What’s The Difference?


USU Consumer Educator, Teresa Hunsaker, explains key differences between common baking ingredients.

Baking Powder verses Baking Soda

Both of these products are leavening agents used in baking. When in contact with moisture they produce carbon dioxide gas that then forms air bubbles in the baked product to make it lighter and increase volume. Baking powder contains baking soda, but the two are used under different conditions in order to leaven.

Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate, an alkaline powder (base), and when mixed with moisture and some sort of acidity will immediately release carbon dioxide gases to produce leavening action. Because this gas is produced when the soda has moisture added, it is necessary to get the items baked as soon as possible for optimum leavening. Some of the acidic foods you might find in baking are yogurt, lemon juice, or orange juice, buttermilk (sour milk), brown sugar, molasses, and even chocolate.

In foods you have either a base (basic) ingredient or an acid (acidic) ingredient. Baking soda is more basic (or less acidic) and leaves a more distinct after taste if not neutralized with something acid.

Around the turn of the century, it was realized that rather than relying on the home cook to add an acidic ingredient to react with the baking soda, it’d be much simpler to add a powdered acid directly to the baking soda itself, and baking powder was born. Composed of baking soda, a powdered acid, and a starch (in order to absorb moisture and prevent the acid or base from reacting prematurely), baking powder was marketed as the all-in-one solution for busy housewives. Once it comes in contact with something liquid, the powdered acid and base dissolve and react with each other, creating bubbles of carbon dioxide without the need for an external acid source.

Baking powder is made with baking soda AND tartaric acid or cream of tartar, and a little bit of starch. It comes in either single acting baking powder or double acting baking powder. (Most of the grocery stores now carry primarily the double acting baking powder.) What this means is that in single acting baking powder the gases are released when they come in contact with moisture, so like baking soda, they should be baked quickly for best leavening results. In double acting baking powder the gases are released in two phases, one when they hit moisture, and second when heated—which is when the majority of the gases are released.

Bleached verses Unbleached Flour

One of the most basic staples in our pantry is flour, all purpose flour to be exact. All purpose flour comes in either a bleached or unbleached form, and technically all flour is bleached, it’s just that some are chemically bleached to force the whitening of the flour, and others are aged in order to bleach. As we discuss these two forms though, it is important to keep in mind that all purpose flour in and of itself is not the same from manufacturer to manufacturer…the type of wheat used to make “all purpose” flour will vary, and that too will lend a different property to the flour.

Bleached flour: Once the bran is removed from the wheat kernel, and the endosperm is milled and dry the carotenoid pigments in freshly ground wheat flour give it a slightly yellow color to the flour. As these pigments age (12 weeks or longer) they oxidize and turn whiter. This can be an expensive endeavor for producers to wait that long, so testing resulted in the addition of chemicals such as benzoyl peroxide, or chlorine gas (both considered safe by the FDA), to speed up this process. Aside from whitening, this bleaching also speeds up the aging process to “soften” the wheat a bit, but does not allow it develop the proteins, leaving us with a little less protein in the flour. Some seem to think that this makes bleached flour better for pies, pastries, cookies and cakes rather than yeast breads.

Unbleached flour: As explained previously, unbleached flour is left to whiten on its own through time as a natural oxidation process, and not through chemical whitening. This aging process also allows the proteins to develop, and thus strengthening the gluten properties of the wheat, making it better flour for yeast products, at least according to most folks.

Carob Powder versus Cocoa Powder

While these two products originate from a tropical seed pod, that is about as close as they come in similarities. Two different seed pods, two different tastes. While the carob powder may look similar to the cocoa powder it tastes quite a bit different.

Carob powder is caffeine free and contains a little less fat than cocoa powder. It is also 3 times higher in calcium.

Cocoa powder does have caffeine in it, but it also has flavonoids, a group of antioxidants, that have some health benefits.

One tablespoon of unsweetened carob powder has 25 calories, no fat, no saturated fat, no cholesterol, and 6 grams carbohydrate. By comparison, one tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder contains 12 calories, 1 gram of fat, no saturated fat, no cholesterol, and 3 grams of carbohydrate.

Ounce for ounce, a candy bar made with carob has about the same amount of fat and calories as a chocolate bar, although the taste and texture are different. This is due to the fact that in order to make either of these products into a tasty treat they still have to have fat and sugar added to them.

