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Cream Of Tartar Substitutes: Your Best Options + Tips

Depending on what you are using it for, there are quite a few great cream of tartar substitutes that can help you accomplish your baking and candy-making goals!

Cream of tartar is often found in the baking aisle alongside other spices and is a key ingredient in lots of sweet desserts that are baked for all that it can do for the texture of a variety of candy and baked goods.

Meringue cookies and light pastries often use this ingredient to keep the egg whites light and airy and maintain that chewy texture.

Technically, cream of tartar is more chemical than spice, like how we use baking powder and baking soda.

Some may be surprised to find out that this is not a cream and is not related to tartar sauce.

The name comes from the potassium hydrogen tartrate, or potassium bitartrate, or tartaric acid that it is made of (Taste of Home).

However, when you are browsing for it in the store, you can look for just “cream of tartar”.

After you have seen all of the great ways it can help with baking, you will want to use it in everything.

However, we all face a day where we are in the middle of a recipe but realize a little too late that we are out of a key ingredient.

Fortunately, we are here to help when you face that situation!

Each substitute has its own pros and cons and they each have uses that they are a better fit for.

If you are unfamiliar with cream of tartar, here is an excellent FAQ with more information on the special powder including how to store it and tell if it has gone bad!

Here’s our list of six best substitutes for cream of tartar!

Table Of Contents

Cream of tartar substitutes and how to use them

1. Lemon Juice

Instructions: Use two teaspoons of lemon juice for one teaspoon of cream of tartar or ½ a teaspoon of lemon juice per egg white (The Pioneer Woman).

Thanks to the acidity of fresh lemon juice, it can help with replacing cream of tartar when you run out, especially with stabilizing egg whites.

This is especially good for getting the stiff peaks that are needed as well as preventing crystallization from syrups or frosting.

Keep in mind that you may get a little bit more of a lemony tang but it should not be overwhelming or even very noticeable.

2. Distilled White Vinegar

Instructions: Use one teaspoon of white vinegar for each teaspoon of cream of tartar.

Just like lemon juice, vinegar is also acidic which can help with stabilizing egg whites.

White vinegar usually has the least strong flavor of the different variants of vinegar so it may be a better choice if you don’t want too much of the strong flavor to sneak through your foods.

This may not be a good choice for baked goods that need a lighter flavor but there are some recipes where it can work well, like meringues (Allrecipes).

A good note to keep in mind is to watch out for the material of the dishware you are using for your baking since the acidic ingredients may cause a reaction to certain materials such as if you were to use a copper bowl.

3. Buttermilk

Instructions: For each ¼ teaspoon of cream of tartar, remove ½ cup of liquid from the original recipe and replace it with ½ cup of buttermilk.

Buttermilk is another great acidic substitute for cream of tartar, especially for baked goods.

You do want to replace some of the liquid already in the recipe with this so be mindful to reduce in another ingredient as you add this in.

Keep in all of the acidic liquid and replace something non-acidic, such as water or plain milk.

4. Yogurt

Instructions: Thin out your yogurt to the consistency of buttermilk by adding in milk; then for each ¼ teaspoon of cream of tartar, remove ½ cup of liquid and replace it with ½ cup of thinned out yogurt.

Using plain yogurt to replace cream of tartar is very handy but does require an extra step.

You will want to thin it out a bit so that it is the same consistency of buttermilk and it can be used with the same proportions.

Once again, you will want to reduce the amount of a non-acidic liquid as you add in your thinned out yogurt.

5. Corn Syrup

Instructions: Replace ¼ of the sugar in the recipe with corn syrup.

When the addition of cream of tartar is to prevent crystallization, such as syrups and cake frostings, corn syrup will be a good substitute.

If you see that the recipe calls for boiling sugar, this will be a good choice.

Your frostings, syrups, and even caramel will be much smoother with this substitution.

Corn syrup will not be a good choice for baked goods like many cakes or pastries but it does have its place in anything that needs to not be crystallized.

6. Baking Powder

Instructions: Use three parts baking powder ro replace two parts cream of tartar.

If you see both cream of tartar and baking soda used in a recipe, it can be swapped out for their resulting ingredient, baking powder.

These two products combined activate together and result in this common ingredient.

This is an especially great substitute for when you are worried about the taste or texture of your baked good changing since this will not impact it very much.

This is also a top choice when you need a leavening agent for your food so that you can get a risen and airy texture.

Since you are replacing two ingredients with one, this may even save a step or an extra purchase when you are at the grocery store.

Keep in mind that a lot of store bought baking powder is already made at a ratio of one part baking soda to two parts cream of tartar (Simply Recipes).

So what is cream of tartar made of exactly?

McCormick states that it “comes from very refined sediment of wine after the second fermentation.”

While it is white and powdery, cream of tartar cannot be substituted for:

  • Cornstarch
  • All-purpose flour
  • Powdered sugar

Cream of tartar is often confused for other products, and it is NOT:

  • Made with dairy of any kind, so it has no “cream” in it
  • Used to make tartar sauce, which is a mayonnaise-based sauce

Is cream of tartar gluten-free and vegan?

Since it is made of potassium hydroxide and tartaric acid, it is generally dairy-free and gluten-free if there is care being taken in the process to avoid cross-contamination (Veg Knowledge).

That said, a maker of cream of tartar, McCormick states that while it’s a single-ingredient item, it isn’t labeled as either gluten-free or vegan.

What does cream of tartar taste like?

Cream of tartar has no flavor on its own.

Generally, cream of tartar is not used for its flavor but rather for what it does when added to baked goods.

