Monday, November 6, 2006

What is Cream of Tartar?

Have you ever really wondered?

I am watching Barefoot Contessa and Ina is putting cream of tartar in her egg whites. She just said, "It is like a vinegar that helps stabilize the meringue."

I suddenly had the urge to investigate, so I googled it.
I found this:

Cream of tartar is obtained when tartaric acid is half neutralized with potassium hydroxide, transforming it into a salt.

Oh, silly me, of course, I knew that. Yeah, right.
It's been a long time since I've had a chemistry class.

Grapes are the only significant natural source of tartaric acid, and cream of tartar is a obtained from sediment produced in the process of making wine.

Ah, that I understand. It's the gunk on the bottom of the wine barrel. Who woulda thunk it?

Cream of tartar is best known in our kitchens for helping stabilize and give more volume to beaten egg whites. Hence, Ina making her meringue.

If you are beating eggs whites and don't have cream of tartar, you can substitute white vinegar (in the same ratio as cream of tartar, generally 1/8 teaspoon per egg white). Ah, that's why Ina said it was like a vinegar.

So I learned something today. Maybe some of you did, too.


  1. I had no clue it was made from the sediment from winemaking. (and here I am right in the heart of wine country!)

  2. I've rarely used this when cooking. I do believe that you can substitue baking soda and cream of tartar for baking powder. (Now that I know a little more about cream of tartar, I imagine that the baking soda reacts with the tartar to produce bubbles, the way that the missing baking powder would with liquid.) Or have I got that all backwards?

  3. Yes, I definitely learned something from your blog today. Thanks!

  4. I never knew what the purpose of Cream of Tartar was, although I have used it. It is an ingredient in the frosting recipe I use for holding gingerbread houses together. Thanks for the lesson!

  5. I didn't know either Thanks for the helpful hint.

    I love barefoot contessa she has the most scrumptous recipes.

  6. I think most of us use it, but never really knew why. Now we do.

    It was an ingredient in my pumpkin bread, too.

    Kasmira, I think you are correct. I do believe cream of tartar is in baking powder. I am too lazy right now to check it out. :)

  7. When I make my donuts, I have to put cream of tartar in my batter...I always figured it was just like baking powder. See, never too old to learn something new:-)

  8. I was watching when she said that, Zoey, and it made me wonder, too. I don't know why I watch her, she drives me crazy, she is a messy cook!

  9. Just the words 'cream of tartar' can make me laugh. I once gave my baking-impaired cousins a Snickerdoodle recipe calling for cream of tartar - those girls put in 2 teaspoons of Tarter Sauce instead, then called me to complain that the cookies tasted funny.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose


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