Tartar Powder Uses

Cream of tartar, also known as tartar powder, is a common ingredient found in many kitchen pantries.

Tartar Powder Uses

But what exactly is this mysterious white powder, and what is it used for?

What is Cream of Tartar?

Cream of tartar, or potassium bitartrate, is an acidic byproduct of the winemaking process. It is extracted from the powdery deposits that are left behind in wine barrels after fermentation.

Despite its name, cream of tartar is not a dairy product but a fine, white crystalline powder. It has a mildly acidic flavor and is used as a stabilizing agent in cooking.

Some key facts about cream of tartar:

  • Scientifically known as potassium bitartrate or potassium hydrogen tartrate
  • Naturally occurs in many fruits like grapes, bananas, and citrus
  • Has a slightly tangy, acidic taste
  • Is an odorless white powder
  • Is non-toxic and edible

Key Takeaway: Cream of tartar is a white, acidic powder that naturally forms during the fermentation of grape juice into wine. It has culinary applications as well as cleaning uses.

Culinary Uses of Cream of Tartar

Cream of tartar has several handy uses and benefits in the kitchen. Here are some of the top ways it is used in cooking and baking:

Stabilizing Egg Whites

One of the most common uses of cream of tartar is to stabilize egg whites. Adding just a pinch of tartar powder when whipping egg whites helps strengthen the air bubbles and prevents the eggs from deflating.

This makes it an indispensable ingredient in recipes that rely on beaten egg whites to provide volume and loft, like meringues, soufflés, angel food cakes, and macarons.

For the best results, use 1/8 teaspoon of cream of tartar per egg white when whipping.

Whipping Cream

Along with egg whites, cream of tartar can help whipped cream hold its shape for longer. It stabilizes the air bubbles, preventing them from collapsing.

Add just a pinch of tartar powder when whipping heavy cream. It will make the whipped cream thicker, fluffier and able to hold its form when piped or spooned.

Preventing Sugar Crystallization

Cream of tartar is useful in desserts and candies to prevent sugar syrups from crystallizing as they cook down. This gives you smooth, glossy results.

When making caramel, fudge, fondant, or even fruit jam, add a pinch of tartar powder to the boiling sugar. It interferes with sugar molecules’ ability to form crystals.

Leavening Agent

Tartar powder can be combined with baking soda to function as a leavening agent in baked goods. When tartaric acid combines with alkaline baking soda, it produces carbon dioxide bubbles that cause batters to rise.

Replace 1 tsp baking powder with 1/4 tsp baking soda + 1/2 tsp cream of tartar. Omit any additional baking soda in the recipe.

Flavoring Agent

Cream of tartar adds a subtle tangy, acidic flavor to recipes. This is particularly noticeable in classic snickerdoodle cookies, where the tartar powder gives them a distinct tart taste and chewy texture.

It also adds a slight zing to fruit jam glazes, frostings, and candies when used to prevent crystallization.

Maintaining Bright Color of Vegetables

Adding cream of tartar to the cooking water when boiling or steaming vegetables helps maintain their bright, fresh color and prevent them from turning drab and olive toned. Use 1/2 tsp per 1 qt of water.

Substitute for Buttermilk

In a pinch, cream of tartar can be used to sour regular milk as a buttermilk substitute. For 1 cup milk, use 1 1/2 tsp cream of tartar. Be sure to add it to the dry ingredients to prevent curdling.

Non-Culinary Uses of Cream of Tartar

Aside from being a handy kitchen aid, cream of tartar also has a number of practical household uses:

Cleaning Powder

Thanks to its acidic properties, tartar powder makes an effective natural cleaning product. It can be used alone or combined with vinegar, hydrogen peroxide or lemon juice for extra cleaning power.

  • Removes stains from aluminum cookware
  • Polishes copper, stainless steel and porcelain
  • Cleans tile grout
  • Shines silver

DIY Bath Bombs

Cream of tartar is the key ingredient that helps harden and set bath bombs, allowing you to remove them cleanly from the mold. It also makes bath bombs extra fizzy.

Homemade Playdough

Several playdough recipes rely on cream of tartar to give a smooth, pliable texture. It interacts with the flour to prevent cracking as the dough is played with.

Keeping Ants Away

Due to its acidic nature, ants avoid cream of tartar. Make an ant barrier by sprinkling a line along countertops, windowsills, or doorways where ants are entering.

Unclogging Drains

Mix cream of tartar with baking soda and salt, then pour boiling water down the drain. Together, these ingredients can break up organic materials causing clogs.

