Of all the ingredients lurking in the pantry, cream of tartar is easily the most misunderstood. It rarely shows up in recipes anymore and when it does, it’s not abundantly clear exactly what it does. Considering how ubiquitous it is, there remain so many unanswered questions. For that matter, what is it in the first place? For those with ethical or dietary concerns, is cream of tartar vegan, too?
Despite the misleading name, there’s no dairy involved, and it isn’t even creamy in texture. Cream of tartar is a dry white powder made from grape must, which is a byproduct created when fermenting wines. The scientific name is potassium bitartrate, though you’re unlikely to find that printed on any ingredient labels.
It’s a powerful acid that first rose to fame as an accessible and affordable cleaning agent that’s much safer that household bleach. Only in the mid-1800s did chemists discover that it could be combined with baking soda to create a brand new chemical leavener, which we now know as baking powder.
Although modern baking powder uses a different formulation now, cream of tartar has won its keep in the kitchen for myriad reasons. It reduces browning, which is helpful for maintaining bright white batters, prevents sugar crystallization for perfect candy-making, and helps stabilize proteins to ensure crisp peaks on your meringue cookies.
Yes, cream of tartar is 100% vegan! On top of that, it’s sustainable and reduces food waste since it’s upcycled from wine manufacturing and is otherwise considered a waste product.
Cream of tartar is made simply from grapes and bacteria, like all the best fermented foods around. It’s also free of all common allergens and safe to consume on a paleo, keto, sugar-free, salt-free, or oil-free diet.
Once you start experimenting with cream of tartar, you’ll see just how versatile it truly is. Even if you only use it occasionally, you’ll be glad you always have it handy, especially since it has no expiration date.
This article for cream of tartar was written with support from Hannah Kaminsky and edited by Rachel Lessenden. Photos sourced from Canva.com.