For first time bakers, telling the difference between staple kitchen ingredients can be easier said than done.
Take for example the suspiciously similar trio of baking soda, bicarb soda and baking powder.
Q: So are Bicarb Soda and Baking Soda the same thing?
First off, Australia uses two different names for the same product – baking soda and bicarb soda (or sodium bicarbonate to be scientific) are one and the same!
Q: Right, so what is Baking Soda in Australia?
In Australia, New Zealand and the UK, the generally used term is bicarb soda.
The US prefer to call it baking soda.
Q: What is Bicarb Soda used for?
Bicarb soda is a pure leavening agent - this means it creates air bubbles in your batter, which gradually expand as the dish cooks and causes batter to rise.
Bicarb soda must be sifted carefully as it tends to become slightly lumpy in its storage container, and should be thoroughly mixed in to prevent a bitter, soapy taste tinging the mixture.
But bicarb soda is something of a wonder product, and can be useful in many household tasks.
The substance can be used to clean stubborn surface stains in the kitchen and bathroom, as well as eliminating odor from old shoes.
Bicarb soda can also be used to kill weeds in the garden, keep carpets clean and as a cure for heartburn!
Some people even take to drinking bicarb soda to soothe a sore throat without medication, and you can make your own natural mouthwash with bicarb, too.
Q: Okay, but what about Baking Powder?
Just like bicarb soda, baking powder is also a leavening agent.
Q: So can I use Baking Powder instead of Bicarb Soda?
Baking powder performs a similar function to bicarb soda, but the two products are not interchangeable.
Baking powder has a neutral taste, and is mostly used in recipes that use other neutral ingredients like milk.
Bicarb has a slightly tangy taste, and in Australia most householders simply use self-raising flour for convenience when a recipe calls for a leavening agent.
Q: Well if they’re not interchangeable, what exactly is the difference between Bicarb Soda and Baking Powder?
Bicarb soda must be mixed with moisture (e.g. eggs or butter) and an acidic ingredient (e.g. lemon, orange, chocolate or honey) in order to spark the chemical reaction necessary for the mixture to rise.
The difference with baking powder is that the product comes pre-mixed with the requisite acidic ingredient – all you need to do is add moisture!
Serious baking enthusiasts can whip up their own baking powder by mixing two parts cream of tartar with one part bicarb soda.
Q: Is there any circumstance where I can use baking powder as a bicarb soda replacement?
If you find yourself stuck and without any bicarb soda in the press, you can substitute with baking powder.
Just remember you’ll need to increase the amount of baking powder by around three times the amount of bicarb soda called for the in recipe.
Q: Does Baking Powder go off?
According to Food Hacks, baking powder usually has a shelf life of 9 to 12 months.
If you are unsure about your baking powder, testing its health for use is extremely simple – just stir half a teaspoon of baking powder into a cup of hot water.
If the powder starts to fizz immediately, it’s still plenty fresh to use.