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The best baking soda substitutes, according to a food scientist

Have no fear! These baking soda substitutes are here to save your bakes.
/ Source: TODAY

Even though most recipes don't require much more than a teaspoon of baking soda, that doesn't mean it's not important. If you run out of this key ingredient, we’ve got you covered with the best baking soda substitutes.

This alkaline agent is a miracle worker that turns sticky batters into fluffy baked goods. If you're halfway through a muffin recipe and suddenly realize you don't have baking soda in the pantry, there's no need to panic. While you can use substances like potassium bicarbonate and salt as a substitute when recipes call for baking soda, we prefer ingredients that you can find in your kitchen. Like many common ingredients, you can use other pantry staples when you’re in a pinch. .

Renée Gan, a food scientist who has over 25 years of experience working for major food companies like Kellogg's and Kraft Foods, has several common fixes for home bakers stuck without baking soda. She tells her favorite baking soda replacements and alternatives.

Can you substitute baking powder for baking soda?

First things first: In order to understand how baking soda works, you need to understand how it differs from baking powder. The difference between these two ingredients is simple: Baking powder contains the leavening acids needed to produce carbon dioxide (bubbles) and baking soda (aka sodium bicarbonate) needs other ingredients for that reaction to take place; the two work in tandem to allow baked goods to rise.

Since baking soda is an ingredient of baking powder, baking powder is technically the best substitute for baking soda. Gan — who notes that any substitutions may change the texture and flavor of the final dish — recommended using three times the amount of baking powder in lieu of baking soda. So, if a recipe calls for one teaspoon of baking soda, use three teaspoons (or one tablespoon) of baking powder.

If you don't have either baking powder or baking soda on hand, Gans says there are some recipes that really should be avoided. Cakes, for example, will just be too dense.

The best baking soda substitutions

Egg whites

If you find yourself without baking powder or baking soda (and you're not making a super complex recipe), try using egg whites.

"The proteins in egg whites lend physical structure to the baked product," explains Gan, who recommends starting with two egg whites per teaspoon of baking soda.

First, pour the egg whites into a measuring cup and remove the same amount of liquid from the recipe. Before adding the egg whites to your mixture, whip the egg whites until they're foamy and form soft peaks. The more air that's incorporated — which will give a lift to the baked good — the better.

Club soda

You can also use club soda as a substitute for baking soda. As with the egg white method, you'll want to remove the same amount of liquid from your recipe that you add back in the form of club soda.

"If you do try this approach, work quickly," advises Gan. "Much of the carbon dioxide in the club soda will be lost in the air and won't provide much leavening action." According to Gan, you'll never get enough lift from club soda to make something super light and fluffy, so it’s not a foolproof baking soda substitute. If you have your heart set on making cake-like cookies or an angel food cake, take a trip to the grocery store and buy baking soda.

Self-rising flour

Unlike all-purpose flour which contains just one ingredient (wheat), self-rising flour is pre-mixed with a chemical leavening agent and, often, a bit of salt. If you haven't baked with self-rising flour before, it can be a little tricky since the same amount can't just be swapped in place of the regular stuff. Every cup of self-rising flour has about 1½ teaspoons of baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon of salt, so you'll need to adjust your recipe accordingly. If you happen to have a friend who loves fractions, call them up to help recalculate the recipe's measurements with self-rising flour.

Ammonium carbonate

According to Cook’s Illustrated, this ingredient more commonly known as baker’s ammonia, was used before the invention of baking soda and baking powder. While it can be used in place of both baking soda and baking powder, do so carefully; it’s best for crisp cookies like biscotti or thin and crispy chocolate chip cookies rather than, say, cakey snickerdoodles. It’s still sold today at some big box retailers, craft stores and specialty food shops. It has an undeniable strong smell but don’t worry — it dissipates as your batter or dough bakes in the oven.

When all else fails ...

If none of these substitutes for baking soda work for you, it’s not the end of the world. For baked goods that don't require too much leavening, such as cookies or pancakes, it's actually OK to leave out the baking soda completely — they just won't be as light and fluffy.

If you do go this route when making pancakes, Gan recommends pouring less batter into the pan to cover the same surface area. When making cookies, she advises flattening the cookie dough to avoid having a larger mass that won't rise.

"The cookies will turn out to be crisper and the pancakes will turn out more like crepes," says Gan. Also, don't forget to adjust your baking times; the thinner your batter is, the faster it will bake.

Whatever you do, don't do this

Although yeast is a popular leavening agent for making bread, it is not advisable to use it in place of baking soda.

"The mechanism is completely different," says Gan. "Yeast is a living organism that requires different conditions to thrive (and) work. It will impart characteristics or flavors that you don’t necessarily want in your cake or cookie product."