Magical Cooking Ingredients: Cream of Tartar – Uses and Substitutes

Magical Cooking Ingredients: Cream of Tartar – Uses and Substitutes

Cream of tartar is the best proof that all good things come in small (or plain) packages. Great cooks know this and make sure they always have potassium bitartrate in their pantry.


What is Cream of Tartar?

Even though it is called cream, this magical ingredient is actually a powder obtained as a by-product in the wine-making process. But despite its less than glamorous looks, cream of tartar is a very powerful addition which will make a great difference in your recipes.

What is Cream of Tartar Used for?​

When it comes to cream of tartar, the first association is meringue. Yes, potassium bitartrate is the secret ingredient that makes meringues look like soft clouds! Adding just a pinch (a 1/8 teaspoon) while whipping the egg whites will stabilize them by enhancing the volume and preventing the mixture from flattening. In addition, this multi-functional substance will make sure your meringue has perfectly formed peaks even after baking at high temperatures.

However, it is in snickerdoodle recipes where cream of tartar shows its multi-functionality. Besides contributing that distinctive tangy flavor due to its acidity, it also makes sure that the sugar doesn’t crystallize, thus preventing the cookies from being crunchy. Without cream of tartar, snickerdoodle cookies would be just regular sugar cookies! This anti-crystallizing feature makes potassium bitartrate a perfect addition to your icings, frostings, and syrups.

Other Uses of Cream of Tartar​

Other Uses of Cream of Tartar

Besides acting as a stabilizer and an anti-crystallizing agent, potassium bitartrate has a few more uses in cooking:​

  • Leavening agent in baked goods. When combined with baking soda, this amazing powder represents the perfect replacement for yeast. To be more precise, this combination acts as a baking powder with a doubled effect to form extra fluffy and tender delights.
  • Thickening agent in liquid dishes. Adding a small amount of potassium bitartrate to your stews, soups, and sauces will make them thicker. The best part is that cream of tartar does not affect the taste of these dishes in any way.
  • Anticaking agent. When added to granulated or powdered substances like sugar, salt, or flour, potassium bitartrate prevents the formation of lumps.
  • Color retainer in boiled veggies. Adding a ½ teaspoon of potassium bitartrate into boiling vegetables will prevent them from losing their color and looking ‘washed off’ when served.

The Best Cream of Tartar Substitutes

Once you start using this amazing powder and become aware of its many talents, you won’t be able to live without it. But sooner or later you’ll find yourself in a situation where you’ve run out of it. That is why knowing the best cream of tartar substitutes is very important.

Baking powder​

As mentioned before, cream of tartar (1/2 tsp.) is used together with baking soda (1/4 tsp.) to replace a teaspoon of baking powder in baked goods. So, when you run out of potassium bitartrate, opt for baking powder. (In that case, don't forget to leave out the baking soda as well).

Lemon juice and other acidic substances​

If you’re whipping egg whites and realize you’re out of potassium bitartrate, combine ½ teaspoon of baking soda with two teaspoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice (or ½ teaspoon of lemon juice for each used egg). Alternatively, you can use any acidic substance you have in the kitchen instead of lemon juice. For instance, you can use vinegar, yogurt, buttermilk, sour cream, or kefir.

What Happens if You Leave Out Cream of Tartar from the Recipe?​

While cream of tartar substitutes are quite efficient, they don’t have exactly the same effect. For instance, using lemon juice or other acidic substances in baked goods may alter the taste, making them slightly tangy.

What if you decide to omit these substitutes? Will it affect the taste and texture of your recipe? In many cases, you can, like when whipping egg whites. But, when it comes to baked goods, omitting potassium bitartrate is impossible because the final product will be flat and lifeless.

Cream of Tartar Shelf-Life and Storage​

Store potassium bitartrate in a cool and dry place. Even if you don’t use it for a long time, properly stored cream of tartar will keep indefinitely!

Other Used of Cream of Tartar Around the House​

The above-mentioned cooking applications of potassium bitartrate are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to its uses. This fantastic powder has many surprising uses around the house as well. Here are just a few examples:​

  • Stain remover. Combined with lemon juice, this multitasking substance removes stains from clothes, carpets, and furniture. This mixture is also used to polish copper.
  • Porcelain polisher. Mix this powdery substance with white vinegar to polish porcelain and clean burned pans efficiently.
  • Scratch remover. When combined with water, potassium bitartrate is used to remove scratches from steel appliances. This mixture is also used to polish aluminum and stainless steel.
Magical Cooking Ingredients: Cream of Tartar – Uses and Substitutes
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