What’s Cream of Tartar?

What is Cream of Tartar?

Cream of Tartar is the cooking world’s name for the powdery form of Tartaric Acid, Potassium Hydrogen Tartrate, Monopotassium Tartrate or Potassium Bitartrate. This is an acidic salt having various uses of baking. It is a byproduct of wine production.

Cream of Tartar
Cream of Tartar

This is a crystalline compound that formed on the sides of the containers during the grape fermentation due to its low solubility in cold water. And, these crystals can be found in the corked wine bottles, fresh grape juice, fresh jams and jellies when stored below 50 degrees Fahrenheit or 10 degrees Celsius. Tartaric acid is a naturally occurring acid which is found in fruits such as bananas, citrus and grapes.

Potassium Bitartrate crystalization inside an empty wine bottle
Potassium Bitartrate crystalization inside an empty wine bottle

In commercial production, the crude form of Potassium Bitartrate is called Beeswing or Argol. After scrapped off this Argol from the sides of the wine fermented barrels, it dissolved in hot water and then the colour is removed by using clay or egg albumin. Finally, the cream of tartar is being purified by crystallization.

Residue in Wine Barrels
Residue in Wine Barrels

This is not at all creamy. It is a dry, odourless, white powder is same as baking soda or baking powder in look and texture. The acidic substance of this salt is similar to lemon juice and vinegar. The cream of tartar is a combination of Potassium, Carbon, Oxygen and Hydrogen in the chemical makeup of KC4H5O6.

Molecular Formula of Potassium Bitartrate
Molecular Formula of Potassium Bitartrate

History

The word ‘Tartar’ was first appeared in the 14th century and it originates from the Greek word ‘Tartaron’ and later the Medieval Latin word ‘Tartarum’.  Potassium Tartrate was first discovered inside a wine container in northern Iran, but it is first isolated from potassium Tartrate by a Persian Alchemist Jabir Ibn Hayyan in around 800 AD.

Persian Alchemist Jabir Ibn Hayyan invented Cream of Tartar
Persian Alchemist Jabir Ibn Hayyan

The modern application of the Cream of Tartar began in 1769 and it is developed by a Swedish chemist C.W. Scheele. In 1832, a French physicist Jean Baptiste Biot discovered the physical properties of Potassium Bitartrate. The product gained most of its popularity after the French begun to use it frequently in their recipes.

Carl Wilhelm Scheele in 1780 invented Cream of Tartar
Carl Wilhelm Scheele in 1780

In the 1840s an English chemist, Alfred Bird combined Potassium Bitartrate with baking soda and discovered baking powder.

English chemist Alfred Bird
English chemist Alfred Bird

The Potassium Bitartrate is very close to the organic chemists because, in 1848, Louise Pasteur observed this substance to understand the three-dimensional structure of molecules.

Louis Pasteur Craem of Tartar
Louis Pasteur

What is the Cream of Tartar used for?

This powder has many culinary uses. It acts as an anti-caking agent, leavening agent, thickening agent and a stabilizer which helps to bind all the ingredients together in our recipes. This substance is particularly helpful for the recipes that tend to wilt like meringue or souffle. Cream of tartar is a must-add to a lot of baking recipes for the following qualities.

1.      It inhibits crystallization by hydrolyzing some of the sucrose and formed glucose and fructose in frosting, icing, syrups, caramels and during the candy production by preventing forming large sugar crystals which makes candies too brittle and crunchy. The results will be in a creamier texture. Ex – Turkish Delight, Candy canes

2.      It Limits the extent which proteins can bond with each other. Adding a pinch of cream of Tartar prevents egg whites from being lumpy by forming too many protein bonds. And, this slows down egg white’s natural tendency to deflate and it also speeds up the beating process. Additionally, it helps to strengthen the bubbles in the foam of whipped egg whites by preventing them from collapsing too quickly and also Cream of Tartar keep them in bright and white. Therefore, a small portion of cream of tartar added when making Angel Food cakes, Meringue pies and Meringue toppings.

3.      It stabilized the finicky recipes while maintaining its texture and volume like in Meringue, Souffles or Whipped cream which are tending to wilt or go flat. This will make whipping cream last longer both in the fridge and at room temperature. Besides, it will make the cream easier to pipe and spread.

4.      Tartar makes pies heat tolerable and, it helps bakers to get the nice golden-brown colouring to the pie while maintaining the shape and integrity of the pie structure even after a trip through the oven. Ex – Snickerdoodle cookie

5.      Cream of tartar act as a leavening agent for the yeast-free baking goods and produces carbon dioxide with the combination of baking soda, and which makes pancakes, biscuits and other baked goods rise, soft and be fluffier. Compared to other leavening agents Cream of Tartar has a milder and more pleasant taste.

6.      It reduces discolouration of boiled and steamed vegetables when adding a pinch of Cream of Tartar to the water before boiling. Lowering the pH levels of the water and stabilizing the colour enzymes create this phenomenon. Ex – Broccoli, Asparagus

7.      It gives the tanginess of buttermilk to the regular milk or plant-based milk when adding a small portion to them. But it needed to be added to the recipe’s dry ingredients to avoid clumping.

8.      Used as a salt substitute for limited or no Sodium requirements.

9.      Further refined Cream of Tartar used to make soft cheese such as Mascarpone. Further refining will isolate the principal active agent, Tartaric Acid and it has a rapid reaction in a batter when mixed with baking soda.

How else cream of tartar used around the house?

