Whether I’m whipping up a batch of pancakes, a tin of muffins, or a single cake, I can almost guarantee that the recipe will call for baking powder. This staple pantry ingredient is one every baker should have on hand, as it’s essential for rising and creating the light, fluffy textures we all know and love.
That said, baking powder doesn’t last forever, and it can go bad pretty fast after it’s opened — even faster in hot and humid environments. While you might be tempted to use old baking powder, I don’t recommend it. Why? Because expired baking powder won’t give your baked goods the height and airiness you’re after. Not to worry, though. If you’re in the midst of baking and realize your baking powder is either used up or expired, there are a ton of other ingredients that you can swap in. Read on to discover the 10 best baking powder substitutes (that actually work).
What is baking powder, anyway?
Baking powder is a mixture of baking soda and carbohydrates like cornstarch. Though it may look a lot like baking soda, baking powder is something entirely different: a complete leavening agent that contains both of the components required to create lift — alkaline baking soda and acid. The key difference between single-acting baking powder and double-acting baking powder is the type of acid that’s paired with the base alkaline baking soda. That said, double-acting baking soda is what’s found in most American kitchens.
So, baking powder and baking soda aren’t the same thing?
Exactly. Baking powder and baking soda are two totally different things. Baking soda has just one ingredient: sodium bicarbonate — which is why it’s called “bicarb soda” in other parts of the world. Sodium bicarbonate is a mineral that reacts when it comes into contact with acids (think: cream of tartar, buttermilk, and vinegar). This chemical reaction creates carbon dioxide gas (CO2) in the form of bubbles. In baking, this process is known as “chemical leavening” because the trapped CO2 makes the dough rise. But when baking soda comes into contact with an acid, it reacts almost immediately — and that’s a problem. Why? Because for a number of tasty baking recipes, an extended reaction that allows dough to rise slowly is what’s needed.
This is where baking powder can help. While all baking powder contains sodium bicarbonate (just like baking soda), baking soda (specifically, double-acting) also contains two dry, acidic ingredients. The first one gives rise when the dry ingredients get wet, and the second reacts when it gets hot. In other words, baking powder helps your batter rise first when it’s exposed to moisture (like water) and again when exposed to heat (in the oven). The result? Light, fluffy baked goods.
What can be swapped for baking powder?
The shelf life of baking powder is around 12 months — and depending on how hot or humid your kitchen gets, it can go bad even faster. You might be tempted to ignore the expiration date, but using old baking powder can prevent your muffins, pancakes, and other baked goods from getting a good rise. In a pinch, these baking powder substitutes work well.
Cream of Tartar and Baking Soda
This easy mixture is like making your own baking powder. Cream of tartar (also known as potassium acid tartrate) adds acidity to the baking soda to give rise to baked goods. To replace one teaspoon of baking powder, combine ¼ teaspoon of baking soda with ½ teaspoon of cream of tartar.
Buttermilk and Baking Soda
Another acidic ingredient, buttermilk is a great substitute for baking powder. To substitute one teaspoon of baking powder, add ½ a cup of buttermilk and ¼ teaspoon baking soda into your ingredients. Just be sure to decrease the amount of liquids in your recipe to maintain the consistency and texture you’re after.
Plain Yogurt and Baking Soda
Plain yogurt and baking soda are another hot duo that works exceptionally well as a replacement for baking powder. You can substitute one teaspoon of baking powder with ¼ teaspoon of baking soda and ½ cup of plain yogurt.
A Teaspoon of Lemon Juice and Baking Soda
Lemon juice is great for activating baking soda because it’s high in citric acid. Just use it with caution: lemon juice also has a strong flavor profile that can alter the taste of your finished product. In other words, this substitute is best in recipes that work with a subtle hint of citrus. To replace one teaspoon of baking powder, simply add ¼ teaspoon of baking soda with the dry ingredients and ½ teaspoon of fresh lemon juice with the wet ingredients.
Molasses + Baking Soda
You might be surprised to see molasses on the list, but this sticky-sweet substance is actually acidic enough to create CO2 gas when paired with baking soda (#Science). Simply add ¼ cup of molasses with ¼ teaspoon of baking soda to replace one teaspoon of baking powder.
Note: Keep in mind molasses is very high in sugar content, so it might be worth reducing the amount of sweetener in your recipe to prevent your baked goods from being overly saccharine.
Vinegar + Baking Soda
Just like lemon juice and molasses, vinegar is highly acidic, so it’s a perfect substitute for baking powder. Though any type will work (apple cider vinegar included), white vinegar won’t change the color of your baked goods when they come out of the oven. To replace one teaspoon of baking powder, combine ½ teaspoon of vinegar with ¼ teaspoon of baking soda.
Sour Milk + Baking Soda
Got bad milk? If your milk has turned sour but hasn’t curdled yet, it has started to undergo the process of fermentation. This means that it contains lactic acid, which, believe it or not, will activate baking soda. Use ½ cup of sour milk and ¼ teaspoon of baking soda to replace a teaspoon of baking powder. Just be sure you’re using sour milk, not lumpy or curdled milk.
Whipped Egg Whites
This is another fantastic option if you don’t have baking soda on hand. Whipping egg whites creates air bubbles that increase the volume and lightness in baked goods. The only challenge with this method is figuring out how many eggs you’ll need. Pancakes and waffles tend to use less, while cakes use more. That said, once you’ve determined the ideal number, it’s a pretty simple substitution. Just whip the eggs until they’re light and fluffy, and increase the speed to form soft peaks.
This popular kitchen staple combines all-purpose flour, baking powder, and a dash of salt, so it pretty much contains all the ingredients you need to help baked goods rise — hence its appearance in packaged cake mixes and quick breads. To use in lieu of baking powder, simply replace it with the regular flour in your recipe.
Club soda is a carbonated beverage that contains sodium bicarbonate, meaning you can use it to replace baking powder without adding baking soda. That said, there’s not a whole lot of this essential mineral in club soda, so only use it if you need a little lift — it’s not a miracle worker. For the best results, replace all of the liquid (like milk or water) in your recipe with club soda.
Pro Tip: To keep as much carbonation as possible in the batter, add the club soda last and stir lightly.
Whether you’re making fluffy pancakes, muffins, or other baked goods, baking powder is a key ingredient that helps leaven and add volume. However, if you’re in a pinch and running low on this pantry staple, there are several substitutes you can use instead. They perform the same function as baking powder — improving texture and fluffiness — and require only slight modifications to your recipe. Easy peasy!
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