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When To Use Cream of Tartar | What’s Its Purpose?

Cream of tartar should be used when making meringue, souffle, frostings, and candy. The purpose of cream of tartar is to stabilize the structure in complicated recipes that include whipped egg whites or melted sugar—and act as a leavening agent in baking.

Cream of tartar is convenient in cooking but not as widely used as baking powder or baking soda, which is why many people don’t know about its purposes and excellent benefits. If you’re curious to discover how the cream of tartar can help you create baking masterpieces, this article will provide you with everything you need to know.

When Should I Use Cream of Tartar?

Dry cream of tartar in a bowl

You should use cream of tartar when working with whipped egg whites in recipes such as meringue or soufflé. Cream of tartar will prevent the air bubbles from collapsing, supporting the structure. You can also use it when working with melted sugar for caramel or frosting to get a creamy texture.

Here are some of these handy uses for cream of tartar in more detail:

Giving Volume to Whipped Egg Whites

Cream of tartar is most widely used to secure the structure of whipped egg whites. It can be invaluable in many cake recipes but is especially handy with meringues.

This baking ingredient will interact with proteins in egg whites, preventing them from bonding too tightly and shoving out the air bubbles. Keeping air bubbles is your goal if you want to achieve a light texture and give your dessert more volume, which is where the cream of tartar is your best friend.

Creating Creamy Frostings

What is the most important thing for the creamy texture of your frosting? Sugar crystals. It begins to crystalize when heated, making the overall mixture stiffer. Some cream of tartar can quickly fix it, though. It prevents sugar from crystalizing when melted, which is excellent for making icings, syrups, and caramel.

Leavening Your Baking

If you want puffy cookies with a light, melt-in-your-mouth texture, try adding some cream of tartar to the batter. It leavens your baking and makes it more voluminous. 

If you’re using baking powder to achieve the effect, you may be curious to know that you’re already using the cream of tartar, as it is one of the baking powder components like baking soda.

If you’re out of baking powder but need it or your recipe, you can create one by hand by mixing baking soda with cream of tartar at a 1:2 ratio.

Is Cream of Tartar a Thickening Agent?

Cream of tartar can be a thickening agent when mixed with liquids, but it is not the most effective thickening product. It doesn’t dissolve easily and can give an acidic taste. Cornstarch and tapioca, the conventional thickening agents, are better for this purpose.

If you have nothing more suitable at hand but need to add a thickening agent to your cooking, cream of tartar can do the job, although not as well as other options.

Most thickening agents contain starches which are the pivotal part of the process. When heated, they absorb the liquid, giving your sauce or soup a nice thick texture while not influencing its flavor. 

Cream of tartar isn’t able to produce such effects, so if you need a thickening agent, go for time-tested options and save your cream of tartar for future baking.

What Flavor Does Cream of Tartar Give?

Cream of tartar can give a bit of an acidic flavor, usually referred to as ’tangy.’ However, bakers and chefs typically use it in small quantities, so the flavor isn’t overtly noticeable in baking.

As the cream of tartar itself is acidic, it has a sour taste, close to metallic. That’s no good for sweet sugar cookies, but don’t you worry: for the flavor to be noticeable, the cream of tartar has to be added in much larger quantities than is typically enough. 

So, whatever taste the powder has is irrelevant to your baking. People typically use tartar for its effects on texture and structure, which is why they add it to many baking recipes.

How Do You Use Cream of Tartar in Cream?

You can use cream of tartar to stabilize the structure of whipped cream. It will create more volume while keeping the light texture as the cream of tartar will preserve the air bubbles that make whipped cream nice and fluffy.

Cream of tartar is not a cream—but an acidic powder. So, adding it to regular cream has no real benefits; unless you want to give your cream icing more stability and texture. However, where the cream of tartar can indeed be a lifesaver is when making whipped cream.

About ¼ tsp of the cream of tartar will work wonders. It will make your whipped cream slightly thicker, more stable, and easier to control. As whipped cream is the type of product that can quickly lose shape, adding a little stability will make the process much less stressful.

What Does Cream of Tartar Do in Cookies?

Plate of snickerdoodles

Cream of tartar helps leaven the batter, which makes cookies more voluminous while keeping them nice and soft. If you want to bake something less crunchy and with a lighter texture, add some cream of tartar to your baking.

I have already explained the three primary purposes why bakers would use cream of tartar, namely, stabilizing egg whites, preventing sugar from crystallization at high temperatures, and leavening batter. Each of these effects can add to the flavor of your baked cookies.

First, cream of tartar leavens your cookies, giving them a puffy and chewy texture. That is the main reason it is an essential ingredient for snickerdoodles. If your recipe includes whipped egg whites, cream of tartar will help keep their airy lightness, making your cookies even more delicious. Finally, the effects it has on sugar will also reduce crunchiness.

Can You Use Cream of Tartar in Cakes?

You can use cream of tartar in cakes for leavening. It is also often added to icings and frostings to make them thicker and support their structure. Cream of tartar is an essential ingredient in angel cakes, skillet cookie cakes, and cakes with meringue.

As mentioned, cream of tartar can be used for leveling batter and is often added to baking when it is not suitable to use yeast. It works for cakes, too!

