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What Is Cream Of Tartar? Here’s The Best FAQ For Info & More!

Ever wondered what is cream of tartar and its uses? Hop on! This FAQ guide shares interesting facts about this multipurpose white powder, including its flavor profile and storage method!

In case it’s your first time encountering cream of tartar in a recipe, it’s understandable you might not know what it is. 

If you’re not into baking or just getting started in learning how to cook or bake, it’s not surprising that you’ve not heard a lot about this ingredient. 

Cream of tartar is a magical white powder sold in the baking aisle and used in various recipes; however, this ingredient is a popular addition to sweet dishes.

It has many uses; cooks use the condiment to stabilize egg whites in meringue, prevent sugar crystals in making candies, add tang to snickerdoodle cookies, and even use to replace buttermilk in certain recipes.  

Amazing, isn’t it?

To expand your cooking skills and culinary knowledge, it’s critical that you understand, what it is, when you can use it, and how it can benefit you.

What is cream of tartar?

Contents

Cream of tartar is also called potassium bitartrate, potassium hydrogen tartrate, or, simply, potassium salt. 

You can find cream of tartar down in the spice aisle of the grocery section.

When you are in the mood for meringue pies, cookies, snickerdoodles, or angel food cake, cream of tartar is an essential component that is needed to bake these. 

Aside from controlling sugar re-crystallization, cream of tartar is an excellent leavening, stabilizing, anti-caking, and thickening agent for various food products. 

When lemon juice or vinegar is mixed with it, it can be used as a non-toxic household cleaner, acting as a metal polish or all-purpose scrub.

Is cream of tartar the same thing as baking powder?

When going by their scientific names, cream of tartar is called tartaric acid or potassium bitartrate while baking soda is referred to as sodium bicarbonate or bicarbonate of soda. 

Cream of tartar is a byproduct of wine-making, found as little crystals formed inside wine barrels which are then collected and processed. 

Baking soda can be found as naturally-occurring crystalline compounds, often mined through nahcolite beds or deposits, or created through a chemical method called the Solvay process.

Basically, baking powder is a combination of one (1) part baking soda and two (2) parts cream of tartar. 

All of these ingredients can be utilized as leavening or raising agents. 

They react with the acidic components of batters, which produces air bubbles of carbon dioxide which in turn causes the expansion and rise of different foods such as cakes, bread, and other baked and fried products.

Baking soda is often partnered with acid components such as vinegar, sour cream, buttermilk, honey, and maple syrup. 

It is also used together with water when boiling bagels, cooking dry beans, and parboiling potatoes.

Cream of tartar also helps in stabilizing egg whites to form stiff peaks when whipped. 

It is also added to simple syrups to prevent sugar crystals from re-bonding and forming crystals. 

Moreover, cream of tartar affects the pigments in flour for them to have a whiter appearance.

When mixed, baking soda and cream of tartar are also utilized to form new types of dough.

Despite their differences, baking soda, baking powder, and cream of tartar can be used as good substitutes for each other in certain baking applications.

What does cream of tartar taste like?

By itself, cream of tartar is a flavorless baking ingredient, similar to baking soda and yeast. 

However, when incorporated with other ingredients, cream of tartar does have a distinctive flavor with a particular acidic, tangy, tinny, and metallic feel to it.

Even if they are used in minimal quantities, you can identify this taste in Snickerdoodle cookies, meringues, angel food cake, and other light and fluffy pastries.

What is cream of tartar made out of?

This dry and white powdered substance is an acidic byproduct of winemaking formed from fermenting grapes into wine. 

Grapes are an organic source of this substance’s main component: tartaric acid, which is why it is aptly referred to as cream of tartar. 

What happens is that in the process of winemaking, grape juice sits and ferments. 

This precipitates the potassium bitartrate and leads to the formation of crystals on the inside of the barrel casks. 

These crystals are then collected, filtered, and purified to make cream of tartar.

Ways to use cream of tartar

Aside from being an ingredient, you can use while cooking, cream of tartar has other uses outside the kitchen. 

Cream of tartar acts as a repellent for ants, cleaner and polisher for shirt stains and appliances, and remover of rust.

Moreover, it can even help unclog drains, act as a substitute for baking powder, relieve yourself of constipation, and even put a stop to cigarette cravings!

Cream of tartar is sought for its function as a leavening agent to help the dough rise for cakes, pastries, and other baked products.

A ⅛ teaspoon of cream of tartar per one large egg white will speed up the creation of foam and make your peaks stiffer, smoother, and whiter.

Due to its stabilizing and thickening feature, cream of tartar makes whipped cream, frostings, and gelatin fluffier, whiter, and easier to pipe and spread.

