What Is Cream of Tartar? And Should You Own It?

Have you ever wondered what makes meringue so darn, what’s the word I’m looking for here, oh yes, meringue-y? Well, it’s all thanks to our friend cream of tartar. No, it has nothing to do with fish sticks or bad dental health. Cream of tartar is simply a helpful powder sold in any grocery store baking aisle and it’s also found in baking powder. But that’s not a very satisfying answer to the question of “what is cream of tartar,” is it? Let’s dig in. 

What is cream of tartar used for?

While admittedly not the most versatile powder in the cupboard (you wouldn’t want to sprinkle it on your morning oatmeal, for instance), cream of tartar is used to make meringues, angel food cake, souffles, and lots of other foods where pillowyness is key. It also helps eliminate crystallization of sugar when making homemade candy or caramel. Plus, it gives snickerdoodle cookies their signature tang. 

What does cream of tartar do?

Well, in the science of meringue-making, cream of tartar stabilizes the tiny bubbles in egg whites by keeping the egg proteins from sticking together. This phenomenon speeds up the egg white whipping process, creates more volume, and makes for more stable whipped egg whites. 

What is cream of tartar made of?

At first glance, cream of tartar being a powder, it might seem a little tough to pinpoint what is in cream of tartar. Well, cream of tartar is made from tartaric acid, which is a byproduct of the winemaking process (just as getting tipsy and starting an argument on Thanksgiving is a byproduct of the wine-drinking process). As grape juice ferments, potassium bitartrate (that’s where the “tartar” part of the name comes from) precipitates and forms crystals on the inside of the casks, which can then be collected and processed to make cream of tartar. 

Is cream of tartar vegan?

With a name like cream of tartar, it’s totally understandable that a vegan might be wary of consuming it! But, unlike the name suggests, cream of tartar does not contain any cream, dairy, or animal products, and it is entirely plant-based! 

Cream of tartar may look like something that came from clapping too many chalkboard erasers, but it’s an extremely helpful weapon in any baker’s arsenal. Without it, our angel food cakes would simply be “food cakes”…hey, wait, that actually sounds pretty good to me. Really cuts right to the point! I could go for a food cake right about now…maybe with a hot cup of “drink coffee” to go with it.

About the Author

Joe Rumrill

Joe Rumrill is a fictional one-eyed spinach-loving sailor created in 1929 by E.C Se- Wait, no, that's not right... Joe Rumrill is a stand up comedian and writer currently based in Los Angeles. His favorite thing about food is a close tie between the taste and the nutrients one gets from it. His least favorite thing about it is the "gritty, dirt-like quality some food has", but he's most likely referring to the time in third grade he was dared to eat playground sand.

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