The baking aisle can be a source of wonderment when you love whipping up delicious pastries, cookies, and cakes. It can also be confounding when you don’t know which brand of baking soda to get. One might say pure baking soda, another might claim to be aluminum free, and let’s not even get started on baking powder. But is all baking soda the same?
Should you favor one kind of baking soda over the rest? And if so, what should you look out for? Time to find out.
How Many Kinds of Baking Soda Are There?
Technically speaking, there is only one kind of baking soda, which is known as sodium bicarbonate (CHNaO3). When baking soda is mined, it is dredged up with sodium carbonate (Na2C03), also called washing soda.
Some confusion is formed when people are baking something that does require the application of sodium carbonate, such as pretzels. However, most of the time, sodium carbonate is more industrial and can be used for making glass.
So baking soda is always going to be sodium bicarbonate and nothing else.
What is Baking Soda Used For?
There are many uses for baking soda, but the one you are concerned about is baking. In the kitchen, baking soda is used as a leavening agent. Often, it is combined with acids to produce carbon dioxide. As the bubbles of CO2 rise, it helps the batter inflate.
Baking soda is found in recipes for pancakes, cakes, muffins, friend food, and other items that bake quickly. You won’t find baking soda where there is yeast, since yeast creates gas for longer periods while baking soda burns out rapidly.
Is All Baking Soda Edible?
Yes, all baking soda is edible. Baking soda is a mild base, as mentioned earlier. This means that you can put it in baked goods or use it in homemade toothpaste. If your stomach is upset, you can also use it for an antacid. Be careful that you don’t knock over the baking soda or inhale it. The powder can be irritating to the eyes and throat.
Don’t Confuse Baking Soda With Baking Powder
Another source of consternation for bakers and cooks alike is the difference between baking soda and baking powder. The two do sound similar, and you might think that they can be used interchangeably. Don’t worry, many of us have made that rookie mistake! But do know that baking soda and baking powder are different. Use baking soda when the recipe calls for it. Never substitute with baking powder.
Should I Look For Aluminum-Free Baking Soda?
Baking soda has never included aluminum. This myth may have started with people confusing baking soda for baking powder. Sometimes you see that one item has something in it, like aluminum, and start to wonder if the others do too. Also, some brands have marketed their items as being aluminum-free, but that ended up being misleading, as pure baking soda does not contain anything but sodium bicarbonate.
Curious about what could happen? Check out our article: “What Happens If you Use Baking Soda Instead of Baking Powder in a Cake?”
Pure Baking Soda vs Baking Soda
Where is the difference then if all baking soda is technically the same? Well, the disparity happens during manufacturing. There is a reason some baking sodas on the shelf cost twice as much as a generic label.
Why is truly natural sodium bicarbonate so expensive? Because the process of unearthing sodium bicarbonate and keeping it as pure as possible is complex. Companies that mine baking soda, such as Natural Soda in Colorado, have to use a method called solution mining.
Solution mining has been around for a while and involves funneling hot water underground to dissolve minerals like nahcolite (where baking soda comes from). The pump then returns the enriched water back to the surface where the sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate is extracted.
Baking soda is drawn from the water by crystallizing the liquid, spun dry, and then screened for quality.
How Commercial Baking Soda is Made
The generic baking soda in your pantry is a little more processed than its purer counterpart. Remember sodium carbonate? Baking soda can be manufactured from it. Here’s how: washing soda gets dissolved into purified water then has carbon dioxide (CO2) jetted through.
When CO2 bonds with sodium carbonate, it makes baking soda. Next, a centrifuge gets rid of the water.
But when you think about it, that doesn’t make the generic process much different from the solution mining one. There are no impurities added to the baking soda when it is made this way, either.
This means that there is virtually no difference between pure baking soda vs baking soda.
So is all baking soda the same? At the chemical level, yes. Even though the creation might be different, the products on the shelf are all equal. There’s no reason to choose a naturally occurring baking soda from one that is made in a facility, because both processes introduce little to no contaminants. So use whichever baking soda you want.
The main difference between baking soda brands would be where they get their sodium bicarbonate from. Some brands will mine for baking soda directly from the ground, while others might manufacture sodium bicarbonate in a facility. However, despite the processing involved, the sodium bicarbonate produced is identical.
No, there is only one kind of baking soda. Baking soda has two sources. One is from a natural mine, the other is fabricated from sodium carbonate. Essentially, the baking soda created is the same.
Not really. If you prefer a particular brand of baking soda, by all means, support that brand. That said, generic and brand name varieties all contain 100% sodium bicarbonate unless otherwise stated on the box.