What Does Baking Soda Do in Cookies?

If you’re making a fresh batch of cookies, you’ll likely notice a few standard components on the ingredient list: flour, sugar, and baking soda (although baking soda is typically listed alongside baking powder, as they’re both usually required for top-notch results). But why add baking soda?

Baking soda is a key ingredient in cookies because it allows the cookies to spread easier, browns them beautifully, enhances overall flavor, and increases tenderness. It can also help the cookies to rise, creating the perfect fluffy cookie. 

Hey, there! My name’s Michelle, and I’m a home baker with ten years of experience. I’ve made plenty of cookies in my day, and I’m quite familiar with baking soda. Yet, I wanted to learn more about what this ingredient does for my goodies. I’m here to share my findings.

Check out what baking soda does in cookies below!

How Does Baking Soda Affect Cookies? Five Ways

Baking soda is a make-it-or-break-it ingredient in your recipe, so you don’t want to dismiss it. But how exactly does baking soda affect cookies? Why is it so important? Let’s take a closer look at the five ways baking soda affects cookies.

1. Allows Cookies to Spread Easier

One of the biggest problems people run into is cookies that won’t spread. Now, this can be caused by many things, such as using too much flour or baking at the wrong temperature. However, it can also be caused by not using baking soda.

Essentially, baking soda delays the setting process. In turn, cookies take longer to firm up. At the same time, this makes it easier for certain ingredients – such as butter and liquid ingredients – to melt and spread, creating the ideal spread for cookies.

This also means that your cookies will bake more evenly. And that is an essential piece of the puzzle when baking cookies. Otherwise, you could end up with burnt edges and a too-soft middle. Yuck.

2. Browns the Cookies

The addition of baking soda produces the Maillard reaction. And I know what you’re thinking – What on earth is the Maillard reaction? 

Well, the Mallaird reaction is a complex one that scientists are still trying to grasp fully. Simply put, it’s a series of minor and simultaneous chemical reactions that occur when the proteins and sugars of cookies (and other foods) are transformed by heat. The transformation results in a new assortment of colors (browning) and flavors. 

So, by adding baking soda to your cookies, you can create the Maillard reaction in your treats, thus producing the famous and desirable “browning” on your cookies. Not only does this browning look great, but it tastes incredible.

3. Enhances the Flavor

Baking soda is a salt composed of a sodium cation (Na+) and a bicarbonate anion (HCO3). And I don’t know about you, but I’m a huge fan of salt. It just makes everything taste better. And apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks so – research has proven that salt enhances the flavor!

With that in mind, it’s clear to see the connection between baking soda and flavor. Go ahead – try and bake your cookies without baking soda. The taste will be sub-par if that.

4. Increases Tenderness

Some people prefer really chewy cookies. Others (like me) enjoy something a little more soft and tender. For those who want to increase the tenderness of their cookies, baking soda is the best way to do it.

How does this work?

Well, baking soda increases pH levels while simultaneously reducing gluten. The result? Delightfully tender baked goods, such as cookies that you won’t be able to take your hands off of.

5. Helps With the Rise and Overall Fluffiness

There is nothing quite like sinking your teeth into a fluffy cookie with the ideal amount of “rise.” And most people are well aware that this is only possible due to leavening agents, such as baking soda and baking powder.

But did you know that baking soda, alone, won’t work as a leavener?

Baking soda does not contain an acidic component, like baking powder. Therefore, if you’re using baking soda in a recipe that needs to rise, you’ll need to add an acidic element, such as buttermilk, lemon juice, brown sugar, etc.

With that said, baking soda can be an excellent leavening agent for your cookies – but it can’t work alone. That’s why I always recommend following your recipe to a T. Otherwise, you might end up with a decidedly mediocre goodie.


Needless to say, baking soda is an essential ingredient for your cookie recipe. So, if your recipe calls for it, make sure you don’t forget it. Oh, and before you run off to make a fresh batch of cookies, check out these interesting questions!

What happens if you don’t add baking soda to cookies?

If you omit baking soda without a suitable replacement, your cookies will be dense, flat, and lacking the desired flavor. It’s clear that you don’t want to leave out baking soda if your recipe calls for it.

Is it better to use baking powder or baking soda in cookies?

Personally, I like to use both as I want to get the effects of both components in my cookies. However, it’s best to follow along with your chosen recipe. It will likely have baking soda, baking powder, or both.

Does baking soda make cookies fluffy?

Baking soda is a leavening agent that can help make your cookies fluffy, but they require an acid in order to create the carbon dioxide that’s necessary for helping the cookies rise. Baking powder, on the other hand, will leaven cookies without any additional ingredients.

Baking Soda is a Must for Cookie Recipes!

If your cookie recipe calls for baking soda, use it. Baking soda is beneficial for cookies in many ways, from creating the perfect rise and spread to browning the cookies and giving them a serious flavor enhancement.

Do you use baking soda in your cookie recipes? Share why or why not below!

About Michelle
I have been a lover of sweets since day one. This led me on a self-taught baking journey starting at the age of 13. It's been over 10 years since the start of my baking adventures, and I’ve learned a lot along the way. Now, people rave about my delectable treats, whether it’s a chocolate cake or a strawberry crepe.

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