The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

vinegar in recipes

whoops's picture

vinegar in recipes

I know this site is mostly focusing on breads, but thanks to this site, I found King Arthur's website, and used a recipe of theirs for chocolate cake. It called for 2 tsp of vinegar in addition to baking powder and baking soda and the other usual ingredients. I am assuming that the vinegar interacts some how with the baking powder and/or baking soda. Are any of you more scientific people able to give me a fairly simple explanation of what the vinegar did chemically? BTW, it was probably the easiest and best tasting chocolate cake I have ever made. Even the family members who usually eschew chocolate cake went back for seconds!


breadforfun's picture

Hi Sandy,

You are correct in that the vinegar reacts with the baking soda.  Vinegar is an acid and baking soda is a base, and when combined, they neutralize each other, resulting in the formation of water and carbon dioxide (CO2).  The CO2 helps with the leavening of the cake.  Since they are neutralized (assuming they are in the correct proportion to one another), they won't have any effect on taste.  Baking powder contains baking soda as well other ingredients which won't react but will enhance leavening.

Somewhere in the back of my memory is an early high school science experiment where you can use this reaction to extinguish a candle flame placed inside a glass, since the CO2 is heavier than air and it displaces the oxygen needed to support the flame.  This demonstrates that the CO2 is formed during the reaction.



dabrownman's picture

lower PH, help SD and YW levains that prefer a slightly acidic atmosphere and improve the flavor of some bland tasting breads according to Clayton who says the same thing about cumin when it comes to taste in bread.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

so is wine.  I know of a family recipe that relies on a good splosh of dry red wine instead of vinegar.    :)

MangoChutney's picture

As described above, baking soda and acid react to release bubbles of carbon dioxide, which cause rising in doughs and batters just as they do with yeast.  The chemical source of carbon dioxide is faster and easier to use than the biological source, but the resulting baked good is not as flavorful or durable as yeast-risen products unless ingredients other than flour, water and salt are added.  It works great for quick breads and cakes, which are sweet and soft.

Baking powder is baking soda plus solid sources of acidity to produce the carbon dioxide.  In the old days the solid source of acidity was tartaric acid, otherwise known as Cream of Tarter.  Modern baking powders are usually double-acting.  Double-acting baking powder contains two sources of acidity, one that reacts at room temperature and one that reacts at higher temperatures.  This prevents all of the bubbles from being made in the bowl on the counter-top, thus ensuring that the baked good will have some rise in the oven.  Recipes that use vinegar for leavening will always contain baking soda rather than baking powder.  There would be no point in adding vinegar to baking powder, unless one wanted a sour taste.

Dry red wine, properly stored, contains tannic acid.  Left open to the air, it will accumulate vinegar as the alcohol is converted to acetic acid by Acetobacter sp. bacteria.  Really cheap red wine tastes sour because of this bacterial action on ethanol, which can also take place during fermentation if the air is not kept completely out of the fermentation vessel.


whoops's picture

Thank you for all of your replies. I knew there must be some chemical reaction , as 2 tsp of vinegar is definitely not enough to add flavor!  I must make one correction though, the recipe was NOT from KA website, but from, and was titled Dark Chocolate Cake II. Thanks again for all your help!


clazar123's picture

As has been explained:Having baking soda and vinegar in a recipe is a way of providing lift and aeration, just like the "volcano" science experiment.

Baking powder does pretty much the same but the acid (tartaric acid) and base (baking soda) are built into one product.So Baking Powder is a combination of an acid and a base. Even in a powder form, they interact and over time (6-9 months) your baking powder may lose its ability to "lift" biscuits and cakes. Esp if you live in a humid environment.

The flour and water of the cake provide a paste and flavoring that can trap the gasses produced and you have rise.If you let the cake dough sit on the counter, it would be bubbling away after just a few minutes but the gases would quickly escape to the air. The heat of the oven "sets" the cake and voila-a light, airy cake.

Chemistry plays an important role in a lot of our lives. It is good to understand at least the basic ideas so you can use the info to design other fun projects.

Have delicious fun!