Can Cornstarch Replace Baking Powder? Substitutes That Work

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One of my first encounters with following a recipe was that I didn’t have baking powder. The one item I had an abundance of at the time was cornstarch and I had no idea if it would work to replace baking powder. I never wanted to be put in that stressful situation again so I decided to find out what substitutes I can use for baking powder.

As a general rule, cornstarch cannot replace baking powder. Cornstarch is used as a thickening agent while baking powder is used as a leavening agent. Cornstarch thickens mixtures while baking powder promotes the rising of the dessert.

When I decide to bake a cake for a family event, I try to have my pantry fully stocked with all my essentials. Just like baking, I’m not perfect! I took this opportunity as a learning experience and have figured out the most effective substitutes for baking powder.

How is Cornstarch Different From Baking Powder

CornstarchBaking Powder
Extracted from corn kernels and formed into a starchAir bubbles formed which gives height to desserts
Used for thickening liquidsIs composed of an acid, base, and a buffer
Thickening reaction comes from heat and starch moleculesUsed in baking to make desserts less dense and airy

Even though the appearances of cornstarch and baking powder are almost identical, they are completely different!

Baking powder is more complex and composed of multiple components. Let us take a moment and become mad scientists and talk about acids and bases. But don’t worry, I promise I won’t hurt your brain!

*By the way, you might also want to know If Baking Powder Can Replace Cornstarch. I recently wrote an article about Cornstarch Substitutes That Work. You can find this article here!

Is Baking Powder and Cornstarch the Same?

Baking powder is not the same as cornstarch. Baking powder is a leavening agent which means that it forms air bubbles that cause a cake to rise. Cornstarch is a thickening agent which thickens liquids such as puddings and pie fillings.

Cornstarch is a useful ingredient to have in our pantry. I love making different kinds of pies using various fillings like apple, blueberry, and lemon (which is my husband’s absolute fave!)

When my fillings are a bit loose for my liking, I add cornstarch to help thicken it up since its main purpose is to thicken liquids.

Cornstarch is made from the starches of corn kernels which means any protein and fibers are removed to produce this refined, starchy powder.

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What makes baking powder work is the mix of some kind of a base (usually sodium bicarbonate which is commonly known as baking soda) and an acid (usually cream of tartar). When these two are combined, a reaction occurs.

Let’s take vinegar and baking soda for example. If you place some baking soda into a bowl and pour vinegar over it, you’ll see it expand and fizz!

The mix of the acid (in this case vinegar) and the base (baking soda) caused this reaction which and visually you can see bubbles forming and expanding. The same reaction occurs when we use baking powder in a recipe.

As a leavening agent, baking powder is used in baking to give height to desserts.

The acid and base in baking powder are both in the form of dry ingredients. This allows us to keep it in our pantries without it reacting by itself.

Once we mix baking powder into our wet ingredients, the time starts ticking! Baking powder will slowly start to activate, forming bubbles so that our cakes can gain height and wow all of your guests!

*Side Note: If you ever wanted to know The Real Difference Between A Sponge Cake and A Butter Cake. I wrote an article about it that you can find here!

This article describes when to use baking powder in a recipe and how the textures differ!

What can be used instead of Baking Powder?

To find out what substitutes actually work in place of baking powder and why cornstarch is not a good replacement in recipes, we have to dive into the substitutes and the science behind them.

Substitutes for Baking Powder

Baking Powder SubstitutesAmount to Replace 1 Teaspoon of Baking Powder
Yogurt1/2 Cup of Yogurt + 1/4 tsp of Baking Soda
Molasses1/4 Cup of Molasses + 1/4 tsp of Baking Soda
Cream of Tartar1/2 tsp of Cream of Tartar + 1/4 tsp of Baking Soda
Lemon Juice1/2 tsp of Lemon Juice + 1/4 tsp of Baking Soda
Self-Rising FlourSubstitute all flour in your recipe
Buttermilk1/2 Cup of Buttermilk + 1/4 tsp of Baking Soda

You can definitely notice that almost every single item on the table above requires some amount of baking soda.

Can baking soda be used as a substitute for baking powder? In general, baking soda cannot replace baking powder! Baking powder is unique because it has a dormant reaction due to the combination of an acid and a base. Baking soda is only a base; it needs an outside source of acid.

All the items listed above are perfect to mix with baking soda to create the same reaction and effect as baking powder!

*By the way, if you’re looking for a great Sifter to break down the clumps in your dry ingredients, I found the perfect Baking Sieve Cup Stainless Steel Sifter. This sifter is great because it can sift through large amounts of dry ingredients at a much faster rate than regular handheld sifters. You can check out this Sifter Sieve Cup on Amazon!

Use Yogurt

One surprising ingredient that I found to work very well as a substitute for baking powder is yogurt! Yogurt is classified as acidic because it possesses lactic acid. To replace 1 teaspoon of baking powder in a recipe, use 1/2 cup of yogurt and 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda.

The yogurt will react with the baking soda in order to produce air bubbles which will make your cakes nice and airy.

