Substitute

Because of the precise way baking soda reacts with other ingredients, it's difficult to make substitutions with predictable results. But if you consider the other ingredients in your recipe, you may be able to make an effective swap. Potassium bicarbonate, often sold as a baking soda replacement for low sodium diets, offers the most straightforward option, but it can be difficult to find; your best bet would be to look online. You may also want to add salt to account for the lost sodium. Baking powder can also work as a substitute for baking soda, but it will result in a different texture. And you will need a full teaspoon of baking powder to replace each 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda in a recipe. You may also need to adjust other ingredients, such as swapping a non-acidic or less acidic liquid for an acidic one, i.e. milk for buttermilk.

Baking Soda Recipes

Baking soda works as a chemical leavening agent in recipes ranging from cookies to cakes to breads.

Where to Buy

Look for baking soda in the baking aisle of any grocery store. It usually comes packaged in a cardboard box or other sealed container. Baking soda-based air freshener products may be sold in a home goods store or in the cleaning products aisle of a grocery store.


After you open the cardboard box, store baking soda in a sealed zip-top bag or container. Keep it in a cool, dark location such as a pantry, away from the stove and the spice cabinet, to prevent it from absorbing unwanted odors. It's theoretically good indefinitely, but it can lose potency after about six months.

After lengthy storage, you can test the viability of baking soda by putting 1/2 teaspoon into a cup or bowl, then adding a splash of vinegar or a squeeze of lemon juice on top of it. The baking soda should bubble vigorously.