What Is Cream of Tartar—and What Can I Substitute for It?
Whether added to snickerdoodle cookies to make them wonderfully soft, to whipped egg whites to make them stable, or to simple syrup to prevent sugar crystals from forming, cream of tartar is an all-around good thing to have on hand. But what is it about cream of tartar that makes it so magical?
What is Cream of Tartar?
Technically, cream of tartar is an acid—specifically, tartaric acid. It’s a byproduct of wine production, the residue left on the barrels, actually.
Most commonly, cream of tartar is used as a leavener, because when it’s combined with baking soda, together they produce carbon dioxide gas. That’s the same gas that’s produced by yeast in bread baking.
When it’s added to egg whites, it boosts the strength of the individual air bubbles and slows down their natural tendency to deflate. And when added to simple syrup, it prevents sugar’s natural tendency to re-bond and form crystals.
The Best Substitute for Cream of Tartar
But what do you do if you don’t have cream of tartar in your pantry and your recipe calls for it? Try this simple fix:
Substitute fresh lemon juice or white vinegar for the cream of tartar
For every 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar in the recipe, use 1 teaspoon lemon juice or white vinegar.
As an example, if your cookie recipe calls for 1 teaspoon baking soda, add 2 teaspoons lemon juice instead of the cream of tartar. If your simple syrup recipe asks for 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar, use 3-4 drops of lemon juice. And for the whipping egg whites? Add 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice per egg white.
The results will be so close, you probably won’t notice the substitution.
Other Substitutes for Cream of Tartar
While lemon juice is our top pick for a cream of tartar substitute, you can also use these other handy stand-ins.
Baking Powder. In baking recipes, if the ingredients list calls for both baking powder and cream of tartar, you can sub baking powder for the cream of tartar. Use a ratio of 1.5 tsp. baking powder to 1 tsp. of cream of tartar in the replacement.
Buttermilk. The acid in buttermilk makes it a good stand-in for cream of tartar in baking recipes, as long as you reduce the amount of liquid in the rest of the recipe. For each 1/4 tsp. of cream of tartar that the recipe calls for, remove a 1/2 cup of liquid from the recipe and replace it with 1/2 cup of buttermilk.
Yogurt. Use yogurt just as you would buttermilk, following the replacement ratio above, in baking recipes, but thin the yogurt with a bit of milk before adding to the recipe.
Corn syrup. In recipes where cream of tartar is called for to prevent crystallization, such as when you are boiling sugar, you can substitute corn syrup for cream of tartar. Follow this replacement rule: Omit the cream of tartar and substitute 1/4 of the sugar called for with corn syrup,