Cream of tartar also enhances the flavor of snickerdoodles. 

This popular cinnamon-sugar cookie gets its distinct chewy texture and tangy flavor when cream of tartar is added to it.

When you’d like to sample some steamed and boiled vegetables like asparagus or broccoli, adding cream of tartar to it gives it a brighter color without altering the flavor.

How to store cream of tartar

Similar to other baking essentials, cream of tartar is highly sensitive to light, air, heat, and moisture build-up. 

The best spot to store your cream of tartar is within an airtight container placed in a cool, dry area. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Keep the cream of tartar on its original packaging. 
  2. Store it in a cabinet, cupboard, or pantry in your kitchen, preferably away from heat and moisture. 
  3. Use your stored cream of tartar within five years.

Secure that the location has a constant temperature, meaning do not move it near the stove, dishwasher, refrigerator, oven, or sink, as these places are ideal spots with the temperature and moisture that can grow germs, molds, or other organic matter.

You should also keep its label to know its best-by date and to ascertain its shelf life. 

Take note that it should be put in a jar with a tight lid, not in a paper container. 

Does cream of tartar go bad?

Unlike other kitchen ingredients, cream of tartar possesses a long shelf life. 

Just like other powdered substances, as long as it is kept away from contact with water, cream of tartar can last for a long time. 

To be safe, experts suggest that cream of tartar should be fully consumed within five (5) years. 

Cream of tartar should also be kept in a cool, dry place, secured in an airtight container, and away from any place that has direct heat, intense light, moisture, creepy-crawlies like insects or spiders, or rodent infestations such as rats. 

For cream of tartar, you will know if it is fresh in its look and smell if it appears powdery and white and has a slightly acidic smell.

How to tell if cream of tartar has gone bad?

As a safety precaution, cream of tartar has a best-by date on its label so that it can be utilized in its best condition. 

However, you might as well check if your cream of tartar had contact with water. 

If your opened cream of tartar forms some foam, it is recommended to use it within six (6) months. 

If molds or any other organic matter form, that’s a tell-tale sign to stop using the product. 

You should also stop using the cream of tartar if there are changes in the color, visible dark specks in the product, or an off and pungent odor.

However, if you failed to look at the visual cues, you might also check the results in your baked goods. 

Signs that your cream of tartar has gone bad include hard clumps that stay in one position, egg whites that are still runny and cannot stay stiff, or pastries that do not rise as high as one desires.

What to do with cream of tartar?

Cream of tartar is a multi-purpose product that every household should have. 

When this is found in your kitchen, what can you make to make the most out of your food experience?

Simply whisk an egg yolk with sugar, then mix your milk gradually, and sift the baking powder and flour. 

Whip your eggs with cream of tartar, then slowly add the sugar until you get a glossy and thick mixture.

Then, incorporate the two mixtures, and cook your batter for 4 to 5 minutes until you get a fluffy pancake.

In just a few minutes, you have prepared an incredibly delectable pancake!

Fancy yourself an egg white meringue dessert? 

This might be the one for you!

While preheating the oven, whip the eggs, cream of tartar, and salt, then slowly add your sugar-cornstarch mixture, vanilla, and vinegar until stiff and glossy peaks form.

Then, pipe the meringues, bake for around 55 minutes, let them cool on a wire rack, and serve. 

You can top it with lemon curd, blueberry or raspberry sauce, and freshly whipped cream.

If you are craving some cinnamon sugar cookies, try your hand with this recipe!

Preheat the oven first, then mix butter, vanilla, sugar, and eggs. 

Slowly add flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt until they are well combined. 

Shape them into balls then roll them into the sugar-cinnamon mixture.

Enjoy!

A slice of chiffon cake might just be the best way to make your day better.

First, sift together the sugar, salt, baking powder, and flour;  in a separate bowl, whisk together egg yolks, oil, water, and vanilla extract.

Whisk the egg yolk mixture into the flour mixture until they are well combined. 

In your stand mixer, beat the cream of tartar and egg whites until stiff peaks begin to form. 

Fold your egg whites into the flour mixture gently, then spoon the batter into an ungreased pan, bake for one hour, then let the cake cool.

Serve the cake on a cake stand, garnish with powdered sugar, and eat your heart away!

The bottom line

From baking pastries to cleaning your house, cream of tartar has been a multi-functional kitchen essential.

Even though perceived at first as a mystery ingredient, it’s worth knowing that cream of tartar stands the test of time as a must-have product in all houses and establishments. 

Meringue and snickerdoodle cookies without cream of tartar? Why not!