Cream of Tartar vs Baking Powder

In the world of baking, various ingredients play essential roles in achieving the perfect texture, taste, and appearance. Two such ingredients, cream of tartar and baking powder, are common leavening agents that many recipes call for. While they may seem similar at first glance, they serve different purposes in baking, and their differences are critical to understanding which one to use in a particular culinary creation.

Cream of tartar, also known as potassium bitartrate, is a byproduct of winemaking that appears in the form of a white, odorless powder. It functions as a stabilizer and acidity regulator in recipes, preventing sugar from crystallizing and egg whites from deflating. Baking powder, on the other hand, is a combination of baking soda and an acid, often including cream of tartar, which releases carbon dioxide gases when mixed with a liquid. This creates bubbles in the dough or batter, causing it to expand and rise during baking.

Key Takeaways

  • Cream of tartar stabilizes and regulates acidity, while baking powder acts as a leavening agent.
  • Understanding their roles in recipes helps determine when to use each ingredient.
  • Be aware of shelf life, storage, and potential alternatives in order to enhance your baking skills.

What is Cream of Tartar?

Cream of tartar is a common ingredient that serves a variety of purposes in the culinary world. This versatile powder is derived from tartaric acid, which is an acid found in many fruits. When purified, tartaric acid forms potassium bitartrate, also known as cream of tartar or potassium hydrogen tartrate.

You might be curious about the source of this unique ingredient. It is formed during the winemaking process, as tartaric acid naturally occurs in grapes, and it is collected from the crystal-like sediment that forms on the inside of wine barrels. Cream of tartar is then purified to be used in a variety of culinary applications.

As an acidic substance, cream of tartar has several uses in the kitchen. One of its primary functions is as a leavening agent. When combined with baking soda, the reaction between the acid and the base creates carbon dioxide gas, which helps to lighten and lift baked goods like cookies and cakes. To use cream of tartar in this way, a general rule of thumb is to use 1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar for every 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda.

Aside from its leavening properties, cream of tartar also acts as a stabilizing agent. You can use it to stabilize egg whites when making meringue or whipped cream, ensuring that they maintain their volume and texture. A small amount of cream of tartar added to your whipped egg whites or cream will help to produce a more stable and longer-lasting foam.

Another benefit of using cream of tartar is its ability to prevent sugar from crystallizing in recipes like caramel and candy. A pinch of cream of tartar can help you achieve a smooth, velvety texture in your sweet confections.

In summary, cream of tartar is a valuable ingredient in your kitchen, acting as both a leavening and stabilizing agent due to its acidic nature. Its versatility and usefulness make it an essential addition to any pantry.

What is Baking Powder?

Baking powder is a leavening agent that you can use in your various recipes to make them light and fluffy. It’s a versatile and essential ingredient to have in your kitchen.

The primary components of baking powder are an alkali, an acid, and a filler, typically cornstarch. The most common alkali used is sodium bicarbonate, also known as baking soda. Baking powder’s acidity comes from various acidic ingredients like monocalcium phosphate or sodium aluminum sulfate.

When you mix baking powder with an acidic ingredient in a recipe, a chemical reaction occurs. This reaction produces carbon dioxide gas, which forms bubbles in your batter or dough. These bubbles help your baked goods rise, giving them a tender and airy structure.

Here’s a breakdown of baking powder’s key components:

  • Alkali: Sodium bicarbonate
  • Acid(s): Monocalcium phosphate, sodium aluminum sulfate, and others
  • Filler: Cornstarch

In recipes that require an acidic ingredient, such as lemon juice, vinegar, or yogurt, using baking powder helps neutralize the acidity, allowing the dough to rise properly. It is important to keep in mind that the balance between the alkaline and acidic components determines the effectiveness of the leavening action.

To summarize, baking powder is a crucial ingredient for achieving the desired texture in your baked goods. Its components, including sodium bicarbonate, acids, and cornstarch, work together to create a leavening effect that makes your recipes light and fluffy. Remember to balance the alkaline and acidic ingredients for successful baking results.

What is Baking Soda?

Baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate, is a common ingredient in many baked goods. It is an alkaline compound that, when combined with an acidic ingredient, produces carbon dioxide gas. This chemical reaction results in the leavening of your baked goods, making them light and fluffy.

Why use baking soda? Baking soda is a highly effective leavening agent because it is a strong alkaline component. When you mix it with the acidic ingredients in your recipe, such as vinegar, lemon juice, or cream of tartar, it creates bubbles of carbon dioxide gas. These bubbles expand as your mixture bakes, causing the dough or batter to rise. This process is essential for creating texture and structure in your baked goods.

As a rule of thumb, use one teaspoon of baking soda for every two cups of flour in your recipe. However, it’s important to note that too much baking soda can lead to an unpleasant, soapy taste. To avoid this, be sure to carefully measure your ingredients and not use more baking soda than the recipe calls for.

How to use baking soda effectively To ensure that you achieve the desired lift and texture in your baked goods, follow these simple steps:

  1. Combine all your dry ingredients together, including the baking soda.
  2. Add your wet ingredients and ensure everything is well mixed.
  3. Use an acidic ingredient, like vinegar or lemon juice, to activate the baking soda.
  4. Allow the mixture to bake immediately after combining the ingredients, preventing the gas bubbles from escaping.

