cream of tartar substitute

Cream of Tartar Substitute and More

When a lay hears the name “cream of tartar,” the first thing that will come into his mind is a dipping sauce for fish. But to those who work beside an oven every day, it is white crystalline, odorless powder that is staple in the kitchen. So don’t confuse the cream of tartar from the tartar sauce, would you ?

If you think it’s a new ingredient in baking recipes, think again. Cream of tartar is really old. Ancient traces of this white powder can be traced back at least 7,000 years ago. Although it was first discovered inside of a wine container in Iran centuries back, it gained its popularity among bakers when the French began using it frequently in their cooking.

Cream of tartar is also known as potassium-bitartrate or potassium-hydrogen-tartrate. Basically, it comes from tartaric acid, a natural substance in grapes and other fruits. In winemaking, the residue of this acid forms inside the fermented grapes’ containers. When this substance, called "Beeswing", was scrapped off the barrels after wine production, it will undergo a process for purification so it becomes the cream of tartar.

Culinary Uses

It is best known for making meringue or meringue topping. It increases volume and provides stability to whipped egg whites into stiff peaks. Your Baked Alaska, for instance, holds its shape even after contact with a hot oven. You usually need a small amount of cream of tartar in making meringue. Rule of thumb: 1/8 tsp per egg white.

There were also cake, cookies, pancakes, and pie recipes that call for the use of cream of tartar. In here, it acts as a leavener. Some recipes may call for the use of both baking soda and cream of tartar since the latter helps to activate the former. When mixing with baking soda, it releases carbon dioxide which in turn makes your baked goods rise well. That is similar with the gas that comes from yeast in making bread.

Cream of tartar also prevents the crystallization of sugars syrups while it gives a creamier texture to candies, icing, and frostings. It also helps in stabilizing whipped cream. Some also use this powder in cooking vegetables to minimize discoloration.

Cream of Tartar Substitute

Keep in mind that there is no exact substitute for any given ingredient. You should expect some changes in texture, taste, and appearance of your finished food. However, if you have no other option but to come up with an alternative ingredient or combination of ingredients, below is a list of the cream of tartar substitutes that you may try. Use your discretion and decide which among these options will work best for your recipe

1. Baking Powder

Cream of tartar is usually called for in cookie or cake recipe along with baking soda. If faced with such situation, you can leave out baking soda and cream of tartar. You may add baking powder instead. You may also use a teaspoon of baking powder to replace 2/3 tsp of cream of tartar and 1/3 teaspoon of baking soda. Cream of tartar is often used as a major component in baking powder

2. Lemon juice or white vinegar

Baking powder is the best cream of tartar substitute. However, if you also run out of baking powder, other acidic ingredients may be of help. Say you are making an Angel Food Cake and you need to add volume and whiten your whipped egg whites, you can replace every 1/8 teaspoon of cream of tartar with 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice or vinegar.

For stabilizing egg whites, substitute cream of tartar with vinegar or lemon juice in a 1-1 ratio. Keep in mind that adding too much liquid to egg whites may cause them to collapse

If your cookie recipe calls for half a teaspoon of cream of tartar and you don’t have the ingredient in your cupboard, you can use 1 teaspoons of lemon juice instead. If your simple syrup recipe requires 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar, you may use 3-4 drops of lemon juice. For candy making, however, it is best to refer to the recipe and check if an alternative ingredient will work because some candy recipes are sensitive to substitutions.

3. Buttermilk and yogurt

Other acidic ingredients that could replace cream of tartar in your cake or pancake recipe is buttermilk. Simply replace the non-acidic liquid with buttermilk. You may also remove 1/2 cup of the non-acidic liquid for every 1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar and substitute it with 1/2 cup of buttermilk.

Yogurt is another acidic dairy ingredient that is also an effective option if you don’t have cream of tartar on hand. Just dilute it a little bit with milk until it reaches the consistency of buttermilk.

4. Leave the cream of tartar out

Yes this can be done. In some instances, it is better to leave cream of tartar entirely out of your recipe than look for a substitute. If your recipe already contains acidic ingredient like lemon juice, omitting the cream of tartar will make no difference at all.

Beating egg whites without cream of tartar may not be a problem too as long as the eggs are thoroughly beaten to form stiff peaks. When making icing as well as frosting, you may not use cream of tartar. There is a little chance of crystallization if you use your icing or frosting right away


Cream of tartar has no definite shelf life when properly stored. It is best kept in a sealed container to keep moisture, heat, and light at bay. When lumps occur, it can be pulverized again and it is good as new.

Fun Facts

Apparently, Playdough is edible. Aside from cream of tartar, it is made up of flour, water, salt, oil, and food coloring. What to make your own Playdough? Mix a cup each of flour, water, and salt to 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon cream of tartar. You may add 3-5 drops of food coloring if wish. You can also add more flour if the mixture is too tacky or more water if it is too dry.

About the Author Hong Quy

Born in Hanoi, can speak English and Japanese fluently. Become interested in cooking after married, and love to share easy Japanese recipes with anyone has the same interest.

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