Cream 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.
T. MartinJuly 1, 2008
Thanks for this very informative post… Do you know what the shelf life is for Cream of Tartar?
Delicious ChronclesJuly 1, 2008
thanx, very usefull info… for everyone i guess!!
TheMattJuly 1, 2008
As long as it stays dry, Cream of Tartar has an infinite shelf life, just like salt and sugar.
Lydia (The Perfect Pantry)July 1, 2008
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 TakesJuly 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.
zahraAugust 10, 2008
Great explanation!!! Instead of using cream of tarter can you use biocarbonate soda instead. Thankz.
TreefrogJanuary 25, 2009
Thanks for helping me out i always see cream of tartar and i had no idea what it was. And thanks again.
ATGFebruary 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…!
MemoriaApril 25, 2009
Could you tell me why it is always required in Snickerdoodles? Thanks!
lalaJuly 2, 2009
i really didnt get it but i never knew it was a byproduct of wine thanks
James JoyceJuly 21, 2009
Well researched site – love the kitchen gadgets! – Will look to incorporate some of your ideas into my site. Thanks!
Sally JeanAugust 2, 2009
veryy usefull yall’
blkDecember 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.
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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.
SEOMay 21, 2010
These look a lot like a Jewish baked good called Kichel, only shaped differently!
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I live in Australia and Iâ€™d never heard of snickerdoodles except on American TV shows. Thanks for the recipe, they sound delicious and I canâ€™t wait to try them and introduce them over here. 🙂
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I had no idea what chouquettes were until I read Muriel Barberyâ€™s Une gourmandise (â€Gourmet Rhapsody is the English title). Now I think I have to make them!
nannetteAugust 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 humphreysOctober 22, 2010
dos cream of tartar make toffee hard on toffee apples.
Annie NicholsJuly 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?
macadouNovember 10, 2011
what effect does cream of tarter have on kidneys was told it helps your kidneys, is there any truth in this?
susannaApril 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!
tanmakhanApril 14, 2012
What can I use instead ofcream of tartar if I dont have any
TaylorSeptember 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?
LaciSeptember 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.
LauraOctober 7, 2012
Does cream of tartar have glutin in.Thank you
foolofgraceNovember 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.
MichaelNovember 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.
EmmaDecember 21, 2012
You learn something new every day! Thanks 🙂
Debbie OsbornJanuary 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!
lilyJanuary 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 HinshawFebruary 3, 2013
My mother always put cream of tartar in the mashed potatoes. I suppose this was to make them creamier or fluffier.
CharFebruary 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 McDonaldFebruary 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.
TuiweniFebruary 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.
MaryMarch 7, 2013
can we use bakeing soda instead of Cream of tartar?
MaryMarch 7, 2013
for example in French macarons?
NicoleMarch 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.