Baking powder is a common kitchen staple used to make baked goods rise and achieve a light, airy texture. But did you know that this magical white powder has many other helpful uses beyond baking?
Learn how baking powder can benefit your cooking, cleaning, health, and more.
What is Baking Powder?
Baking powder is a dry chemical leavening agent that is used as an alternative to yeast in baked goods. It is composed of a carbonate or bicarbonate base and a weak acid. The most common base is sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). When baking powder is combined with liquid, the base and acid react to produce carbon dioxide bubbles that cause batters and doughs to rise.
Baking powder was discovered in 1843 by English food manufacturer Alfred Bird, who developed it as an egg-free, yeast-free rising agent for his wife's cooking. It gained popularity in the mid-19th century as a convenient, shelf-stable leavening agent.
There are two main types of baking powder:
- Single-acting baking powders react immediately when liquid is added.
- Double-acting baking powders react in two phases - first when mixed, and again when heated during baking. This allows the batter to sit before baking without deflating.
Baking Powder Ingredient Breakdown
The typical baking powder contains:
- Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) - the base
- An acid such as cream of tartar, sodium aluminum sulfate, or calcium acid phosphate
- A buffer such as cornstarch to prevent premature reaction between the base and acid
Sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3) is alkaline, so when combined with an acid like cream of tartar (tartaric acid), it produces carbon dioxide bubbles that cause rising. Cornstarch absorbs moisture to keep the powder dry and stable. The combination of these ingredients allows baked goods to rise smoothly both during mixing and baking.
How Is Baking Powder Used?
The primary use of baking powder is as a leavening agent in baked goods. It causes batters and doughs to rise by producing carbon dioxide, which creates air pockets and a spongy texture in:
- Cakes, cupcakes, muffins
- Cookies, biscuits
- Pancakes, waffles
- Bread, rolls, pizza dough
- Fried foods like doughnuts
Baking powder makes recipes quick and convenient because it does not require yeast fermentation. It also contributes a light texture and subtle sweet flavor.
The typical amount is 1 teaspoon (5 grams) of baking powder per 1 cup (125g) of flour. However, the quantity needed can vary based on other ingredients. More baking powder is required when using ingredients that add acidity, like buttermilk, that react with the bicarbonate base. Recipes with baking soda require less baking powder.
Proper Storage of Baking Powder
To retain its freshness and leavening power, baking powder must be stored properly in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Exposure to moisture and heat can cause baking powder to lose effectiveness over time. An opened container will maintain potency for 6-9 months when stored correctly.
Signs that your baking powder has expired:
- It no longer fizzes when mixed with hot water
- Your baked goods don't rise properly
- You notice a metallic taste in foods
For optimal freshness and performance, buy baking powder in small quantities and replace once opened for more than 9 months. Date your container when you open it as a reference.
Health Benefits of Baking Powder
Along with making baked goods rise, baking powder offers some healthy advantages:
1. Contains Antacids
Baking soda, the base ingredient in baking powder, is a known antacid that can help neutralize excess stomach acid. Consuming baking powder mixed with water may relieve heartburn, acid reflux, and indigestion. It brings the stomach pH back to a healthy balance.
2. Provides Electrolytes Sodium and Potassium
Baking powder contains the essential electrolytes sodium and potassium, which support proper fluid balance, nerve signaling, and muscle function. Athletes are sometimes advised to consume baking soda before intense activity for an electrolyte boost.
3. Promotes Kidney Health
Early research shows baking soda may help slow the progression of chronic kidney disease. More studies are needed, but the sodium bicarbonate in baking powder appears to reduce ammonia production in the kidneys, which is beneficial.
4. Whitens Teeth
The abrasive texture of baking soda makes baking powder a great natural teeth whitener. It helps remove surface stains from coffee, wine, and tobacco. Just mix a paste of baking powder and water and rub it on your teeth before brushing.
5. Alleviates Itchy Skin
Create a soothing bath by adding 1-2 cups of baking powder to bathwater. The baking soda is alkaline and can help relieve itchy skin from bug bites, sunburns, eczema, and poison ivy by reducing inflammation and irritation.
6. Treats Canker Sores
Baking powder mixed with water may help heal canker sores more quickly. Rinsing with this alkaline mixture 2-3 times a day can neutralize the acidity and reduce pain.
Household Uses for Baking Powder
Aside from cooking, baking powder has many helpful household applications:
1. Fridge and Freezer Odor Remover
Eliminate funky smells by placing an open box of baking powder or bowl of baking soda in the fridge or freezer. The baking soda will absorb odors naturally over time without any scent added.
