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What is Cream of Tartar?

Amy Pollick
Updated May 16, 2024
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Before baking soda and baking powder were available, cooks often kept their baked goods from being heavy by using cream of tartar. This is the common name for potassium hydrogen tartrate and is essentially an acidic salt. It is manufactured by mixing potassium hydroxide with tartaric acid. For centuries, it has been formed from the sediment left over in barrels after the winemaking process.

Cream of tartar is found in some baking powder, and is often used to help stabilize egg whites and to produce creamy frostings and candy. If a cook is out of baking powder, he can substitute cream of tartar and baking soda, carefully, to mimic the action of baking powder, which is actually formed from these two compounds. However, homemade baking powder can pack a kick, so it should be substituted with great care. This is how most cooks made their baking powder before it became commercially available.

Cooks can often find cream of tartar in the spices or baking section of most grocery stores, and it's available from many spice retailers. Even a small container will last for some time, since very little is usually needed for the desired results. White vinegar or lemon juice can be substituted for cream of tartar, but it takes about three times more vinegar to produce the right amount of acidity.

Cream of tartar also has other household applications. It can be used to clean brass and copper cookware. It is also helpful in removing stains from sinks and bathtubs. Combined with hydrogen peroxide, it can remove even the most stubborn rust stains without scratching a delicate surface. Consumers should always test the solution in an inconspicuous area first, however, to ensure its suitability for use on that surface.

Recipes using cream of tartar are available online. When kept away from heat and light, its shelf life is indefinite, making it a good buy. This unassuming baking aid is a useful addition to any kitchen.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Amy Pollick
By Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at DelightedCooking. With experience in various roles and numerous articles under her belt, she crafts compelling content that informs and engages readers across various platforms on topics of all levels of complexity.
Discussion Comments
By anon172676 — On May 04, 2011

Is there any dairy product in cream of tarter? --de

By anon126487 — On Nov 13, 2010

It can also be used with fresh fruit like apples/bananas,to keep them from turning brown,after being cut.we use in our kitchen,in eggs to keep them from turning 'green',on our steam table. It has many uses. Randy, North Idaho

By anon106864 — On Aug 27, 2010

Do you need cream of tartar to make meringue frothy?

By anon92130 — On Jun 26, 2010

Can cream of tartar be used alone instead of with bicarbonate of soda? This would be useful for someone who is supposed to avoid all types of soda and salt.

By anon64405 — On Feb 07, 2010

Cream of tartar is really good to use and i use it all the time!

By cary — On Jul 07, 2009

Although I'd seen cream of tartar called for in meringues, I hadn't ever bothered to use it until I found a sugar cookie recipe that called for it. It's a great recipe, and I'm sure the cream of tartar does what it's supposed to do, but I really wonder why it didn't just call for baking powder.

Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at DelightedCooking...
Learn more
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