*Important Tip: Slightly reduce the volume of liquids in your recipe. Yogurt adds moisture to the batter and may make it too loose.

With this in mind, buttermilk falls into this same category. Adding buttermilk to your batter will make it runny so it would be wise to slightly decrease the volume of your other liquids. The addition of baking soda and buttermilk will react and replicate the effects of baking powder.

Use Molasses

Molasses is one of those magically delicious ingredients that everyone should have in their pantries! Molasses is a thick syrup used as a sweetener in many recipes. It is made from the extracted juices of sugar after they have been crushed and boiled down.

How else is molasses magical? It can be used as a substitute for baking powder!

To replace one teaspoon of baking powder in a recipe, use 1/4 cup of molasses and 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda.

When molasses is mixed with baking soda, it creates a similar leavening reaction as if using baking powder.

*Important Note: Molasses is naturally very sweet. If using as a substitute, make sure to reduce the amount of sugar you put in your dessert.

Use Cream of Tartar

Cream of tartar just so happens to be a great dry ingredient to substitute baking powder! Because of its acidic nature, cream of tartar acts as the acid needed to react with baking soda to become a leavening agent.

Why is cream of tartar acidic? Cream of tartar is acidic because it is a byproduct of wine when made in barrels. Cream of tartar is tartaric acid which, when mixed with baking soda, creates carbon dioxide gas. In other words, it helps your desserts rise!

To replace one teaspoon of baking powder in a recipe, mix 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar with 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda and add to your batter.

Use Lemon Juice

One of the most common pantry staples that most of us have scattered around are lemons! It is quite a shock that this ingredient was so successful when it came to replacing baking powder! Because of its extremely acidic nature, it is a perfect ingredient to mix with baking soda and add to your batter.

To replace one teaspoon of baking powder, pour 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice into your batter followed by 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda to cause a reaction that will help your dessert rise!

Use Self-Rising Flour

There are times where even if we quickly rush to the store and search for baking powder, there isn’t any! One of the best-kept secrets that helps so often when I run out of baking powder is self-rising flour.

What is self-rising flour? Self-rising flour is all-purpose flour that has leavening agents already added to it. These agents are usually baking powder and salt which allows for desserts to rise.

Self-rising flour is typically used for adding lots of air to your baked goods. The types of baked goods that need far more air than your average cake are:

  • Biscuits
  • Cupcakes
  • Pizza dough
  • Scones
  • Sponge Cakes

If you do not have any baking powder and you need it for one of your recipes, you can simply substitute all of your flour in the recipe for self-rising flour. This simple swap is super effective and a great backup for any kitchen to have!

Use Buttermilk

Buttermilk is one of those magical ingredients that I love to use both in baking and in cooking! It’s very hard for me to imagine making fried chicken without a delicious buttermilk batter. But putting my favorite foods to the side, buttermilk is such a magical ingredient because it can be used as a great substitute for baking powder!

Buttermilk is quite sour and acts as the acid needed to react with baking soda.

In your recipe, to replace one teaspoon of baking powder, use 1/2 cup of buttermilk with 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda to achieve the same effect as baking powder.

*Important Tip: Since buttermilk is a liquid, consider decreasing the amount of liquid you put into your batter to prevent it from becoming runny.

What happens if you don’t use Baking Powder?

As a general rule, baking powder is used as a leavening agent. When you do not use baking powder, no reaction occurs to give your desserts height. The acid and base components of baking powder react and produce air bubbles to give height to cakes.

With this knowledge, you can technically go ahead and try to bake a cake or other dessert without baking powder. However, and let me emphasize this a great deal, your cake will be flatter than the ground.

How do I know this? Because I am definitely not immune to forgetting things!

Can you make your own Baking Powder?

To make your own baking powder, mix two parts of cream of tartar to one part baking soda to one part cornstarch. This ratio allows for you to make your own baking powder which is super effective. Making baking powder is simple and less tangy than the store-bought one.

By now, we have become experts in baking powder and what it is. The reaction is a simple acid mix with a base. We’ve seen so many acidic substitutions we can add to baking soda to help create the same effect that baking powder has on desserts.

Cream of tartar is a powder that is ideal when making your own baking powder. Baking soda is the base we need to help react with the acid. Cornstarch is a key ingredient here because it helps absorb excess moisture in the homemade baking powder and prolong its shelf life.

To Summarize…

Baking does not have to be stressful! I am a person who is forgetful and do not realize at times that I use up an ingredient and haven’t gone out to buy it yet.

Over the years, I have learned that baking can be stress-free because there are so many ways to substitute ingredients in your recipes!

Baking powder is one of those ingredients that have many substitutions and after spending time perfecting ratios and understanding the science behind it, you will never have to worry about running out of baking powder again.

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My name is Fainna! I've been baking desserts ever since I was 10 years old with my grandma passing her baking wisdom down to me with every passing day. I hope you find these tips and tricks helpful here at my little Baking Nook!

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