Tartar sauce and cream of tartar are two items that every serious home cook should keep on hand. They are important items in that each serves its specific purpose well. The word tartar in both tartar sauce and cream of tartar might understandably lead an inexperienced cook to believe that they are somehow related. The truth is that while they are both food products, they are very different in almost every conceivable way, with very little overlap in terms of taste or function. To learn more about how these two food items compare to each other, let’s examine them in the SPICEography Showdown below.
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How does tartar sauce differ from cream of tartar?
Tartar sauce and cream of tartar differ in their appearance and consistency. Tartar sauce is a creamy liquid. Cream of tartar is a fine, white powder despite the word cream in the name.
Tartar sauce and cream of tartar differ so much in their appearance and consistency because they are made up of different ingredients. Modern tartar sauce consists of mayonnaise with chopped pickles. The earliest iterations were made of pureed egg yolks with oil and vinegar.
Cream of tartar consists of tartaric acid, which is also known as potassium hydrogen tartrate or potassium bitartrate. This compound precipitates out of grape juice and accumulates on the interior of wine casks as a byproduct of wine-making.
Tartar sauce is creamy and rich and is used to impart those qualities to food. Cream of tartar does have an acidic taste, but it is not usually used for its flavor. Instead, it is used because of its ability to help with leavening and stability.
If your recipe calls for one, can you use the other?
Tartar sauce cannot be used in place of cream of tartar in any application, nor can cream of tartar work as a tartar sauce substitute.
When should you use tartar sauce, and when should you use cream of tartar?
Today, tartar sauce is best known as a condiment for fried seafood — especially fried fish — but it began as a sauce for beef. Tartar sauce was originally served as a condiment for the raw beef dish known as beef tartare or steak tartare. You can still use it that way or as a general dipping sauce for fried foods including onion rings and fries or raw vegetables. It also works as a basic salad dressing.
Cream of tartar is a key ingredient for making meringues because of its ability to keep whipped egg whites stable. You will need it for any recipe with whipped egg whites as a key ingredient; for example, the whipped egg whites in angel food cake will usually have cream of tartar added to them.
Cream of tartar helps give snickerdoodle cookies their distinctive flavor and texture, and is important for the consistency of the meringue topping on lemon meringue pies. Adding a little cream of tartar to whipped cream can keep it fluffy. Cream of tartar also helps boiled vegetables to retain their color.
\Yet another valuable benefit is that it keeps sugar syrups from crystallizing, which is useful when making cocktails and many desserts. Cream of tartar is added to baking soda to make baking powder, which is the main non-yeast leavening agent used for baking.