2. Drain Cleaner
For a clogged sink or tub drain, pour 1/2 cup baking soda down the drain followed by 1/2 cup white vinegar. The chemical reaction will break up gunk and grime to keep drains flowing freely.
3. All-Purpose Cleaner
Mix baking powder with a bit of water to make a paste for cleaning countertops, appliances, cookware, and more. It works on everything from caked-on grease to soap scum. The scrubbing action also shines stainless steel.
4. Remove Carpet Stains
Combine baking powder and vinegar to make your own carpet stain remover. Just dab the foamy mixture onto the stain and let it sit for up to an hour before scrubbing and vacuuming away. The acid-base reaction helps break down stubborn spots.
5. Shoe Deodorizer
Freshen up smelly gym shoes by sprinkling baking powder inside to absorb odors overnight. Dump out the excess powder in the morning. Baking soda air fresheners also keep closets and drawers smelling clean.
6. Produce Wash
Give your fruits and veggies a baking soda soak to help remove dirt, residue, and pesticides without harsh chemicals. Let them soak for 15 minutes before rinsing.
7. Septic Tank Cleaner
Once a month, pour 1/2 cup baking soda down the drain, followed by 1/2 cup vinegar. This can help break down waste and keep your septic system flowing properly. Avoid chemical cleaners that may harm the septic environment.
8. Silverware Cleaner
Remove tarnish from silver by boiling water with baking soda, then let your silver soak in the solution. An acid like vinegar or lemon juice helps boost cleaning power. Rinse and buff dry.
Baking Powder Substitutes
If you're out of baking powder, there are a few handy ingredient swaps:
- Baking soda + acid: Use 1/4 tsp baking soda + 1/2 tsp cream of tartar or vinegar
- Self-rising flour: Substitute 1 cup self-rising flour for 1 cup all-purpose flour (reduces other liquids slightly)
- Whipped egg whites: For meringues or angel food cake, whipped eggs can provide lift without baking powder
- Club soda or seltzer: The carbonation provides lift in pancakes, muffins, and quick breads
- Yogurt or buttermilk: Their acidity interacts with baking soda for rise (use less baking powder)
Foods That Use Baking Powder
Because it makes such fluffy batters and doughs, baking powder is used globally in a wide array of baked goods:
- American - Biscuits, muffins, pancakes, cakes
- British - Scones, pasties, Yorkshire pudding
- French - Crepes, madeleines
- Italian - Pizza dough, focaccia
- Indian - Naan, puri
- Mexican - Tortillas, churros, buñuelos
- Middle Eastern - Pita, lavash
- Asian - Wontons, steamed buns
So wherever you travel, keep an eye out for baking powder's leavening abilities in all kinds of local baked specialties!
Does Baking Powder Expire?
Yes, baking powder does lose potency after time. General guidelines are:
- Unopened baking powder lasts 12-18 months past the printed expiration date if stored properly.
- Once opened, baking powder is effective for 6-9 months.
- Double-acting baking powder expires more slowly than single-acting.
Be sure to write the date you opened it on the container. To test if your baking powder is still active, add 1 teaspoon to 1/3 cup hot water. If it fizzes and bubbles, it still has rising power. If not, it's time to replace it.
Baking Powder vs. Baking Soda
Baking powder and baking soda are both chemical leaveners, but they differ in a few ways:
- Baking powder contains baking soda plus acid and cornstarch. Baking soda needs an acid added to it.
- Baking soda is 3x more potent so less is required in recipes.
- Baking powder imparts a more neutral flavor. Baking soda can give a metallic taste if overused.
- Double-acting baking powder releases gas twice while baking soda only reacts once mixed.
So while their names sound similar, baking powder and baking soda are unique chemical leaveners.
Can I substitute baking powder for baking soda?
You can, but you'll need 3x as much baking powder to match the leavening power of baking soda. Also, reduce other liquids slightly.
What's the white residue in my baked goods?
The white powder on top is likely cornstarch from the baking powder, which is harmless but can look unappetizing. To avoid this, wipe off excess powder before baking.
Can I use baking powder for indigestion?
Yes, adding 1/4-1/2 tsp baking powder to water and drinking it may temporarily relieve heartburn by neutralizing stomach acid.
Does baking powder work for cleaning pans and bakeware?
Yes! A baking powder paste scrubs away baked-on food residue. Its abrasive texture cleans without being too harsh.
Can the baking powder be used to exfoliate skin?
Some enjoy using a paste of baking soda and water as a gentle face or body exfoliant 1-2 times per week. Rinse well and moisturize after.
As you can see, baking powder offers benefits far beyond just making baked goods rise.
It's a versatile pantry staple that can enhance recipes, remove odors, clean around the house, and support your health in small ways.