Cream of tartar is the common name for potassium bitartrate or potassium hydrogen tartrate (KC4H5O6), a white cleaning and cooking ingredient. It gets its name because it is a potassium salt of tartaric acid. Here is a collection of cream of tartar facts, including its uses, its shelf life, and how to substitute for it in recipes.
Where Cream of Tartar Comes From
Cream of tartar is a powdery, acidic byproduct of winemaking. It crystallizes out of grape juice during fermentation and sometimes precipitates out of chilled juice. You may find cream of tartar on wine bottle corks if storage conditions are cool. The crude crystals are called beeswing. Filtering beeswing through cheesecloth and purification makes cream of tartar.
Cream of Tartar Uses in Cooking
Cream of tartar serves many uses in cooking:
- In baking, cream of tartar is a weak acid that reacts with baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), making carbon dioxide bubbles that help baked goods rise. Some types of baking powder contain cream of tartar. The ingredients in baking powder react when mixing the dry and liquid ingredients.
- Because of its acidity, cream of tartar also adds a tart flavor to food.
- Adding cream of tartar to egg whites helps stabilize them and protect them from overbeating.
- Adding a pinch of cream of tartar to vegetables helps them keep their color during blanching.
- Frosting, candy, and meringues include cream of tartar because it helps prevent sugar from recrystallizing. This gives them a shiny and smooth texture and appearance.
Cream of Tartar Substitute in Cooking
How you substitute cream of tartar largely depends on what you’re using it for.
- The best cream of tartar substitute for stabilizing egg whites is beating the egg whites in a copper bowl. Copper ions from the bowl combine with albumin in eggs whites, forming a complex that does not denature or split easily as whipped egg whites without copper. Another cream of tartar substitute is using 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice per egg white.
- If its purpose is adding tartness to a recipe, substitute lemon juice or vinegar for cream of tartar. Use twice as much lemon juice or vinegar as cream of tartar. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon cream of tartar, add 2 teaspoons lemon juice instead.
- If you suspect cream of tartar is the acidic ingredient in a baking recipe, the easiest substitution is lemon juice or vinegar. Use twice as much lemon juice or vinegar as the amount of cream of tartar. This substitution does not significantly impact flavor, but it does add a small amount of liquid.
- Baking powder is another excellent substitute for cream of tartar. Baking powder contains additional ingredients, so you need to use a bit more of it. Use 1-1/2 teaspoons of baking powder to replace 1 teaspoon of cream of tartar. This substitution can add a slight salty or metallic flavor from the sodium bicarbonate in the baking powder.
- Other cream of tartar substitutes include buttermilk or yogurt. For example, if you run out of cream of tartar and a recipe uses milk, simply replace the milk with buttermilk.
- If you run out of baking soda, substitute a mixture of cream of tartar and baking soda. Use 2 parts cream of tartar and 1 part baking soda. For example, mixing 1 teaspoon cream of tartar and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda makes 1-1/2 teaspoons of homemade baking powder.
Cream of Tartar Uses in Cleaning
Mixing cream of tartar with another acidic ingredient, such as white vinegar or lemon juice, makes a paste that removes stains from porcelain and shines brass, aluminum, and copper. For example, you can easily remove discoloration from a metal coffee pot using cream of tartar and vinegar. Mixing cream of tartar with hydrogen peroxide makes a cleaning paste effective at removing rust from iron and steel tools.
Unlike baking powder and baking soda, cream of tartar is stable. It remains good indefinitely, stored in a sealed container in a dry, cool place.
Health and Safety
Generally speaking, cream of tartar is safe and non-toxic. However, ingesting large quantities can cause hyperkalemia, or an excess of potassium. This is not a concern in recipes. Rather, the risk occurs when people use cream of tartar as purgative.
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- McGee, Harold (2004). On Food and Cooking : The Science and Lore of the Kitchen (2nd ed.). Scribner. ISBN 978-0-684-80001-1.
- Provost, Joseph J.; Colabroy, Keri L.; Kelly, Brenda S.; Wallert, Mark A. (2016). The Science of Cooking : Understanding the Biology and Chemistry behind Food and Cooking. John Wiley and Sons, Inc. ISBN 9781118674208.
- Rusyniak, Daniel E.; Durant, Pamela J.; Mowry, James B.; Johnson, Jo A.; Sanftleben, Jayne A.; Smith, Joanne M. (2013). “Life-Threatening Hyperkalemia from Cream of Tartar Ingestion”. Journal of Medical Toxicology. 9 (1): 79–81. doi:10.1007/s13181-012-0255-x