Cream of Tartar – What is it?

What is Cream-of-Tartar-The-Bearfoot-Baker

Cream of tartar, what is it? Do you really need it in your royal icing? Can you make royal icing without it? Some royal recipes list it in the ingredients and some don’t, why? Let’s see if we can demystify this simple little ingredient today.

Cream of Tartar | The Bearfoot Baker

Cream of Tartar:
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Did you know that cream of tartar is a byproduct of the winemaking process because it is?
  • When grapes are fermented during the winemaking process a powder forms on the inside of the barrels. Then, it’s scraped off, cleaned, and ground into the powder form we all know. Isn’t that interesting? Who knew that wine barrels are where we get cream of tartar? I was clueless about it!
Why do we use Cream of tartar?
  • We use cream of tartar for stabilizing egg whites because it helps strengthen the structure of the bubbles and gives the whipped eggs more volume. 
How else can you use it?
  • You can use it to make baking powder.
  • 1/2 teaspoon of Cream of Tartar
  • 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon of cornstarch

Mix the cream of tartar and baking soda. Add the cornstarch and store it in an airtight container. I had no idea making baking powder was so simple.

Should I add cream of tartar to my royal icing?
  • It depends. The first thing you need to do is look at the ingredients list on the meringue powder to see if the cream of tartar is listed as one of the ingredients. If so, you don’t need to add it to your royal icing recipe because it has already been added. You’ll need to add it if it is not listed.

There may be times you make royal icing with egg white and if you do, you should add it so your royal icing will have volume.

Cream of Tartar will help prevent sugar crystallization.
  • Have you ever seen grainy honey? If you’ve seen it you’d remember. Honey is supposed to be super smooth and if it isn’t, it’s because the sugar has crystallized causing it to become grainy.

Crystallization is a chain reaction that occurs in melted sugar as it tries to reform into its crystalline (grainy) state. If you are boiling sugar syrup and a few sugar crystals stick to the pot’s side, it can crystallize the entire syrup. As you can imagine none of us want that because grainy royal icing isn’t what we’re looking for. 

Adding a cold spoon to the sugar syrup can also cause it to crystallize. But the good news there are things you can do to stop crystallization. Adding an interfering agent like cream of tartar or lemon juice can help prevent it.

When you think about the cream of tartar it’s a neat ingredient that can help add volume to whipped eggs and help keep our sugar syrups smooth and not grainy. You may need it for your royal icing or maybe not so check the meringue powder ingredient list for the answer.  

I hope this information helps answer some of your questions because knowing what the ingredients do can make baking a little easier.

Cream of TarTar

Here are more little baking tips for you:
Salted or Unsalted Butter
Flour and Sugar Weight Chart Cheat Sheet
Eggs-How to Test for Freshness
How to tell if Baking Powder is Good

Bear hugs,