What is Cream of Tartar?

Learn more about this secret ingredient for making whipped cream fluffy and the best meringue.

Cream of tartar under a wooden teaspoon
Photo:

Michelle Lee Photography / Getty Images

Despite the somewhat misleading name, cream of tartar is neither a dipping sauce nor does it contain any dairy products. It’s actually a powder you can find in the spice section of your local market. Its simple appearance belies its utility. Cream of tartar is the secret ingredient to making whipped cream fluffy and light. It’s also used to make meringue more sturdy, and to add a bit of tangy zip to baked goods, such as snickerdoodle cookies. Here's how to use it.

What is Cream of Tartar?

According to Sarah Jampel, recipe development and test kitchen manager at King Arthur Baking company, “Cream of tartar is, most simply, a powdered acid (specifically, a powdered form of tartaric acid). It’s a byproduct of winemaking (grape fermentation) that’s collected and purified.” 


Also marketed in the U.K. as tartaric acid, cream of tartar is easily found in any baking aisle in the grocery store, there is a good chance that you have this ingredient in your pantry even if you have never heard of it before. Often, it is a component of baking powder, which acts as the acidic ingredient that reacts with the basic baking soda in a variety of recipes. 

How Do You Use Cream of Tartar?

The most common recipes that call for cream of tartar are those that call for egg whites to be whipped, like angel food cake, genoise cake, meringue, and macarons. Jampel says that is because cream of tartar works as an egg white stabilizer that increases both the volume and shelf life of the meringue


 “The acid in the cream of tartar loosens the egg white proteins, which means the whites whip faster and to greater volume and are also more elastic, so that once whipped, they’ll fold into the rest of your batter more easily,” Jampel explains. “They’re also less likely to leak liquid (also known as egg weeping).” 


Jampel also recommends cream of tartar to prevent sugar from crystallizing, making it an excellent addition to caramels and recipes calling for sugar syrup.


Besides its use in baking, the acidity of cream of tartar means it can also be used to replace that signature tang of buttermilk in recipes and to also retain the color of steamed vegetables. 

How do I Store Cream of Tartar?

As with most other spices, extracts and oils, cream of tartar should be stored in a cool, dry place. As long as it doesn’t come in contact with moisture, it won’t spoil. 

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