Cream of Tartar acts as an effective non-toxic household cleaner all by itself or combined with another product. Try these:

  1. It can be used to polish stainless steel and aluminium when applying as a paste making with hot water. And, it removes scratches on white bowls and plates caused by knives and forks.
  2. It can polish brass and copper when combined with lemon juice in 1:1 ratio.
  3. It can clean Porcelain sink, tub and toilet when combined with distilled white vinegar in 1:1 ratio.
  4. Potassium Bitartrate can be transferred to a general-purpose scrub by adding distilled white vinegar to Cream of Tartar in 4:1 ratio.
  5. When mixing with lemon juice or vinegar, Cream of Tartar can remove laundry stains also.
  6. To clean the drains, put a mixture with 1:4:4 ratio of cream of tartar, baking soda and salt (To increase density) to the drains and flush it from hot water. The bubbling action can dislodge small blockages.
  7. It acts as an ant deterrent when sprinkled Potassium Bitartrate around doorways.
  8. It removes rust from some hand tools like hand files when applying with Hydrogen Peroxide. Keep the applied paste for a few hours and washed off with baking soda and water solution. Dry and apply a thin oil layer after another rinse with water to protect from further rusting.
  9. It can be used in making homemade edible playdough. It gives the dough a smoother and more elastic texture.

Usage of Cream of Tartar beyond the household

  1. It slows the set time of Plaster of Paris products when mixed small portion of Cream of Tartar to the water source.
  2. It activates the Henna when mixed while dyeing hair.
  3. Cream of Tartar can be used to make Potassium Carbonate also known as Pearl Ash. This chemical process is now obsolete, but it produces a reasonably pure Perl Ash than Potash extracted from wood or other plant ashes.

Cream of Tartar found in these finished products also

  1. Baking powder is the combination of Cream of Tartar and Sodium Bicarbonate (Baking Soda). Further, baking soda is an Alkaline and Cream of Tartar is acidic.
  2. Sodium free salts substitute includes Cream of Tartar in combination with Potassium Chloride.

The shelf life

Cream of Tartar doesn’t spoil or expired. It keeps its freshness indefinitely if stored in a cool, dry and sealed or airtight container. The freshness can be tested by looking at it. It should look white and powdery. Unlike other spices, cream of tartar has a long shelf life. If you don’t remember when you bought the Cream of Tartar container in your pantry, just dust it off and use.

Health Benefits of Cream of Tartar

  1. Mix Cream of Tartar with Epsom salt to the bathing water to reduce Arthritis pain.
  2. Ingest Cream of Tartar to decrease heartburn.
  3. The Alkaline in Potassium Bitartrate can treat and prevent bacterial infections on the skin and also it is used to clean up acne-prone skins.
  4. It helps in lowering blood pressure.
  5. Drinking a bit of Cream of Tartar mixed orange juice daily will remove nicotine from the body and reduces the craving for cigarettes. This method can be used to quit smoking.
  6. Potassium Bitartrate has used in medicine as a purgative. But this method is dangerous because an excess of Potassium or Hyperkalemia may occur.

Nutritional Information

This product has no significant nutritional value but in 100 grams of Potassium Bitartrate has 21 grams of Potassium.

Nutritional Information of Cream of Tartar
Nutritional Information of Cream of Tartar

Regulations

In the United States, Potassium Bitartrate is affirmed as a Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) food substance as an anti-caking agent, antimicrobial agent, formulation aid, humectant, leavening agent, pH control agent, processing aid, stabilizer, thickening agent and a surface-active agent. And also Cream of Tartar meets the specifications of the Food Chemical Codex (FCC) 3rd edition.

Substitute for Cream of Tartar

If you don’t have a Cream of Tartar container inside your pantry, don’t worry. There are plenty of substitutes for it. While giving good results, these substitutes may make the finished product a little bit deferent than you’re used to. It is needed to be expected subtle changes in texture and appearance because that is just the nature of the substitution. Try these:

  1. Lemon Juice – Add 1 teaspoon for every ½ teaspoon of Potassium Bitartrate. amount. Its stabilized egg whites and prevents the crystallization in syrups and frostings
  2. White vinegar – Add 1 teaspoon for every ½ teaspoon of Cream of Tartar for the recipes that require an egg white stabilizer. But be judicious when adding this to the baked goods because it can alter the taste and texture.
  3. Baking powder – Add to the recipes use both baking soda and Potassium Bitartrate. When replacing, substitute 1 teaspoon of baking powder to 2/3 teaspoon of cream of tartar and 1/3 teaspoon of soda.
  4. Buttermilk – This is not an ideal substitute. The acidity of buttermilk might not work in some baked good recipes because it is a liquid. Therefore, when adding buttermilk, it needed to be replaced another liquid in the recipe. So, use ½ cup of buttermilk for every ¼ teaspoon of cream of Tartar, then eliminate ½ cup of liquid from the recipe.
  5. Yoghurt – This is a decent substitute for baked goods. This also uses like buttermilk by replacing ½ cup of the recipe’s liquid for each ¼ teaspoon of Potassium Bitartrate.

If you don’t have Cream of Tartar in your pantry, just leave it out without substituting anything. For example, if you are using Potassium Bitartrate to stabilize whipped egg whites, it is alright to leave it out from substituting anything. Additionally, if you are using Potassium Bitartrate to avoid crystallization when making sugar syrups, frosting or icing, you can omit using substitutes without dire consequences. Although syrups may crystallize if stored in a fridge for a long time, it can be fixed by simply reheating on the stove or in the microwave.

But keep in mind that it is not a good idea to leave baked goods required a leavening agent without adding substitutes for Cream of Tartar.

 

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