Cornstarch and baking powder look so alike and have almost the same type of texture that you may wonder if they can actually substitute each other in your recipe.
Cornstarch cannot act as baking powder in your recipe. Baking powder acts as a leavening agent while cornstarch acts as a thickening agent. In this article, I will explain what baking powder and cornstarch are, tell their differences and what they are used for.
What is cornstarch?
Cornstarch is a common ingredient made from the starchy portion of corn kernels known as the endosperm. It’s used as a thickening agent for pies, sauces, marinades, gravies, soups, casseroles, and the like. Though most people think cornstarch is reserved for cooking, it’s quite useful outside the kitchen too.
Cornstarch is used to thicken liquid-based foods like soups, stews, sauces, or custards. When used correctly and in appropriate amounts, cornstarch makes food crispy and more appealing to eat.
What is baking powder?
Baking powder is a dry chemical leavening agent, a mixture of a carbonate or bicarbonate and a weak acid. The base and acid are prevented from reacting prematurely by the inclusion of a buffer such as cornstarch. Baking powder is used to increase the volume and lighten the texture of baked goods.
The acid and base in baking powder are both in the form of dry ingredients. But immediately you mix baking powder with wet ingredients, it will slowly start to activate, form bubbles, and make the dough swell.
Differences between cornstarch and baking powder
Cornstarch and baking powder are really different in their use. They cannot serve the same purpose or replace each other in any way.
Although, it may be tricky to tell the physical differences between cornstarch and baking powder since they look so alike. Some of their major differences include:
Cornstarch is made from the starches of corn kernels and the protein and fiber contents are removed to produce a starchy powder.
What makes baking powder work is the mix of some kind of a base, mostly sodium bicarbonate also known as baking soda, and an acid, usually cream of tartar. When these two are combined, a reaction occurs. The mix of the acid and the base results in bubbles forming and expanding when wet.
Cornstarch is a thickening agent which thickens liquids. You can use it to thicken your pie fillings when it’s a bit lose. You can also use it to coat your chicken wings, meat, and fish before frying to make them crispier and tastier.
Baking powder on the other hand acts as a leavening agent for baked foods like cake and bread. Once you mix it with your dough and add water, air bubbles form and make the dough rise, thereby giving you an airy, soft, and fluffy result.
When eaten raw, cornstarch has a silky and gritty texture that is similar to sugar powder. And compared to regular flours or starches made from wheat or rice, the cornstarch consistency is much thicker and denser. Conversely, baking powder has a white color and powdery texture.
Can you make your own baking powder?
Yes. There are a lot of ways to make your baking powder at home. What you need is the base which is baking soda to react with acid. As such, you can use a mix of cream of tartar and baking soda, lemon juice and baking soda, buttermilk and baking soda, and so much more.
What is most important is to know the right measurement for the base and acid that will replace the baking powder in your recipe. You can also add cornstarch to help absorb excess moisture in the homemade baking powder and prolong its shelf life.
The next section will provide you with more details on how to make homemade baking powder.
Substitutes for baking powder
As long as baking powder is a part of your original recipe, the best you can do is replace it with baking soda and a mix of other ingredients.
That said, let’s look at the various replacements for baking powder:
1. Self-rising flour
Self-rising flour is flour with baking powder and a bit of salt already added. It’s a staple in many Southern recipes and is traditionally made from a softer, lower protein version of all-purpose flour, which is what grows there. Since self-rising flour has the capacity to rise by itself, you will need to use it as the only flour in your recipe.
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.
Adding buttermilk to your batter will make it runny so it would be wise to slightly decrease the volume of any other liquids in the recipe. The addition of baking soda and buttermilk will react and replicate the effects of baking powder. Simply add 1/2 cup of buttermilk and 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda.
4. Cream of Tartar
Cream of tartar just so happens to be a great dry ingredient to substitute for 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.
Cream of tartar is acidic because it is a byproduct of wine when made in barrels. It is a tartaric acid that, when mixed with baking soda, creates carbon dioxide gas. In other words, it helps the dough to 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.
Molasses is a delicious ingredient that basically sweetens pantries. It 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. To replace baking powder in your recipe use 1/4 cup of molasses and 1/4 tsp of baking soda.
6. Lemon Juice
One of the most common pantry staples is lemon. 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.
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 make cake batter rise. Without baking powder in your recipe, your cake will be flat like brownies.
Is baking powder better than cornstarch?
No. Baking powder is dry and acidic so it hinders the crispness of your food. Cornstarch on the other hand dries the skin but makes it crispy.
Can you use cornstarch instead of baking powder for chicken wings?
Yes. When you coat chicken wings in plain cornstarch mixed with a little kosher salt before baking, you get tastier and more crispy wings.
Can you bake without baking powder or soda?
Yes. It is possible to bake without baking soda or baking powder, but the result will be dense and flat.
Baking powder is a key ingredient for cakes, cookies, and all pastry products that need an airy and fluffy texture. The baking soda and acid present in baking powder form a bubble when mixed with wet ingredients thereby making the dough rise and giving height to desserts.
Cornstarch only serves as a buffer to preserve homemade baking powder and make it last longer. Additionally, you can use cornstarch to thicken your baking mix if it’s too loose.
There are certainly other homemade substitutes for baking powder. Examples include yogurt and baking soda, buttermilk and baking soda, among others. Simply use the measurement as stated in the article and you’re good to go.
To top it all off, you can read this article to know if you can substitute olive oil for vegetable oil in a cake or not.
I hope this article helped you to realize the difference between cornstarch and baking powder. Thanks for reading.