What is Cream of Tartar and Why Do Cooks Use It?

What is Cream of Tartar and Why Do Cooks Use It?

If you are a baker or candy maker you probably have cream of tartar on hand. Cream of tartar is a stabilizing ingredient for recipes that contain beaten eggs. What is cream of tartar?

The Spice House Website defines it as a white powder derived from wine casks. It is made from the natural crust, or sludge, that accumulates on the inside of wine casks. Though this sounds like a tall tale, I know it is true. Years ago my husband and I visited wineries in the Napa Valley of California. One guide told us cream of tartar was a by-product of the wine industry.

Iranians were making cream of tartar 7,000 years ago, according to the O Chef Website. Centuries later, Alfred Bird, a British chemist, invented baking powder by combining baking soda, cream of tartar, and a moisture absorber, usually cornstarch. This information comes from “History of Baking Powder,” an article on the What’s Cooking America Website. Apparently Bird invented baking powder so he could “make yeast-free bread for his wife, Elizabeth, who had allergies to eggs and yeast.”

Cream of tartar inhibits the formation of crystals and that is why it is used in meringues. Some cooks add cream of tartar to green vegetables so they do not turn brown. Fresh lemon juice and vinegar may be substituted for cream of tartar if you do not have any on hand.

Macaroons, meringues, meringue pies, and Pavlovas (an Australian cake made with egg whites) all contain cream of tartar. For best results, make your meringue dessert on a dry day. Your mixing bowl must be dry and spotlessly clean. Add the sugar very gradually, or it will not dissolve in the egg whites.

Forgotten Mini Chocolate Chip cookies are a good choice for festive holiday dinners and lazy summer meals. This recipe may be doubled.


  • 2 jumbo egg whites (room temperature)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 cup fine sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Line baking pan with parchment paper. In a large mixing bowl, beat egg whites with cream of tartar until they start to form stiff peaks. Add sugar gradually, 1 tablespoon at a time, and continue to beat on high speed until batter is stiff and glossy. Beat in almond extract. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold mini chocolate chips into batter. Drop by teaspoons onto baking pan, leaving 1 inch between cookies. Bake for 50 minutes. Turn oven off, open the door, and let cookies rest for 5 minutes. Remove and cool on wire rack. Makes about 1 1/2 dozen.

How to Make Pizza at Home

The Author:

Harriet Hodgson has been an independent journalist for 30 years. Before she became a health and wellness writer, she was a food writer for a local magazine. She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Association of Health Care Journalists, and the Association for Death Education and Counseling.  Please visit Harriet’s Website and learn more about this busy author and grandmother.

Copyright 2009 by Harriet Hodgson

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