By itself, it lacks any noticeable taste.

When it is added to other ingredients you will notice an almost metallic flavor, but not to the point of turning you off of the food.

But if you accidentally add in too much cream of tartar, you might notice some bitterness.

Meringue cookies and light pastries often use this ingredient to keep the egg whites light and airy and maintain that chewy texture.

You may notice the flavor it adds to the recipes it has been included in but it is often part of what gives foods their signature taste, like Snickerdoodle cookies or angel food cake.

As long as you use it as it is meant to be used, there won’t be any noticeable bitterness or metallic taste added to your foods but you will notice other changes that make it well worth using!

How do I know if my cream of tartar is still good?

Cream of tartar gets old just like any other pantry product, like baking soda does, and stops being effective after years of sitting around. 

It’s good to find out in advance if your cream of tartar will still provide stabilizing properties to your foods.

From McCormick, here’s how you tell if cream of tartar will still add lift and lightness in your baked goods:

McCormick Cream Of Tartar has a 48 months’ shelf life once it leaves our facilities, but can be tested for viability: to test if it is still effective, add 1 tsp. of baking soda and 1 tsp. of cream of tartar to 1/4 cup of warm water. If the water bubbles, the cream of tartar is still good.

What does cream of tartar do?

You may notice cream of tartar used in a lot of baking dishes, but if it isn’t typically used to add flavor, what’s the point of adding it in?

One of the most popular uses of cream of tartar is to stabilize egg whites.

This means that adding in a little bit of the powder will help your egg whites reach a fuller volume and stiffness while also speeding up the foaming as you work on whipping together your egg whites into stiff peaks.

At the risk of getting too scientific about how this works, the cream of tartar is acidic which will slow the formation of sulfur bonds in the egg whites (Cook’s Illustrated).

Whipped egg whites create something that is almost like an envelope to hold in air bubbles.

Adding in something acidic, such as cream of tartar will strengthen the resulting foam (Eggs).

Here’s a video that explains in part how adding it to heavy cream will indeed help the whipped cream keep its shape.

It also adds some stability so the egg whites are less likely to collapse if you beat them a little too much.

The acidic powder is also great for preventing sugar from crystallizing.

Adding some of this powder to your sugary syrups also helps prevent crystallization since it helps break down your sugar into glucose and fructose which prevents the sugar from clumping together (Cook’s Illustrated).

This is especially useful when you want something chewy to snack on since sugar crystallization is what leads to crisper foods, like cookies.

On top of the great texture, you can also prevent the browning of cookies which is very helpful if you want to decorate some treats and prefer to start with something white and blank.

Additionally, cream of tartar is very useful for getting incredibly fluffy cakes and pastries.

The resulting powder helps create carbon dioxide gas which leads to baked goods fluffing up while also preventing collapsing (MasterClass).

On top of being used as a key baking ingredient, it can be added to vegetables to help keep the bright color and prevent browning without changing the flavor too much since the acidity helps to preserve the freshness of your produce.

This great benefit is thanks to the acidity slowing down the browning process of vegetables. 

The advantages of cream of tartar extend beyond just the kitchen.

It is incredible as a way to clean off the buildup in your stainless steel appliances, reduce the appearance of scratches on your dishes, brighten your dingy appliances, remove rust, and reduce ink stains (HGTV).

Creating a basic paste with cream of tartar and water will take seconds and you can clean so many different parts of your house with this.

Seemingly a simple powder, having this handy at home is going to be incredibly useful for many different scenarios and it can be used in so many different ways.

After you become familiar with everything this ingredient is capable of, you will want to use it in everything!

Is cream of tartar the same as baking powder?

No, cream of tartar is not the same as baking powder but cream of tartar is one of the main ingredients in baking powder.

Cream of tartar can be combined with baking soda to make baking powder.

Just as mentioned above, it releases carbon dioxide which leads to baked goods rising and syrups not becoming crystallized.

It is important to note that baking soda and baking powder are not interchangeable.

Adding cream of tartar to baking soda allows for the reactions to take place resulting in the baking powder.

Cream of tartar is typically used for baking goods as listed above while baking powder is more of an all-purpose type of leavening agent.

Can I skip cream of tartar in a recipe?

Like many things in life, the answer is maybe. Here’s an example:

If you are making desserts with egg whites or whipped cream that are going to be sitting out a long time and you want to keep them as fresh-looking as possible, with stable peaks or fluffy tops, cream of tartar will help. 

If you have used all of your cream of tartar at home, you may wonder if you can just skip it in your recipe.

Of course, it just depends on what you are making and what your goals are.

There are occasions where it can be left out without too much change such as if you are making syrup.

If you are storing syrup for a long time, cream of tartar can be used to help prevent it from crystallizing but even if you leave it out, reheating the syrup can help reduce the crystals that form.

If you just want to use it to help with the texture or add some fluff, you can leave it out but keep in mind your foods will probably collapse and lack the airiness that makes some desserts tastier.

Other times, it can be good to use a replacement when you happen to have one on hand.

The bottom line

As you cook and bake more and more, you will see the amazing things that the simple addition of cream of tartar can provide for your food.

However, chances are you will experience a time that you just can’t seem to find any on hand and you are already halfway through the preparation process.

These cream of tartar substitutes are great to keep in mind since they are already very common household ingredients and can accomplish some of the same things you would get if you used cream of tartar.

Whether you want to prevent crystallization, need to take advantage of the leavening properties, or want to stabilize egg whites, there is a substitute here that you can easily switch into your recipe!