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What Is Cream of Tartar and What’s It For?

A tablespoon of cream of tartar is spilled out in front of a package of it.
Michelle Lee Photography/Shutterstock.com

Whether you were looking for a certain spice in your grandmother’s pantry or walking the spice aisles of the grocery store, you might have run into a powdery white substance called cream of tartar. But what is it? Is it a spice? A seasoning? Well, not exactly.

Cream of tartar is actually not an herb or a spice. It’s potassium bitartrate. While it doesn’t add flavor, it does have a big impact on recipes.

The white powder is formed when grape juice ferments and precipitates forming crystals on the inside of win casks. They can then be collected and turned into cream of tartar. While it does have an acidic taste to it, you rarely use enough in a recipe to encounter it. Instead, it’s often used to stabilize or change the texture of certain dishes.

SpaceAid Spice Rack Organizer

Keep your cream of tartar organized.

Most commonly, cream of tartar is used to stiffen up and stabilize egg whites. Think about making meringue toppings for pies or meringue cookies. When you create those stiff pieces, air bubbles form, but they can easily deflate. Cream of tartar helps to strengthen those air bubbles and keep that light and fluffy texture intact. The substance works similarly in ingredients that call for egg whites. Cakes like angel food get their fluffy height this way, and the cream of tartar helps it remain the perfect texture.

Cooking isn’t the only thing cream of tartar is good for. You can also clean with it. Because the substance is acidic and slightly, it actually makes a great cleaner. Combine it with a bit of vinegar and use it to shine copper and stainless steel or add water to get aluminum pans shiny.

If you were always curious about using cream of tartar in baking recipes, you now know what it’s for, and you know it can shine up pots and pans after as well.

Shea Simmons Shea Simmons
Shea Simmons is the Assignments Editor at LifeSavvy. Previously, she worked as a freelance writer with a focus on beauty and lifestyle content. Her work has appeared in Bustle, Allure, and Hello Giggles. Read Full Bio »
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