Is Cornstarch the Same as Baking Powder?

Needing baking powder in your recipe but all you’ve got is some cornstarch in your pantry? I know, they look alike, feel similar, and it’s tempting to add it in and just get on with the next step. 

But while baking powder contains cornstarch, it can NOT be used to replace cornstarch and vice versa. 

I’m Angie, I’m a self-taught baker and I’ve been baking since I was a teen. Where I’m from, some baking ingredients can be hard to come by and I had to learn to improvise. I’d love to share some of my tips and tricks with you. 

In this article, I will explain what baking powder and cornstarch are, explain if they’re the same, and show you how you can possibly get away with replacing one with another.

Let’s get baking!

What is Baking Powder?

Baking powder is a dry leavening agent used frequently in baking. It’s a mixture of baking soda (aka sodium bicarbonate), cream of tartar, and cornstarch. 

When the base (sodium bicarbonate) and the acid (cream of tartar) are combined with water, a chemical reaction is initiated which creates carbon dioxide. This reaction helps baked treats increase in size and volume.

What part does cornstarch play in this?

We want the reaction described above to happen when we want it to. That’s where cornstarch comes in. It is there to prevent the acid and the base from reacting with each other too soon. It does so by absorbing any moisture that the mixture might be exposed to. 

What is Cornstarch?

Cornstarch, also known as corn flour, is a starch powder that’s extracted from the endosperm of corn. Like many starches, cornstarch is used to absorb moisture. 

In cooking, cornstarch is often used as a thickening agent as it thickens sauces and stews when heated. 

How They Differ

The most obvious difference between cornstarch and baking powder is that the first is primarily a thickening agent while the latter is considered a leavening agent. They serve entirely different purposes when they’re added to other ingredients. 

Can you Replace Baking Powder with Cornstarch?

You cannot replace baking powder with cornstarch, but you can certainly make baking powder with cornstarch. Here’s a super easy homemade baking powder recipe that I like to follow: 

  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch

This recipe yields 4 teaspoons of baking powder.

Can you Replace Cornstarch with Baking Powder?

Because there is cornstarch in baking powder, you might think that it can be used as a replacement. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. 

The amount of cornstarch that is in baking powder is not substantial enough to cause the same thickening effect as regular cornstarch would. 

Even if you are to add it in larger quantities, the taste of your food will very much be affected as other ingredients in baking powder gives it a bitter, slightly salty, and sour taste. 


Here are some other questions you might be wondering about cornstarch and baking powder. 

What can I use as a substitute for cornstarch?

Depending on the purpose cornstarch serves in your recipe, you may need a different substitute. In most cases, cornstarch is used as a thickening agent in baking and cooking and it can be replaced with potato starch, arrowroot flour, rice flour, and other similar types of starch. 

What can be used in place of baking powder?

Baking powder is a leavening agent in baking. You can substitute it with another leavening agent that can produce the same effect, such as baking soda. You can also make your own baking powder following this simple recipe.

Final Thoughts

Other than the fact that they’re both powdery and white, there is hardly anything similar between cornstarch and baking powder. If you’re debating whether you need both in the pantry, the answer is a big YES. 

If you have any other questions on this topic, feel free to comment down below and I’ll get back to you shortly!

About Angie
I am a self-taught baker. I’ve been baking for over 10 years and started my own home baking business as a side hustle. I was born in Hong Kong and spent a pretty big chunk of my life in Canada. If you’re ever looking for me, I am probably there whisking vigorously away in the kitchen.

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  • Dawn

    Why would you use cornstarch and baking soda in a cookie recipe over baking powder and baking soda?

    • Michelle

      Hi Dawn,
      This information is essentially sharing whether or not cornstarch can be used instead of baking powder, which it can’t. However, if you don’t have any baking powder on hand for your cookie recipe, you can make your own baking powder using cornstarch (and a few other ingredients).