Cream of Tartar: A Leavening Agent That Comes From Wine

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Also known as tartaric acid, cream of tartar has been around since 800 AD when it was discovered by a Persian alchemist. It is a by-product of wine-making and forms initially as a product called argol on the inside of casks. The argol can be refined into the product that we know as cream of tartar.

The modern process of making cream of tartar came from a Swedish chemist named CW Scheele in 1769. In 1832, French physicist Jean Baptiste Biot would find discover various physical properties of cream of tartar such as the fact that it can rotate polarized light. It would be further investigated by Louis Pasteur in 1847, who investigated the shapes of its crystals. He observed that it had asymmetrical crystals.

Cream of tartar flavor profile

Cream of tartar is odorless but has a strong acidic taste. It also has metallic notes that will be noticeable in dishes that have higher concentrations of it.

Health benefits of cream of tartar

Cream of tartar is not rich in nutrients; in fact, it has only one—potassium. One teaspoon of cream of tartar provides more than 5 percent of your daily recommended intake of this mineral. This is considerable for such a small serving size. Your body needs potassium for bone strength and it can help to lower your risk of stroke. Despite the fact that it only contains one mineral in any meaningful amount, cream of tartar does have some significant health benefits. Many of its benefits are due to the potassium content. You can use it to:

  • Treat constipation: Cream of tartar has long been considered an effective laxative. Note that for it to have this effect, you have to take a fairly high dosage. Because the amounts used in cooking are usually very small, it is unlikely to have this effect in most instances.
  • Stop smoking: Many people consider cream of tartar a helpful aid for quitting cigarettes. Not only is it thought to help users to purge nicotine from their systems, it is said to help with curbing nicotine addiction. Some who have tried it say that it made them not like the taste of cigarettes. You can use it to quit smoking by mixing it with orange juice. The orange juice helps to boost vitamin C levels that may be diminished by smoking.
  • Lower blood pressure: Potassium deficiency can cause your blood pressure to go up, so cream of tartar can reduce blood pressure because of its high potassium content. Make sure that your high blood pressure is in fact caused by potassium deficiency before taking cream of tartar to treat it.
  • Treats urinary tract infections (UTIs): Cream of tartar can affect your urine’s pH value, making your urinary tract a less welcoming place for the bacteria that cause infections.
  • Clear up acne: Cream of tartar can remove toxins that cause acne. You don’t apply it topically, you make a drink with it and it eliminates acne-causing bacteria and toxins from within your body.
  • Treat water retention: Cream of tartar has been used as a diuretic by practitioners of traditional medicine for a long time. As such, it is believed to be effective for treating edema. Edema is characterized by fluid trapped in the body’s tissues.

Common uses of cream of tartar

Cream of tartar is used to stabilize egg whites. It makes them stiffen in less time and helps them to stay that way. It is also used to slow crystal formation in sugar syrups, which keeps them smooth. In addition, cream of tartar is what is added to baking soda to turn it into baking powder. It is used in snickerdoodles to give them their distinctive tart note.


Photo by Chemicalinterest (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons