Cream of tartar and baking powder have a lot in common; you should have them both on hand if you bake pastries regularly. While these two ingredients do share some of the same properties, there are some significant differences between them and the ways that they are used. Read on to see how cream of tartar and baking powder compare to each other.
What are the differences between cream of tartar and baking powder?
The main difference between cream of tartar and baking powder has to do what makes up each of these leavening agents. Cream of tartar consists of tartaric acid, which is a wine-making byproduct. It is also called potassium bitartrate. Tartaric acid is what is left behind on the insides of wine barrels after the wine has been drained from them. Its benefits include stabilizing egg whites so that they can be whipped for longer without collapsing. The result is that your baked goods have finer air bubbles that are more evenly distributed so that the baked item will have a more refined texture. In addition, cream of tartar affects the pigments in flour to make them appear whiter. An angel food cake or meringue made with cream of tartar will have a whiter appearance than one made without it.
Baking powder contains cream of tartar along with baking soda. The cream of tartar reacts with the baking soda to release carbon dioxide bubbles that result in its leavening action.
Can you use cream of tartar in place of baking powder or vice versa?
Cream of tartar makes a good substitute for baking powder in certain baking applications; in fact, you can make a form of baking powder by combining cream of tartar with baking soda. Combine 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda with 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar and use that to replace a teaspoon of baking powder. Similarly, you can use baking powder to replace cream of tartar in recipes that require both cream of tartar and baking soda. Simply reverse the formula above by adding a teaspoon of baking powder in place of each 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar required in the recipe.
When using cream of tartar and baking soda in place of baking powder, add 1/4 teaspoon of cornstarch to the mix. This is especially important if you do not plan to use it immediately. Moisture is what causes the two ingredients to react and release carbon dioxide. Moisture in the air can cause them to release carbon dioxide before you need them to; the cornstarch helps to prevent this.
Note that baking powder only works as a substitute in recipes that include both cream of tartar and baking soda. Cream of tartar by itself will not be a good substitute for baking powder, nor will baking powder be a good substitute for cream of tartar without baking soda.
When should you use cream of tartar and when should you use baking powder?
Add cream of tartar when whipping egg whites to make baked goods like meringues and angel food cake. It helps to stabilize the egg whites so that they are better able to hold in water and air. Its use as an egg white stabilizer is arguably the most common application for this ingredient. Cream of tartar has other applications beyond baking. It can be added to certain steamed or boiled vegetables to help them retain their color. It does this by lowering the pH in the water used to cook them. Baking powder’s main use is as an all-purpose leavening agent for everything from cakes to biscuits.