Whitening Laundry

To remove yellow discoloration on white clothes, make a paste of cream of tartar and water and rub it onto stained areas before washing. Rinse thoroughly.

Anti-Tarnish for Silver

Rubbing silver jewelry with a paste of cream of tartar and water helps remove tarnish and brings back the metal’s shine. Rinse and dry well afterward.

Rust Remover

Combined with baking soda and hydrogen peroxide, cream of tartar can lift rust from metals after soaking for an hour or more. Scrub gently and rinse.

Where to Buy Cream of Tartar

Cream of tartar can be found in the spice or baking aisle of any major grocery store, often packaged in small jars or tins. You can also find bulk sizes sold at health food stores or online.

Any brand of cream of tartar will work the same in recipes or household uses. Since you only need a small amount at a time, a 3-5 ounce container is plenty for most home kitchens.

Make sure to store cream of tartar in a cool, dry place in an airtight container. Under these conditions, it will keep indefinitely without spoiling.

Cream of Tartar Substitutes

Don't have any cream of tartar when you need it? Here are a few handy ingredient substitutes:

  • Vinegar or lemon juice - Use 2 tsp per 1 tsp cream of tartar to provide acidity
  • Buttermilk or yogurt - Thinned with milk, provides acidity in baked goods
  • Baking powder - Replace 1 tsp cream of tartar + 1/4 tsp baking soda with 1 tsp baking powder
  • Nothing - Omit cream of tartar as an egg white or whipped cream stabilizer, though results may not be as firm

Common Recipes Using Cream of Tartar

Here are just a few of the many recipes that cream of tartar lends its talents to:

  • Angel food cake
  • Meringue cookies
  • Macarons
  • Meringue pies
  • Souffles
  • Fruit jam
  • Fondant
  • Caramels
  • Snickerdoodle cookies
  • Whipped cream
  • Playdough

Thanks to its versatility, cream of tartar is a handy staple to keep stocked in your pantry. Just a spoonful can lend lightness to desserts, brightness to veggies, and strength to DIY projects. Don't hesitate to put this tart white powder to work!


What does cream of tartar taste like?

Cream of tartar has a mildly acidic, tart flavor. It adds a subtle tanginess to recipes like snickerdoodle cookies rather than being intensely sour or acidic.

Can you use cream of tartar every day?

Yes, cream of tartar is safe to consume daily in the small quantities used in cooking. It may have a laxative effect in very large amounts.

Does cream of tartar expire?

Cream of tartar has an indefinite shelf life. It will stay fresh when stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry pantry.

Is cream of tartar gluten free?

Yes, cream of tartar is gluten-free. It is made from grapes and does not contain any gluten.

Can I substitute lemon juice for cream of tartar?

Yes, lemon juice can be substituted for cream of tartar. Use 2 teaspoons of lemon juice for every 1 teaspoon of cream of tartar called for in a recipe. The lemon juice provides the necessary acidity.

What can I use if I don't have cream of tartar for egg whites?

A few options for stabilizing egg whites instead of cream of tartar include:

  • Vinegar or lemon juice - 1/2 teaspoon per egg white
  • Cornstarch - 1/8 teaspoon per egg white
  • Glycerin - 1/8 teaspoon per egg white

Can I make baking powder with cream of tartar?

Yes, you can make your own baking powder by mixing cream of tartar with baking soda. Use 2 parts cream of tartar to 1 part baking soda. For example, 1 teaspoon cream of tartar + 1/2 teaspoon baking soda = 1 teaspoon baking powder.

Why do you put cream of tartar in snickerdoodle cookies?

Cream of tartar is added to snickerdoodle cookies for two reasons. First, it helps prevent the formation of sugar crystals, making the cookies soft and chewy. Second, it provides the signature tangy flavor snickerdoodles are known for.

What does cream of tartar do for playdough?

Cream of tartar reacts with the proteins in the flour to create long, stretchy strands that result in a silky smooth, pliable playdough that doesn't easily dry out or crack.

Is cream of tartar safe for cleaning?

Yes, cream of tartar is non-toxic and safe to use for household cleaning purposes. Make sure to rinse it off surfaces thoroughly after use, especially before contact with food.

Can I substitute cream of tartar for cornstarch?

No, cream of tartar and cornstarch serve different purposes and are not interchangeable. Cream of tartar provides acidity, while cornstarch is used for thickening.


Cream of tartar is clearly so much more than just a baking staple.

With its ability to stabilize beaten egg whites, prevent sugar crystallization, act as a leavening agent, and impart tangy flavor, cream of tartar has secured its place in the pantries of home bakers worldwide.

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