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The best baking soda substitutes, according to a food scientist

In desperate need of baking soda? Fear not, these alternatives will work just fine.
Since baking soda is an ingredient of baking powder, baking powder is technically the best substitute for baking soda.
Since baking soda is an ingredient of baking powder, baking powder is technically the best substitute for baking soda.Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Even though most recipes don't require a lot of baking soda, that doesn't mean it's not important.

This alkaline agent is a miracle worker that turns sticky batters into baked goods. Still, like many common ingredients, it has substitutes. 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.

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 told TODAY Food her favorite baking soda replacements and alternatives.

Can you substitute baking powder for baking soda?

The difference between baking soda and baking powder is simple: Baking powder contains the leavening acids needed to produce carbon dioxide (bubbles) and baking soda needs other ingredients for that reaction to take place.

Since baking soda is an ingredient of baking powder, baking powder is technically the best substitute for baking soda. Gan — who noted 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 a tablespoon) of baking powder.

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

Egg whites

Whipped egg whites may be substituted for baking soda in certain recipes.

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," explained Gan, who recommended starting with two egg whites at a time.

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. The more air that's incorporated — which will give a lift to the baked good — the better.

Club soda

Out of baking soda? Using a little club soda will actually give your baked goods a little lift.

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," advised 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 if you have your heart set on making cake-like cookies, take a trip to the grocery store first.

Self-rising flour

Self-rising flour already has a leavening agent mixed into it.

Unlike all-purpose flour which contains just one ingredient (wheat), self-rising flour is pre-mixed with a 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 1 1/2 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.

When all else fails...

For baked goods that don't require too much leavening action, 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 recommended pouring less batter into the pan to cover the same surface area. When making cookies, she advised 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," said Gan. Also, don't forget to adjust your baking times as 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.

Yeast may help bread rise, but it's not a food substitute for baking soda.

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