‘Can I substitute baking soda for baking powder in my cake recipe?’ asked a friend. Both are raising (or leavening) agents providing carbon dioxide that encourages cakes to rise. But they're different.

Baking soda (aka bicarbonate of soda) requires an acid and liquid to ‘fizz’ — and it’s instant. The acid can be buttermilk, yoghurt, lemon juice, vinegar, cream of tartar, molasses, applesauce or natural cocoa powder. The resulting bake is dark in colour and — if used alone — it has a strong washing powder flavour. This is often disguised by spices — as in gingerbread. 

Baking soda is strong — about three or four times stronger than baking powder. To ensure recipe success you need to balance the amount of baking soda with acid. Tricky! Balanced correctly there is almost no flavour. Too much and you’re left with an unpleasant metallic taste.

Baking powder contains baking soda plus cream of tartar — a dry acid — as well as rice flour to absorb any moisture during storage. And it has double action. When the baking powder gets wet — ie adding wet ingredients to the dry — the first level of rising occurs. The second occurs when it is heated. The resulting bake isn’t as dark but it gives a result without any angst!


The honey mixture foams and puffs up when the baking soda is stirred in. Similar to hokey pokey which is prepared with golden syrup. 

3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons each: water, honey 
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Line a baking tray with baking paper.

Place the sugar, water and honey in a medium-large saucepan. Cook on medium-high heat — without stirring until the sugar melts, the bubbles become larger and the mixture turns amber, about 3 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the baking soda. It will foam up. Stir just enough to combine then flop the mixture onto the baking paper. Don’t spread it out — the mixture will expand naturally.

Cool, break into large pieces and store in an airtight container.

Eat ‘as is’ or dip chunks into chocolate for a super scrumptious candy or break into smaller pieces and garnish ice cream or cheesecakes. 


Baking soda together with the acid (yoghurt) provides good colour to this yummy bake.

2 eggs
3/4 cup canola oil
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons yoghurt
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
2 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups peeled, diced apples

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Lightly grease and line the base and sides of a 23cm cake pan.

Place the eggs and oil in a large bowl and beat until smooth. Add the sugar, yoghurt and vanilla and beat to combine. Sift in the flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Mix well. Fold in the apples.

Tip into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

Bake for 60-70 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Great served warm or cold with custard, yoghurt or whipped cream.


The Chinese often tenderise their meat with baking soda. It’s called ‘velveting’. This Texas chilli uses the same method. 

600g premium diced beef
2 tablespoons water
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon each: chilli powder, ground cumin, paprika, oregano, salt, brown sugar
410g can tomato purée
400g diced tomatoes
400g can black beans, drained

Place the meat in a medium-large bowl. Combine the water and baking soda then drizzle over the meat. Move it around gently to coat but do not over-mix or it will toughen. Stand for 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 160°C.

Meanwhile, sauté the onion in the oil until softened in a large heavy-based pan suitable for the hob and oven. Add the garlic.

Add the meat and stir until browned. Add the spices, oregano, salt and brown sugar. Stir well. Add the tomato purée, diced tomatoes and black beans. Stir to combine. Cover and cook in the oven for 1 1/2 hours. Great served with rice. Serves 4-6.


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