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What Is Cream of Tartar?

Updated on July 6, 2011
Meringue Made Using Cream of Tartar photo: Thomas Hawk
Meringue Made Using Cream of Tartar photo: Thomas Hawk

What Is Cream of Tartar? How Is Cream of Tartar Made?

Cream of tartar is generally located in the majority of supermarkets within the baking or spice section. However, many individuals do not use it adequately enough to be knowledgeable about it. It's not actually a cream. Cream of tartar is very valuable for baking light, fluffy desserts.

Cream of tartar is technically called potassium hydrogen tartate. Cream of tartar is a whitened, powdery material. It is actually a crystalline type of tartaric acid. It's produced any time tartaric acid is neutralized together with potassium hydroxide.

Grapes are the only organic supply of tartaric acid. It is produced from the remaining deposits which naturally accumulate inside wine kegs following the grape fermentation process. The deposits afterward will be refined into an acid salt.

Most Frequent Uses for Cream of Tartar

Cream of tartar has acidic attributes making it helpful for a number of cooking uses. Lots of people worrry about cooking foods together with acid, however cream of tartar doesn't have any higher acid content than most frequently consumed foods.

Cream of tartar most often performs in a couple of capacities. First, it is used as a stabilizer for egg whites because egg whites tend to be somewhat alkaline in the first place. Simply reducing the actual pH level of the egg whites balances albumin, the main proteins found in egg whites. Egg proteins include liquids which stop the incorporation of air. Without adding more air, foods are usually too dense and don't have any volume.

Whenever cream of tartar is whipped into eggs, the proteins end up lighter in weight, and enables the whipped eggs to stay fluffy. It also prevents the collapse that sometimes occurs due to beating so much. Egg whites whipped using cream of tartar frequently are used for meringues.

Cream of tartar can also be used to increase smoothness to foods such as candies, icings, and gelatins since it prevents sugar from becoming crystallized when it's cooked. Sugars normally have a rough consistency which becomes smoother when it is warmed and the sugar molecules divide. Any time sugar molecules return to their normal formation, it's called crystallization. Crystallization creates a grainy consistency.

Mixes which contain sugars, like candies or frosting, may have a tough consistency if an acidic component such as cream of tartar isn't added. If cream of tartar is included along with the sugar, the acid in the cream of tartar prevents the sugar molecules from separating and crystallizing, resulting in smooth and shiny mixes.

Cream of tartar may also be used for an acid resource combined with baking soda to supply leavening. It's just like putting vinegar in baking soda and it starts fizzing. Simply by using a solid acid source rather than a liquid one, it is possible to include them right into a batter or dough and retain the carbon dioxide within the mix. The cream of tartar forms air pockets through the entire batter when it's warming up inside the oven. The distribution of air bubbles helps prevent cakes as well as other desserts from getting too heavy.

Cream of Tartar and Baking Powder

Cream of tartar frequently can be an active component in baking powder. Baking powder generally is a combination of corn starch, baking soda, and cream of tartar. The combination is often put into baked goods to ensure they stay light and airy. Cream of tartar is generally the leavening agent in baking powder. This is why when baking powder is combined with baking soda in baked goods, the recipe rises.

How to Make Meringue Shells With Cream of Tartar Video

Other Uses for Cream of Tartar

Color Preservation

Any time vegetables are boiled, they will frequently suffer a loss of color and end up looking faded and unattractive. Cream of tartar may be included in the boiling water so that you can help avoid boiled veggies from fading. Because cream of tartar is an acid, it can maintain vegetable colors and help lessen browning, which sometimes results. Just a pinch of cream of tartar is all that is normally required to maintain vegetable color. It doesn't affect the flavor.


Food additives are substances found in processed food to increase the shelf life by protecting against deterioration or separation of ingredients. Cream of tartar frequently is a primary additive  within prepared foods like carbonated products, baked goods, desserts, candies, and gelatin. It will help keep sugar molecules intact, so foods may preserve their taste and consistency. With no acidic ingredient such as cream of tartar added, foods can have reduced shelf lives since they will taste dull and be aesthetically unappealing.


Finally, cream of tartar can also be used to scrub brass as well as copper cooking equipment.

Cream of Tartar Substitute, Storage and Expiration Date

There isn't any accurate replacement for cream of tartar. In a pinch, you could possibly try vinegar or perhaps fresh lemon juice, but the liquid properties of them instead of the powdery qualities of cream of tartar will often have an adverse effect on the recipe.

Cream of tartar will keep indefinitely when stored firmly shut, as well as kept away from heat sources.

What Is Cream of Tartar? Comments

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    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 7 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Excellent, very useful information. I've never used cream of tartar to try to preserve vegetable color, so I'm going to give that a shot. Also, I didn't know where it came from or how long it would last. Voted up and "useful".

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      Thank you for the information which I never knew. I often wondered.

    • liswilliams profile image

      liswilliams 7 years ago from South Africa

      this is really well explained, awesome writing