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What Is Cream Of Tartar And Why Do You Need It For Baking?

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What Is Cream Of Tartar And Why Do You Need It For Baking?

You have probably heard of this ingredient before: cream of tartar. You probably also know that it’s an ingredient that many bakers use, particularly when whipping egg whites. You might also know that, if you don’t have cream of tartar, you can substitute lemon or calamansi juice. 

However, is cream of tartar in baking that necessary? 

What is cream of tartar? 

Cream of tartar is an acid. (It’s also known as potassium bitartrate or potassium hydrogen tartrate if you want to get scientific.) It’s a white powdery residue left behind in the barrel when grape juice ferments and becomes wine. It’s basically a by-product of winemaking

How to use cream of tartar for baking?  

There are only a few cream of tartar uses when baking, but these are key instances where it’s important to use the chemical for the best results. Here’s how to use cream of tartar in baking:   

Photo by Aldwin Aspillera

1 It stabilizes egg whites for meringue.  

Cream of tartar for baking is commonly used in egg whites. It’s an acidic ingredient and helps stabilizes the egg whites so it will whip stiffer and fluffier than without the ingredient. You only need a tiny pinch, a scant 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar per large egg white

2 It prevents sugar from crystalizing. 

Are you making caramel for leche flan? If you are, you may find that having cream of tartar on hand is going to be super handy. Working with sugar can get tricky. This is because when you’re making caramel or melting sugar, in general, the sugar can recrystallize if you’re not careful. You can help stop this from happening if you add a little cream of tartar to the sugar. It will act as an inhibitor so the sugar doesn’t turn back into crystals. 

3 You can use it to make homemade baking powder. 

Baking powder was popular during the quarantine so it was one of those ingredients that ran out fast. Just in case another such incident happens and you want to bake a cake without commercial baking powder, you can make a homemade version if you have these two ingredients: cream of tartar and baking soda. 

Cream of tartar is commonly used as the partner to baking soda. That’s because baking soda is an alkaline ingredient while cream of tartar is an acidic ingredient. Together, these two ingredients cause a reaction when mixed with water, usually bubbles. These bubbles are what will make your cake rise! Since these two ingredients are so reactive, it’s common to also see cornstarch added to the mix to act as a buffer between the two ingredients so it won’t activate prematurely. That’s why baking powder is activated by adding hot water. 

To make your own baking powder at home, mix these ingredients in this ratio 1:1:2 or these amounts: 

  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch + 1 teaspoon baking soda + 2 teaspoon cream of tartar

What are cream of tartar substitutes? 

When whipping egg whites, you can use either of these substitutes:

  • • lemon or calamansi juice
  • • vinegar 

You will need more of these ingredients than you would need if you were using cream of tartar. For every large egg white you want to whip to soft or stiff peaks, you’ll need about 1/2 teaspoon or either acidic liquid. You can also use sugar to stiffen, and thus, stabilize, the egg whites, too. 

Are you convinced now that cream of tartar is more useful to have than to not have it in your kitchen? If you need more convincing, did you know that a little cream of tartar in your boiling water when steaming or blanching will make your veggies become and stay brighter in color

One last thing: It doesn’t expire. Just like most powdered and dried ingredients that don’t expire, cream of tartar will stay useful as long as it is not exposed to moisture or doesn’t become wet.   

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