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What is cream of tartar?

cream of tartarCream of tartar, more technically known as potassium hydrogen tartrate, is a fine white powder with many culinary applications. It is a byproduct of the winemaking process as the powder forms inside wine barrels during fermentation. It comes from tartaric acid, a naturally occurring substance in grapes and some other tart fruits that in the principle acid in winemaking. It helps to help control the pH of fermenting grape juice (wine) and that also acts as a preservative for the wine.

Tartaric acid has been used in winemaking for centuries (when separated from grapes and purified, it is a white powder that is similar to cream of tartar) and cream of tartar has been around just as long, put to use by creative cooks in a variety of culinary applications. It is an acid and it is often used as a major component in baking powder, combined with baking soda to react when the mixture is moistened to ensure that baked goods will rise well. Although it is an acid, the cream of tartar and the baking soda will not react when dry, so the entire reaction is saved for the mixing bowl and the oven. This is very similar to the reaction produced by baking powder in most recipes.

In addition to helping to leaven baked goods, cream of tartar is used as a stabilizing agent and is added to beaten egg whites to increase their stability and volume. It is also sometimes added to candies or frostings to give them a creamier texture because it can help to prevent the crystallization of cooked sugar.

In some situations, vinegar can be substituted for cream of tartar, although there is no exact substitute for the powder. This can be done when beating egg whites or making meringue, and it can also be done in a baking recipe that calls for separate measures of cream of tartar and baking soda. For candy making, it is best to refer to the recipe and see if substitutions will work because the recipes are often very sensitive to substitutions.

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72 Comments
  • Mary
    March 8, 2013

    Nicole – thank you for answer ^_^

  • Zeny
    March 20, 2013

    How many tsps should I use for 6 egg whites? I’m experimenting to bake a coffee cake which calls for cream of tartar.

  • juju
    April 1, 2013

    I’m wondering about how much cream of tartar per egg white also. And, is the cream or tarter what makes snickerdoodles soooo much creamier tasting than other sugar cookies? Thanks!

  • Hello
    July 5, 2013

    I want to make toffe apples but don’t have any creame tartar, what can i use instead.

  • Dorohy
    July 29, 2013

    My grandson was working with cream of tartar while making playdoh for a church project. He apparently is allergic to it as his feet grew warm and very red. This went away when he removed himself from the project. Why would this be?

  • Clifford Hallett
    October 23, 2013

    My mother never put Cream Tartar with Pavolova

  • Momma Tish
    December 1, 2013

    Stepping “outside of the box” (or kitchen), for those of us who make soap and various other bath essentials, Cream of Tartar can be substituted in your formulas for Citric Acid when making those famous Bath Bombs or any fizzing bath products.

  • Randy Chappel
    December 21, 2013

    Thanks for the information; it was very interesting. I was told once-upon-a-time that it came from Russian/Ukrainian Tartars! But there weren’t too many left in this day and age; so the stuff is harder and harder to get, which in turn would get very expensive. Czars are out too! So cream of Czars became extinct too! Man I believe anything when I was a kid!

  • penny
    December 22, 2013

    I also need cream of tartar for a recipe of turkish delight, but do not have any. Does anyone know if it will make a difference if I leave it out, or what I can use to replace it?

  • Angelina
    April 18, 2014

    Some where along the way of years of baking, ect. I thought that I heard, that if you add some cream of tartar to your chocolate chip cookie recipe or any cookies that you would like to be much thicker after baked would do the trick. Has anyone heard of this?

  • Roberta
    October 12, 2014

    Thank you for the info on the Cream of Tartar, I am making pumpkin snicker doodles and it calls for cream of tartar…i wasnt sure what is was or how long it lates if I don’t use it very much. This will be my first time using it, so thanks for all the info on it. :o)

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