Cream of Tartar: Overview
Cream of tartar, or tartaric acid, is a byproduct of the wine-making process. The tartaric acid collects on the walls of wine casks, and it has numerous culinary uses. The white powder is an acidic salt, and it is most commonly used as a stabilizer in egg white dishes like meringue or souffle. Cream of tartar is also a key ingredient in baking soda.
As a stabilizer, cream of tartar ensures egg whites fluff up to many times their size, while still holding their shape. A deflated meringue or souffle that won’t rise is often a result of not using enough cream of tartar. Angel food cake also commonly calls for cream of tartar.
Cooking with Cream of Tartar: Common Uses
Cream of tartar is most commonly used as a stabilizer in baked goods and whipped egg dishes. The powder has a slightly acidic, tangy taste, which is used to spice a few dishes, yet it mostly used in baking. The most common uses for cream of tartar include:
- Meringues – Tartaric acid helps to stabilize beaten egg whites. The result is fluffy, towering meringues. Typically, 1/8 teaspoon is used per egg white.
- Angel Food Cake – Cream of tartar helps to stabilize angel food cake as well, but it also helps to tint the color of the cake to stark white.
- Snickerdoodle Cookies – A hint of cream of tartar helps give snicker doodle cookies their tangy, almost citrusy flavor. Without it, a snicker doodle is just a cinnamon-sugar cookie.
- Leavening Agent – Cream of tartar and baking soda are a natural leavening agent that helps bread and baked goods puff up.
Cream of tartar is very versatile. It’s also commonly added to boiled vegetables to help the veggies retain their vibrant colors. The powder is also used as a polish for cooper and other metals.
Cream of Tartar: History
Cream of tartar is about as old as winemaking. Ancient fermentation vats found in the world’s oldest known winery date to 4100 B.C. Those vats contained cream of tartar crystalizes. And the substance has been observed throughout ancient history. The Egyptians, for example, had many uses for cream of tartar. The white crystalizes were used primarily as a dying agent, helping to turn cotton and fabrics a stark white. And that practice remains today. Cream of tartar continues to be a popular culinary and fabric dying agent.
Yet it was only recently that tartaric acid was produced commercially. Swedish chemist CW Scheele developed a commercial manufacturing process in 1769, and the chemical properties of the powder were further refined by Jean-Baptiste Biot in the 1800s. Since then, tartaric acid has become widely used in baking. It’s a common leavening agent, as well as a stabilizer. And it’s manufactured in just about every wine-making region in the world.
In the wine-making process, tartaric acid crystallizes on the sides of the wine casks. It’s a natural byproduct of the fermentation process. You might even see potassium bitartrate (its scientific name) form on the underside of corks in wine bottles.
The crystals are collected, and in raw form, they’re known as beeswing. Prior to purification, cream of tartar is typically reddish-brown, as it’s produced in the process of making red wines. The wet crystals are scraped from the sides of barrels, and they undergo a baking process at very high temperatures.
After baking, the hardened cakes are purified, refined and sifted to make the stark white powder.
About Our Cream of Tartar
Nearly every wine growing region in the world produces cream of tartar. From California, to Spain, the crystals are harvested, purified and sold around the world. Burma Spice sources our cream of tartar from small wine operations in California’s Central Valley.