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What Is Cream of Tartar?

Cream of Tartar or Potassium Bitartrate Information and Uses

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This is the chemical structure for cream of tartar or potassium bitartrate.

This is the chemical structure for cream of tartar or potassium bitartrate.

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Cream of tartar or potassium bitartrate is a common household chemical and cooking ingredient. Here's a look at what cream of tartar is, where it comes from, and how cream of tartar is used.

Basic Cream of Tartar Facts

Cream of Tartar is potassium bitartrate, also known as potassium hydrogen tartrate, which has a chemical formula of KC4H5O6. Cream of tartar is an odorless white crystalline powder.

Where Does Cream of Tartar Come From?

Cream of tartar or potassium bitartrate crystallizes out of solution when grapes are fermented during winemaking. Crystals of cream of tartar may precipitate out of grape juice after it has been chilled or left to stand or the crystals may be found on the corks of wine bottles where the wine has been stored under cool conditions. The crude crystals, called beeswing, may be collected by filtering the grape juice or wine through cheesecloth.

Cream of Tartar Uses

Cream of tartar is used primarily in cooking, though it is also used as a cleaning agent by mixing it together with white vinegar and rubbing the paste onto hard water deposits and soap scum. Here are some of the culinary uses of cream of tartar:
  • Added to whipped cream after it has been whipped to stabilize it.
  • Added to egg whites when whipping them to increase their volume and help them maintain peaks at higher temperatures.
  • Added when boiling vegetables to reduce discoloration.
  • One of the key ingredients in some formulations of baking powder, where it reacts with baking soda and an acid to produce carbon dioxide to promote rising of baked goods.
  • Found with potassium chloride in sodium-free salt substitutes.
  • Used to make icing for gingerbread houses.
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