Very few things can stand in for baking soda and replicate effects it has in baked products – taste- as well as texture-wise. However, when your larder does not have it, you need to opt for something else.
As the name suggests, baking soda is a leavening agent, which is primarily used for baking purposes. Also called sodium bicarbonate or bicarbonate of soda (alkali), it is alkaline in nature and commonly used in recipes containing acidic ingredients, like vinegar, citrus juice, sour cream, yogurt, buttermilk, chocolate, cocoa (not Dutch-processed), honey, molasses (also brown sugar), fruits, and maple syrup. It combines with moisture and an acidic ingredient present in the batter, which results in a chemical reaction that produces bubbles of carbon dioxide that expand under oven temperatures, causing the baked food items to rise.
Due its ability to turn cocoa powder reddish-brown when baked, baking soda is commonly used in Devil’s food cake and many other cake recipes. However, excess of this added to a recipe can result in a soapy taste with a coarse, open crumb. Since it has a definite shelf life, it works best if stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.
Alternatives for Baking Soda
Double-acting Baking Powder
Double-acting baking powder (substitute the acidic liquids in the recipe with non-acidic ones. For example, use an equal amount of water or milk instead of citrus juices/vinegar OR an equal amount of whole milk instead of buttermilk/yogurt.)
Nature of the Substitute:
Most baking powder used today is double acting, which when added causes a reaction between the acid salts and the baking soda, that releases carbon dioxide gas. The second reaction occurs when the batter is placed in the oven which results in expansion of gas cells that causes the batter to rise.
Since baking soda is basic in nature, it will create a bitter taste unless countered by the acidity of some other ingredient, like buttermilk. Whereas baking powder has both an acid and a base, hence it creates an overall neutral effect in terms of taste. Therefore, recipes that call for baking powder, require other neutral tasting ingredients, like milk.
Potassium Bicarbonate and Salt
Nature of the Substitute:
Potassium bicarbonate is ideal for those who have been asked to cut down on their salt intake. If such is the case, omit the salt.
Tips and Tricks
There are some other tricks that you can try out in case you have the time. They might not work every time, but with practice, you will get a hang of them. For instance,
- You can beat eggs and whisk a good deal of air into them to use as a leavening agent for pancakes.
- You can actually use self-rising flour and beer to make beer pancakes. The carbonation in beer will actually boost the fluffiness of the batter.
- People in Europe can actually seek out a product called Natron, which can be used for the same purposes.
Baking soda substitutes, if added to any recipe in the right proportions, can create similar taste and texture. However, recipes that require both baking powder and baking soda, probably use the latter to counterbalance extra acidity in the batter.