Cornstarch vs. Baking Powder | What Are the Differences?

You’ve got this cool recipe that you want to try right now. But you don’t have cornstarch, one of its core ingredients. Instead, what you have in your pantry is some baking powder. Now, cornstarch vs. baking powder, as far as look and feet are concerned, they’ve got so much in common.

So, what should you do? Go out and buy some cornstarch, or replace it with baking powder? To get you out of this dilemma, we’ve explained in detail what these two are, what functions they have in cooking, and how much they can substitute for each other, if at all.

What Is Cornstarch, and Where Is It Used?

What Is Cornstarch

Cornstarch, also known as corn flour, is a white powder with almost no taste or odor. It’s derived from corn endosperm. In simpler terms, it’s extracted from the kernels of corn grains. Like most other starches, corn flour is a superb thickening agent. This is because of the high amount of moisture cornstarch can absorb when heated.

In addition to its thickening effect, cornstarch can make fried food highly crispy. It can marinate both meat and fish. You can supplement the flour of Shortbread with it. Cornstarch is also widely used in fried rice dishes.

What Is Baking Powder, and What Is It Used For?

What Is Baking Powder

Baking powder is a dry white powder primarily used as a leavening agent. Leavening agents are baking ingredients that cause the dough or batter to expand by releasing gasses that render the baked food porous.

How does that happen? The baking powder is a mixture of bicarbonate base, weak acid, and a delaying agent. Furthermore, the cornstarch and cream of tartar are respectively the delaying agents and the acid.

The bicarbonate base, usually sodium bicarbonate, reacts with the acid and generates carbon dioxide when it comes in contact with water.

This released gas is responsible for the porous structure of baked treats. The carbon dioxide also helps the baked foods to increase in size. As for the cornstarch, it absorbs the surplus moisture of the mixture and thus delays the reaction till a suitable time.

The Difference Between Cornstarch and Baking Powder

Now that we’ve explained what cornstarch and baking powder are and their uses, you can see that baking powder and cornstarch are significantly different despite their apparent similarities. To make the issue even clearer, let’s go for a topic-by-topic contrast.

Chemical Differences

Cornstarch is a thickening agent. That means, when applied, it increases the viscosity of liquids without substantial changes to their properties. On the other hand, baking powder is a leavening agent. When mixed with liquids and acids, it reacts with them and releases gasses such as carbon dioxide.

Effects on the Food

Cornstarch is a thickening agent, that thickens the stew by absorbing the water molecules. Absorption happens because of the reaction between the starch and water.

In contrast, baking powder doesn’t absorb water so much; instead, it reacts with water and acid to release carbon dioxide. The gas, when released, expands through the food, creates pores, and puffs up the dough.


You can use cornstarch as a thickening agent in gravy, pies, and even ice cream! It’s also used for producing baking powder; more of that later. As for the baking powder, it’s used for leavening/puffing up bread, pastries, cakes, etc.

Can Baking Powder Replace Cornstarch?

As mentioned above, baking powder does contain some cornstarch. This sometimes leads some to believe that baking powder can be used as a substitute for cornstarch. Well, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

First, the cornstarch baking powder is too low to provide any substantial thickening effect. If you’re thinking about pouring it in large quantities, forget it!

The other ingredients of baking powder, especially the cream of tartar, will give the food a bitter and sour taste. So, replacing cornstarch with baking powder is a recipe for disaster!

Can Cornstarch Substitute Baking Powder?

The answer is an emphatic NO! Why? Because cornstarch simply cannot generate the baking powder’s leavening effect. Instead of puffing up the dough, the cornstarch will thicken it.

But all is not lost; you can produce baking powder using cornstarch if you have just two other items: cream of tartar and baking soda. You’ll get four-unit baking powder from two units of cream of tartar, one unit of baking soda, and one unit of cornstarch.

Notice that baking powder contains only 25% cornstarch, so it cannot make up for the other ingredients.

Questions We Often Get

You clearly know what cornstarch and baking powder are, their ingredients, uses, and differences. If you still have some other queries, check out these questions we often get.

1. What can be used in place of cornstarch?

We don’t recommend substituting any ingredient with another. Because this will affect different properties of the food, that being said, to replace cornstarch in any recipe, you’ll have to use some other type of stretch. Depending on the specific recipe, it can be arrowroot flour, potato stretch, rice flour, or other stretches similar to cornstarch.

2. What can I use as a substitute for baking powder?

You may use baking soda to replace the baking powder. It’s a reasonably good leavening agent. Even better! You can use your homemade baking powder.

Final Words

All things said and done, you simply cannot replace cornstarch with baking powder or the other way around. Despite the looks, there’s a world of difference between the two. 

So, if you’re in for some serious cooking and baking, you must have both of them close at hand. Thus, it shouldn’t be cornstarch vs. baking powder. Instead, it should be cornstarch and baking powder.

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