What is Cream of Tartar: Uses, Substitutes and Recipes | McCormick (2024)


Have you ever looked at a recipe that calls for cream of tarter and wondered what it is? You're not alone. Despite what the name suggests, cream of tartar is neither a cream nor a tartar. It's a fine powder made from tartaric acid, a natural byproduct of the wine-making process. Scientifically, it's called potassium bitartrate or potassium hydrogen tartrate. It's considered an acid similar to vinegar or citrus.

Cream of tartar forms naturally on the inside of wine barrels during the fermentation process. Once it's scraped off, the tartaric acid crystals are then purified, ground up, and turned into a white powder sold in grocery stores for your use in the kitchen. Cream of tartar is commonly used in many baking recipes for cookies, cakes, meringue, and whipped cream because it helps to give desserts their rise and prevent them from deflating. Learn more about how you can use cream of tartar in recipes and which ingredients make great substitutions.


Cream of tartar has many uses, including:

  • Making fluffier cakes.Adding tartar powder to your cake batter will help create a rise and fluffier cake you can be proud of. The cream of tartar is an acid that reacts with baking soda to form carbon dioxide, increasing the batter's volume and producing a moist, delicate texture.
  • Lifting and stabilizingwhipped cream and meringue.Whipped cream and meringue are desserts that need a stable structure to keep their form. That's where the cream of tartar comes in. It can help stabilize and maintain the structure of whipped cream and meringue so they don't fall flat once you're done whipping them.
  • Preventing sugar crystallization.Cream of tartar can prevent your homemade hard candy, caramel, and toffee from forming a gritty texture due to sugar crystallization. Adding a pinch of cream of tartar to your sugar syrup will help break down the sugar molecules and stop them from crystalizing early on.
  • Adding a tangy flavor to cookie recipes.Cream of tartar can add a subtle tangy taste to your cookie recipes. Plus, it activates the baking soda in the dough to give your cookies a chewier texture. Try using cream of tartar in Snickerdoodle cookies for a secret ingredient that gives them an extra layer of flavor.
  • Preserving fruits and veggies.Apart from its baking uses, cream of tartar can also help preserve produce, similar to alum. Soak your fruits and vegetables in a mixture of water and cream of tartar (1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar with 1 cup of water) before storing them in the fridge. Adding cream of tartar will prevent your produce from oxidizing and turning brown.


Cream of tartar has an acidic and tangy taste with a slight hint of citrus, similar to vinegar or lemon. It's often added to baked goods to boost the flavor of other ingredients and bring a bit of tangy zing. It's a flavor mostly noticed in Snickerdoodle cookies and sourdough.


    If your recipe calls for cream of tartar and you don't have any in your pantry, don't worry. There are a few cream of tartar substitutes you can use, such as:

    • Vinegar or lemon juice.These ingredients work as a cream of tartar substitute because they provide a similar acidic and tangy flavor. For every 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar your recipe calls for, use one teaspoon of lemon juice or white vinegar.
    • Baking powder.Since cream of tartar is an ingredient in baking powder, you can use it as a substitute. Use 1.5 teaspoons of baking powder for every one teaspoon of cream of tartar needed in the recipe.


    Cream of tartar and baking soda may look the same, but they work in different ways. Tartar powder is activated when combined with baking soda and comes in contact with moisture and heat. This mixture produces carbon dioxide, which causes the batter to rise. Baking soda, on the other hand, causes an immediate rise in dough or batter. However, if you have baking soda, you also have cream of tartar, as tartar powder is an ingredient used in baking soda. That's why baking soda can be used as a substitute for cream of tartar.


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    Want to create a meal plan for your cream of tartar recipes? Need help planning your weekly meals and want to try new recipes? Save your favorite food, dessert, and drink recipes and organize your ingredients with McCormick Meal Planner.

    What is Cream of Tartar: Uses, Substitutes and Recipes | McCormick (2024)
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