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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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  • T. Martin
    July 1, 2008

    Thanks for this very informative post… Do you know what the shelf life is for Cream of Tartar?

  • Delicious Chroncles
    July 1, 2008

    thanx, very usefull info… for everyone i guess!!

  • TheMatt
    July 1, 2008

    T. Martin,

    As long as it stays dry, Cream of Tartar has an infinite shelf life, just like salt and sugar.

  • Great post — this is something I always have in my pantry, but I’m never 100% sure what it is and always have to look it up.

  • Make and Takes
    July 2, 2008

    Great explanation for Cream of Tartar. The only time I’ve ever used it is to make Homemade Play-doh! Oh, and a really thick Gingerbread house frosting.

  • zahra
    August 10, 2008

    Great explanation!!! Instead of using cream of tarter can you use biocarbonate soda instead. Thankz.

  • Treefrog
    January 25, 2009

    Thanks for helping me out i always see cream of tartar and i had no idea what it was. And thanks again.

  • ATG
    February 20, 2009

    Great!.. i was baking a cake and someone asked me wat is cream of tartar.. i was like i have no clue!.. this post was very helpful…thanxs again…!

  • Memoria
    April 25, 2009

    Could you tell me why it is always required in Snickerdoodles? Thanks!

  • lala
    July 2, 2009

    i really didnt get it but i never knew it was a byproduct of wine thanks

  • James Joyce
    July 21, 2009

    Well researched site – love the kitchen gadgets! – Will look to incorporate some of your ideas into my site. Thanks!

  • Sally Jean
    August 2, 2009

    veryy usefull yall’

  • blk
    December 12, 2009

    The person who said you can substitute baking soda for cream of tartar is mistaken. Baking soda is alkaline and cream of tartar is acidic. The chemistry is completely different and they can never be substituted for each other.

  • I am very enjoyed for this blog. Its an informative topic. It help me very much to solve some problems. Its opportunity are so fantastic and working style so speedy. I think it may be help all of you. Thanks.

  • Adjustable Beds Frame
    May 5, 2010

    Thanks a lot for enjoying this beauty blog with me. I am appreciating it very much! Looking forward to another great blog. Good luck to the author! all the best!

  • iphone wallpapers mics
    May 21, 2010

    usually keep my milkshakes nice and simple. Ice cream, milk, and a few extra fruits or syrups for flavoring, depending on what I’m in the mood for.

  • SEO
    May 21, 2010

    These look a lot like a Jewish baked good called Kichel, only shaped differently!

  • SEO Professionals
    May 21, 2010

    I live in Australia and I’d never heard of snickerdoodles except on American TV shows. Thanks for the recipe, they sound delicious and I can’t wait to try them and introduce them over here. 🙂

  • I had no idea what chouquettes were until I read Muriel Barbery’s Une gourmandise (”Gourmet Rhapsody is the English title). Now I think I have to make them!

  • nannette
    August 4, 2010

    Thank you for the info; I’ve used Cream of Tartar in meringues for years, but had no clue as to what it really was. I am cooking for a friend who is highly allergic to wheat, so i wanted to be sure it was okay., Am glad it is!

  • john humphreys
    October 22, 2010

    dos cream of tartar make toffee hard on toffee apples.

  • Annie Nichols
    July 28, 2011

    But why does it get added to drinks like ginger beer or some cordials? (It’s not for preservation.)

    There’s talk about it helping to stop sugar crystallisation, but that’s unlikely as there is usually a large amount of water in the recipes for cordials and squashes.

    Does it alter the flavour?

    Any idea anyone?

  • macadou
    November 10, 2011

    what effect does cream of tarter have on kidneys was told it helps your kidneys, is there any truth in this?

  • susanna
    April 7, 2012

    Wow i never imagined that cream of tartar was made from stuff inside wine barrels, cream of tartar always gives my cake a dash of amazing flavor!

  • tanmakhan
    April 14, 2012

    What can I use instead ofcream of tartar if I dont have any

  • Taylor
    September 5, 2012

    I am making the south beach diet chilled expresso custard. It calls for this. But do I really need it is it necessary?

  • Laci
    September 10, 2012

    Taylor it will help make your custard creamier. I wouldn’t leave it out. It also helps with leavening( rising, fluff) a custard.

  • Laura
    October 7, 2012

    Does cream of tartar have glutin in.Thank you

  • foolofgrace
    November 27, 2012

    Re: shelf life — I used my 40-year-old cream of tartar (in its original McCormick tin) in two souffle recipes the other day, and although the egg whites did beat well, both souffles (different recipes) had a metallic aftertaste. I’m going to buy new cream of tartar and try again to check. So, it might still be effective, but it might taste funny.

  • Michael
    November 29, 2012

    It probably had the metal taste from sitting in the tin for that long. I’m betting that a food safe plastic container would not produce that flavor.

  • Emma
    December 21, 2012

    You learn something new every day! Thanks 🙂

  • Debbie Osborn
    January 1, 2013

    Someone recently suggested I use a bit of Cream Tartar to keep my whipped cream from separating. I just tried it today, and it seems to have given my whipped cream a slightly acidic taste. Curiosity led me here, and now I understand why. Thank you so much!

  • lily
    January 4, 2013

    In the past, I would whip eggwhites as it is for my waffles and the eggwhites would be remain a little soft. But a friend of mine added cream of tartar to her egg whites to make chiffon cake a few days ago. So today, I whipped the egg whites with cream of tartar for the first time for use in my waffles. The whipped egg whites were really firm and when used in the waffle recipe, made the waffles really light and crispy. Delicious.

  • Margaret Hinshaw
    February 3, 2013

    My mother always put cream of tartar in the mashed potatoes. I suppose this was to make them creamier or fluffier.

  • Char
    February 5, 2013

    Thanks for the info! We have been getting migraines when we make “Biscuits Supreme” from a recipe which calls for Cream of Tartar. Now we know — foods that are aged can cause migraines.

  • Karen McDonald
    February 18, 2013

    You can also use Cream of Tartar for cleaning stainless steel pans. I have Emeril cookware and it works wonders on the bottom and inside of them.

  • Tuiweni
    February 22, 2013

    Loved this post. Thank you. I loved reading allthe comments on here from everyone as well. Little tid bits of ideas to add to my baking knowledge so thanks to you all too.

  • Mary
    March 7, 2013

    can we use bakeing soda instead of Cream of tartar?

  • Mary
    March 7, 2013

    for example in French macarons?

  • Nicole
    March 7, 2013

    Mary – Traditional French macarons don’t typically use any leavening agents besides whipped egg whites/meringues, so I would suggest doing a little experimentation of your own if you want to try adding them.


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