Cream of tartar may sound pretty fancy — maybe because it’s made during the winemaking process or maybe because creamy anything is always pretty decadent. But it can also get stuck in the back of your kitchen cabinet after using it one time for that meringue recipe.
You come across it one day and think — how do I use cream of tartar? This powdery substance is not only useful for baking, but it works like baking soda to polish surfaces and beat tough stains.
So if you’re ready to add another useful ingredient into your kitchen for both baking and cleaning, it’s time to give this one another go-around.
What Is Cream of Tartar?
Technically, cream of tartar is potassium hydrogen tartrate, also referred to as potassium bitartrate. It’s actually found in the sediment that’s left behind during the winemaking process.
This acidic powder is a form of tartaric acid that works as a stabilizer in baking recipes. It’s a direct food substance that’s also used as an additive, pH control agent, thickener and processing agent.
What Is It Used For?
Cream of tartar is used in the kitchen for a few reasons. You’ll see it in many baking recipes as the stabilizing agent, and it works to activate the alkaline in baking soda.
It can be used beyond the kitchen too. Here’s a breakdown of some easy and convenient ways to use this mystery powder:
- Stabilizing agent: It’s used to strengthen and whip egg whites. It helps form those stiff peaks you’re looking for in meringue.
- Baking powder substitute: It can be mixed with baking soda to create baking powder to be used as a leavening agent in baked goods recipes. To make baking powder, simply blend half teaspoon of cream of tartar with equal parts baking soda.
- Prevent sugar crystals: Use it when making frostings or syrups because it prevent sugar crystals from forming when boiling sugar.
- Stain remover: Use it to remove tough stains on clothes. Simply dampen the area with water, apply a small amount of cream of tartar and scrub with a toothbrush. Then wash the piece of clothing as usual.
- Remove rust: When combined with baking soda and hydrogen peroxide, cream of tartar can help to reduce rust. Create a paste with the ingredients and apply it to rusted area for about an hour, then clean it off.
- Polish appliances and silver: Create a polish for stainless steel appliances and silver by combining ¼ cup of potassium bitartrate and one cup of white vinegar. Apply it to a sponge and wipe appliances and silverware.
The benefits of cream of tartar are generally anecdotal and lack scientific research. Some of these potential benefits require you to consume amounts that exceed what would be used in normal recipes, so there is a higher risk of toxicity, which should definitely be considered before using the food agent therapeutically.
Some potential cream of tartar benefits include the following:
1. Works as an Antimicrobial Agent
Anecdotal reports attest to potassium bitartrate’s ability to fight acne when applied topically as a taste. This may be due to its antimicrobial properties, but there isn’t clear evidence of this benefit.
Potassium bitartrate is sometimes used in bath fizzes and bath bombs too.
2. May Help Relieve Headaches
The potassium in cream of tartar allows for many of its benefits, with one its ability to improve migraine headaches. That said, there aren’t clinical trials proving this to be safe or effective, and consuming too much potassium can have dangerous side effects.
Before using this food substance for headaches, talk to your doctor.
3. Works as a Natural Laxative
However, there are case studies showing toxicity from consuming too much cream of tartar for its laxative effects, so stick to smaller amounts mixed with water.
4. May Help to Quick Smoking
Can you use cream of tartar to quit smoking? Although it’s touted on the internet for this use, there isn’t any evidence to back it up.
In theory, it adds potassium back into the body while promoting the removal of nicotine and other toxins from its laxative effects. But, again, consuming too much of it can be dangerous, so it’s best to consult a doctor before adding it to your diet for smoking cessation.
Cream of Tartar Substitutes
Cream of tartar is used for its ability to create an acidic reaction in recipes. Although it’s possible to create a similar reaction with lemon juice or white vinegar, adding extra liquid to the recipe may throw off the consistency a bit, so the outcome may not be exactly the same.
If you are looking for a cream of tartar replacement, you can use any of these foods instead:
- Lemon juice: A half teaspoon of cream of tartar requires a full teaspoon of lemon juice.
- White vinegar: Like lemon juice, for every half teaspoon of potassium bitartrate in the recipe, you’ll need a full teaspoon of vinegar.
- Baking powder: If you’re following a recipe that calls for both baking soda and cream of tartar, you can substitute both ingredients for baking powder. For every teaspoon of cream of tartar, use 1.5 teaspoons of baking powder instead.
- Buttermilk: Because buttermilk is also acidic, it can work as a replacement for cream of tartar, but some liquid in the recipe will have to be removed in order for this to work. A quarter teaspoon of potassium bitartrate can be replaced with half a cup of buttermilk, but you’ll need to remove half a cup of liquid (such as water) from the recipe.
Recipes (and Healthy Swaps)
You’ll find cream of tartar recipes easily, as it’s often used in baked goods as a leavening and stabilizing agent. Look into any angel food cake, meringue or light, floaty cake recipe and you’ll likely see it on the list of ingredients.
To get you started, here are some healthy cream of tartar uses:
If you’re looking to use cream of tartar in baking recipes as a healthy alternative, you can make buttermilk by adding one tablespoon to milk. It’ll provide the acid necessary to create buttermilk.
Does cream of tartar go bad? As long as it’s stored in a cool, dark place, it will stay fresh indefinitely.
If you are unsure how long it’s been sitting in your kitchen cabinet, check it out to make sure it’s still a white power with an acidic smell.
Risks and Side Effects
The risks and possible side effects of cream of tartar come from its potassium content. A case report shows that cream of tartar potassium has caused life-threatening hyperkalemia, or high levels of potassium in the blood.
In two cases, patients consumed six tablespoons of cream of tartar mixed in liquid as a laxative, cleansing agent and ended up in the hospital for toxicity.
Because it works as a laxative, it can lead to diarrhea, dehydration and loss of vital electrolytes. Remember to take it very slow when consuming potassium bitartrate for any reason beyond adding small amounts to recipes.
If you are using it therapeutically, it’s best to consult your health care professional beforehand.
- Cream of tartar is an acidic, white powdery substance that’s left behind after the winemaking process. It’s also known as potassium bitartrate.
- It’s most commonly used for stabilizing eggs while whipping them for baking recipes. It’s also a thickener and and pH control agent.
- Potassium bitartrate can also be used in your home for removing stains, cleaning appliances and polishing silverware.
- Although the health benefits of potassium bitartrate are lacking scientific evidence, the potassium content may help regulate digestion, ease headaches, fight acne and quit smoking.
- However, consuming too much of the powdery substance can have dangerous side effects.