While unsweetened carob powder may be naturally sweeter than cocoa powder, carob is not as flavorful as chocolate. There are many conversion/substitutions that say to use one for the other in equal quantities as indicated in the recipe. However, because of the flavor difference you may want to try this option… replace one part cocoa with 2-1/2 parts carob powder by weight. If substituting the other way…cocoa powder for carob in a recipe that is designed with carob in mind, you may not want to use as much cocoa powder as is called for in the original carob recipe. Also, carob chips can easily be substituted for chocolate chips in recipes.

Canola Oil versus Vegetable Oil

Vegetable oil is an oil that is made from any number of vegetable (plant) sources…corn, soybean, safflower, sunflower, etc. It is considered a polyunsaturated fat.

Canola oil is a vegetable oil that is an offshoot and hybrid of its parent plant the rapeseed plant. Canola is the market name for rapeseed oil, or LEAR oil…low erucic acid rapeseed. It has the lowest saturated fat content of any vegetable oil and is one of the highest in monounsaturated fat. To give you an example: Canola oil is 6% saturated and palm oil is 79% saturated—quite a difference. Monounsaturated fatty acids have been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels, making this a good fat when used in moderation, and as alternative to other forms of fat.

As for any observable differences in baking and cooking with Canola oil rather than vegetable oil, there is none to really stand up and take note of. Canola oil may seem a little “lighter” in a salad dressing, but other than that, you probably won’t notice an appreciable difference.

Cake Flour versus All Purpose Flour

All purpose flour is a blend of both soft and hard wheat varieties—it is designed to be useful overall in the majority of our baking. However, it does have its limitations when it comes to “fine” baking. Soft wheat flours are primarily good for baked good that you do not want a high amount of protein or gluten for—such as cakes, cookies, pie crust. The higher protein flours make these products tough, through gluten development. Some bakers actually use pastry flour…which contains less gluten than all purpose flour.

Cake flour is milled from soft wheat with low protein content, thus making the products made with cake flour more tender, and contains even less gluten than pastry flour. As you can imagine cake flour would not be good for a product that is made with yeast, as there is insufficient gluten and protein to make the bread hold up for leavening. Breads and bread dough need the gluten to give that nice structure to the bread when being raised by the yeast gases.

Many homemakers do not go to the expense and storage hassle of buying all these different flours. They simply use all purpose flour. It is possible to make suitable cake flour out of all purpose flour. Here is how: Start by stirring gently your all purpose flour. Then in a one cup measure add 2 TBS cornstarch to the bottom first. Then fill the remaining cup amount with the stirred all purpose flour. Sift this mixture at least once. Do this for each cup of cake flour called for in a recipe. Since many cake recipes call for around 2 cups you could follow this procedure using ¼ cup cornstarch and 1 ¾ cup, stirred flour.

Chocolate Squares versus Cocoa Powder

There is so much to know about chocolate and cocoa, and it is absolutely fascinating, but for sake of discussion here the basic difference between the squares and the powder is the fat content. The liquid chocolate is pressed to extract out a large percentage of cocoa butter and is dried for powder. Or, for the squares, it goes through a little bit different process to keep it solid.

The baking performance and differences are not really very noticeable, however, there are some candies and finer desserts where one would be better than the other.

Substitute 3 TBS cocoa powder plus 1 TBS unsalted butter, oil, or shortening for every 1 ounce square of unsweetened chocolate called for in a recipe. Dissolving the cocoa powder in at least 2 TBS of the liquid in the recipe will enhance the flavor of the chocolate.

One last note: Since we are talking about chocolate I thought this little “extra” might be helpful.

Dutch Processed Cocoa versus Cocoa Powder

Cocoa powder is made when chocolate liquor is pressed to remove three fourths of its fat, the cocoa butter. The remaining solids are then processed to make unsweetened cocoa powder. There are actually two types of cocoa powder: natural and Dutch processed.

Dutch processed cocoa powder (also called Alkalized Unsweetened Cocoa Powder) has been alkalized to neutralize the naturally occurring acid found in natural cocoa. Because it is neutral and does not react with baking soda in a recipe it must be used in recipes calling for baking powder, unless there are other acidic ingredients in sufficient quantity to form the leavening gases. (Remember our previous discussion about baking powder versus baking soda?)

If you have any questions, contact Teresa Hunsaker at the Family and Consumer Science Education Department at the Weber County USU Extension office at (801) 399-8203 or online at www.extension.usu.edu/weber

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