Let’s all admit that frosting is the highlight of most cakes. Did you know you can add cream of tartar to stabilize its structure? Suppose you’re worried about your icing losing shape before the guests enjoy it or want to make it more voluminous and have better control over how it looks on the cake. In that case, you can solve these problems with this valuable baking ingredient.

Cream of tartar is also essential in some specific cake types. For instance, an angel cake, which gets its airy and spongy structure from the whipped egg whites used in its recipe, strongly requires a whipping agent.

Skillet cookie cakes also need some cream of tartar to achieve the unique chewy texture we love. If you’ve never had a chance to make one, it is worth a try! Check out this recipe, for instance, to see for yourself how much a tiny bit of cream of tartar can bring to a cake.

And, of course, meringue! Meringue cakes have lots of fans as they are a light dessert option that is also incredibly delicious! I’ve mentioned a couple of times how much easier it is to work with meringue if you add some cream of tartar, and it is even more true when we talk about cakes! Here’s an exceptionally delicious recipe I very much encourage you to try.

Can You Add Cream of Tartar to Coffee?

You can add cream of tartar to coffee—but it would be pointless. Cream of tartar is not a cream but an acidic powder often used in baking as a whipping agent. If you mixed it in a coffee, it would probably give a sour, slightly chemical taste—and won’t improve the flavor or creaminess. 

People ask this question a lot, and it probably comes from not knowing what cream of tartar is. It also has a confusing name—making it easy to get the wrong impression.

However, while we’re at it, there is another, less known purpose for the cream of tartar I would like to share with you: it is using the cream of tartar as a cleaning agent. And while it won’t make your coffee taste better, it can save your mugs from coffee stains!

Sprinkle some cream of tartar into your mug and pour just enough water for it to dissolve. You don’t have to wait much; as little as 30 seconds will do. Use the mixture to clean the mug, and you will see all the stains disappear!

Is Cream of Tartar the Same As Bicarbonate of Soda?

Cream of tartar and bicarbonate soda are not the same. The main difference is the latter is alkaline, and the former is acidic. Bicarbonate soda has to come in contact with liquid and an acidic agent to be activated, which is why we combine it with cream of tartar in baking powder.

Bicarbonate soda, commonly known as baking soda, is used for leavening and gives your baking a light and fluffy texture. Its effect is so similar to that of cream of tartar that one can quickly get confused.

The difference is that cream of tartar immediately activates when it comes in contact with a liquid. At the same time, baking soda (which is alkaline) additionally requires an acidic agent to start the reaction. Luckily, cream of tartar is an acidic powder, so these two form a great duo in a widely used leavening agent we call baking powder.

Is Cream of Tartar Grainy?

Cream of tartar is not grainy—it has a powdery texture similar to baking powder and baking soda. Typically bakers only add a small amount—often ¼ teaspoon—so one won’t notice the powder texture in meringues, icings, and bakes. 

You may be curious to know that, initially, cream of tartar takes crystal form. Essentially, the sediment originates in wine casks as grape juice goes through fermentation. After that, manufacturers gather the residue and turn it into powder—which becomes cream of tartar.

Is Cream of Tartar Refrigerated?

Cream of tartar is not typically refrigerated, but you can store it in a refrigerator or freezer if you wish. However, you should ensure the container is airtight—tartar spoils in moisture. Typically people store this product in the pantry or shelves—much like baking powder and baking soda. 

If you’re thinking about how to store this ingredient, know that refrigerating it isn’t necessary. Cream of tartar is safe in your cupboard with other baking ingredients, spices, and all that stuff. Storing them all together is usually more convenient and what most people prefer to do.

However, there are no objections to refrigerating it, either. If you struggle to find a place with proper conditions and want your cream of tartar to have a longer shelf life (as you typically use it once in a while in small quantities, you probably do), refrigerating it is a sure way to store the powder safely.

How Long Does Cream of Tartar Last?

Open glass jar of cream of tartar

Cream of tartar can last many years if stored properly. Keeping it away from direct sunlight and avoiding humidity will ensure it doesn’t spoil. Various sources suggest a shelf life between 2-5 years, but it can last longer if you store it away from moisture and light. 

The shelf life of cream tartar depends on its storage conditions. Humidity will ruin the powder, causing it to clump up and lose its texture and qualities required for baking. As with many leavening ingredients, direct sunlight is also a way to make your cream of tartar spoil.

However, if you store it in a dry cupboard away from the sun or put it in your freezer or refrigerator, you can expect the powder to last for years. It doesn’t have an expiration date, so if you suspect your cream of powder went bad, check if it’s lost its texture, became yellow instead of white, or has a weird smell not similar to its usual slightly acidic one.

Otherwise, Does It Go Bad suggests a home test:

  1. Place a ½ teaspoon of cream of tartar in ½ glass of warm water.
  2. Add a pinch of baking soda.
  3.  Watch if the acid begins to bubble and foam.
  4. If it creates a foam—it is still suitable for baking. 


Cream of tartar is a whipping agent that helps stabilize whipped egg whites for complicated recipes such as meringue. It can also be used as a leavening agent in cakes and cookies or help prevent sugar from crystalizing in icings, syrups, and candy.

For more, don’t miss 10 Ways To Prolong The Shelf Life Of Cookies.