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What Is Cream of Tartar—and What Is It Used For?

That little jar of powder can definitely come in handy.

<p>Victoria Popova / Getty Images</p>

Victoria Popova / Getty Images

There are those go-to ingredients you pull out time and time again—and then there's cream of tartar. Odds are, you've probably had a jar of cream of tartar in the back of your spice rack for who-knows-how-long. And you've probably wondered exactly what's in there?

Good news: We answer all of your burning cream of tartar questions here, from what is cream of tartar to some alternative uses for this versatile powder.

What Is Cream of Tartar?

Don't let the name fool you—there's no cream involved in creating this white powder. Cream of tartar was actually conceived as a more consumer-friendly name for potassium hydrogen tartrate—AKA tartaric acid—a powdered acid that's produced when you ferment grapes into wine. (Yum!)

You'll usually find cream of tartar hanging out with the spices in your grocery store and in your pantry.

How Do You Use Cream of Tartar?

Basically, cream of tartar is the magic ingredient for light-and-airy desserts that rely on whipped cream or egg whites. It helps them whip up higher, faster, and hold their shape better.

It can also be used to add a touch of tartness to cookies and cakes.

Does Cream of Tartar Go Bad?

As long as you store it in a cool, dark place, your cream of tartar should be potent and ready to go until you finish the last bit of powder. You'll only need to discard it if you notice discoloration or an odd smell from it.

Cream of Tartar Substitutes

If you can't find your jar of cream of tartar (or just realized you ran out!), you can add double the amount of lemon juice. So if your recipe calls for a half-teaspoon of cream of tartar, sub in a teaspoon of lemon juice.

Recipes That Use Cream of Tartar

Cream of tartar is commonly used in desserts that use whipped egg whites, such as meringues, macarons, pavlovas, and angel food cake. It's also used in cinnamon-sugar snickerdoodle cookies, to give the dough some tang. Check out a few of our favorite ways to utilize cream of tartar.

Sheet Pan Pavlova With Berries and Mangoes

Greg DuPree
Greg DuPree

Cream of tartar helps give this slab of airy meringue its shape. A touch of sour cream-infused whipped cream and a pile of macerated fruit add a touch of tartness to this sweet.

Sheet Pan Pavlova With Berries and Mangoes

Strawberry Dusted Meringues

Caitlin Bensel
Caitlin Bensel

Light-as-air meringues get a big burst of flavor from a sprinkle of freeze-dried strawberries. The cream of tartar helps ensure the meringue is perfectly stabilized.

Strawberry Dust Meringues

Slow-Cooker Angel Food Cake

Victor Protasio
Victor Protasio

A cake that relies on egg whites for its light, spongy texture could use a pinch of cream of tartar to help stabilize it.

Slow-Cooker Angel Food Cake

Chocolate Chip Meringue Kisses

David Prince
David Prince

These sweet and simple meringue cookies hide chocolate chips beneath the surface.

Chocolate Chip Meringue Kisses

Orange Soufflé

Beth Galton
Beth Galton

A pinch of cream of tartar helps the classic French dessert (made with egg whites) stay aloft. This version calls for Grand Marnier and orange zest for its orange flavor, but add a pinch of cream of tartar to any soufflé you make.

Orange Soufflé

Coconut Macaroons

José Picayo
José Picayo

Egg whites and coconut combine for a crispy-chewy (and totally delectable) cookie. For a little extra luxe, dip the bottoms in melted chocolate.

Coconut Macaroons

Banana Pudding Pie Bars With Meringue

Brie Passano
Brie Passano

This vintage recipe gets made into a perfect-for-a-crowd dessert, with layers of Nilla wafers, bananas, and vanilla pudding topped off with meringue.

Banana Pudding Pie Bars With Meringue

Other Ways to Use Cream of Tartar

Cream of tartar has uses well beyond meringue. Check out all these ways you can put that little jar to good use.

As an all-natural cleanser

Mix cream of tartar with baking soda and lemon juice to create an all-natural scrub for your tub. Let it sit for 30 minutes to help it dig into the dirt.

Or pair two tablespoons of cream of tartar with one tablespoon lemon juice to scrub your toaster oven racks or tile grout.

As part of a buttermilk substitute

Adding a little cream of tartar to a cup of milk can transform it into buttermilk in no time flat. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of cream of tartar to a cup of milk, stir, and let it sit for five minutes before using.

Related: How to Make Buttermilk at Home—Plus, Easy Buttermilk Substitutions

As a baking powder substitute

Run out of baking powder for your biscuits and other recipes? You can substitute a teaspoon of baking powder for a quarter-teaspoon of baking soda and a half-teaspoon of cream of tartar to get the same rise out of your baked goods.

To stabilize whipped cream

It can stabilize whipped cream just like it does whipped egg whites. Put a pinch or two of cream of tartar in your whipped cream to help it keep its whipped-up state—especially when you're making whipped cream for use later in the day, or on a hot day.

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