What's The Difference Between Yeast, Baking Soda & Baking Powder?

Welcome to Advice for Impatient Foodies, R29's new cooking column. Each week, our executive food editor and Impatient Foodie founder, Elettra Wiedemann, will tackle any and all questions you might have about food. Seriously, no query is too big or too small. And don't be embarrassed! We've all had moments in the kitchen when we had no idea WTF was going on and wished we could ask someone other than Google for some pointers. So whether you need help frying an egg, knowing when your chicken is done, or deciding what to make for dinner, we've got your back.
What is the difference between yeast, baking soda, and baking powder?

I am so glad you asked this question. Okay, so the main difference between baking soda, baking powder, and yeast is...um...I actually have no idea. In times like this, I turn to my cooking and baking guru friend Yasmina Jacobs of EatMakeCelebrate to explain. She helped it all make sense:
Photographed by Eric Helgas.
"Yeast, baking soda, and baking powder are all leavening agents used in baking. Yeast reacts with sugar, causing it to ferment. The fermentation then results in the production of carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide gets trapped in bread dough and becomes little air bubbles responsible for making bread rise. Yeast is ideal for bread-making, because the rise happens before baking — giving you more control over the finished product — but it does require time.

"For cakes, muffins, pancakes, or any other baked goods that go straight into the oven without rising, baking soda or baking powder are the way to go. Baking soda (scientific name: sodium bicarbonate) also creates carbon dioxide, and although it doesn't need resting time to start working, it does need acid. Baking soda is great for recipes that have built-in acidic elements, like lemon or buttermilk — without them, baking soda leaves behind a distinctive taste.

"Baking powder is baking soda mixed with a few extra ingredients, including an acid. When you're baking a recipe that doesn't call for any acids, baking powder provides the rising power of baking soda and takes care of the chemistry part for you. Baking powder is only fully activated by heat, which is why a cake rises in the oven and not on your countertop, the way bread does."

Thanks, Yasmina!

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