Baking soda can also contribute to the taste of your baked goods, adding a subtle, slightly acidic tang. This quality can enhance the flavor of certain recipes, especially if the other ingredients are rich or sweet.

In conclusion, understanding baking soda and its role in your recipes will help you create perfectly leavened and delicious baked goods. Just remember to measure carefully and promptly place your mixture in the oven after mixing the ingredients to ensure the best results.

Cream of Tartar in Baking

When it comes to baking, you may frequently encounter recipes calling for cream of tartar. As a neutral and clear leavening agent, it helps create carbon dioxide bubbles in your batter or dough, which is essential for giving rise and structure to your baked goods.

Using cream of tartar in your baking process helps improve the appearance of your cookies, muffins, pancakes, or biscuits. This versatile ingredient acts as a binder and aids in aeration, contributing to the lightness and fluffy texture of your final product.

One of the best applications for cream of tartar is in making meringues and whipped egg whites. The cream of tartar stabilizes the egg whites by lowering their pH, allowing them to maintain the desired structure when baked. This is especially important in dishes such as meringue pie or soufflé where the incorporation of air bubbles and a stable structure are vital for success.

Other reasons to include cream of tartar in your recipes are its ability to prevent moisture from being released in the cooking process and to enhance the whipped cream’s smooth consistency. Both of these factors contribute to the overall quality and presentation of your baked goods.

As a leavening agent, cream of tartar will often be used in conjunction with other leaveners such as baking powder. This combination ensures a consistent rise in your baked good, regardless of the specific ingredients or process used in the recipe.

While it may seem like a minor ingredient, the addition of cream of tartar in your baking can make all the difference. Its shelf life, however, does not last forever, so be sure to check the expiration date before use. By incorporating cream of tartar into your recipes, you can effortlessly elevate the quality, appearance, and taste of your baked goods.

Baking Powder in Baking

Baking powder is a crucial ingredient in many baking recipes as it acts as a leavening agent. When you mix it into your batter or dough, it creates carbon dioxide bubbles, which cause your baked goods to rise and become fluffy. This aeration process helps to create a light, airy structure and an appealing appearance in products like cookies, muffins, pancakes, and biscuits.

To understand the role of baking powder in the baking process, you should know that it is a mixture of a weak acid (such as cream of tartar or monocalcium phosphate) and a base (usually baking soda). When you add moisture to your recipe, the acidity and alkalinity react, releasing carbon dioxide. This is what creates the air bubbles in your batter, which ultimately helps it rise when baked.

One of the benefits of using baking powder in your recipes is its ability to adjust the pH level of the batter. By doing so, it can improve the texture, appearance, and shelf life of your baked goods. For instance, it might act as a binder in items such as cookies, contributing to a chewy or crispy texture, depending on the recipe.

When selecting baking powder for your kitchen, pay attention to its shelf life. Generally, baking powder has a shelf life of around a year when properly stored in a cool, dry place. Over time, the leavening agent loses its potency, which can lead to flat or dense baked goods. To test the freshness of your baking powder, simply combine a teaspoon of it with a small amount of hot water. If it fizzes and bubbles vigorously, it’s still active and suitable for use in your recipes.

In summary, baking powder is an essential component in many baking recipes due to its ability to create carbon dioxide bubbles and provide aeration. It impacts the structure, appearance, and shelf life of your baked goods, making them lighter and more appealing. By understanding its role and selecting a high-quality product, you can ensure successful results in your cookies, muffins, pancakes, and other treats.

Difference Between Cream of Tartar & Baking Powder

When it comes to baking, it is important to understand the difference between cream of tartar and baking powder, as they are both commonly used leavening agents. While they might appear similar, they serve distinct purposes and are not interchangeable.

Cream of tartar is a white powder, also known as potassium hydrogen tartrate or potassium bitartrate. It is a byproduct of winemaking and is derived from tartaric acid. Being an acid, it contributes to the acidity in a recipe and reacts with other ingredients, like when combined with baking soda. This reaction creates carbon dioxide gas, which results in a light and fluffy texture in baked goods. It helps provide structure and stabilization to recipes, such as meringue and whipped cream.

In some cases, you might use cream of tartar to create your own baking powder substitute. For instance, mixing 1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar with 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda would yield 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder. However, substituting cream of tartar directly for baking powder is not advisable, as it will change the outcome of your recipe.

Baking powder, on the other hand, is a pre-mixed leavening agent composed of an alkali (usually sodium bicarbonate or baking soda) and an acid (such as cream of tartar or a different acidic substance). Additionally, it often contains a starch to help maintain its consistency. Baking powder is considered a complete leavening agent, meaning it has both acidic and alkaline components needed for the leavening reaction. This allows it to work on its own, without requiring additional acidic ingredients like cream of tartar.

When using baking powder, the ratio is generally 1 teaspoon per 1 cup of flour for optimal leavening. If you need a substitution for baking powder, you can create your own by combining an acidic component (like cream of tartar) with an alkaline component (such as baking soda).

In conclusion, understanding the difference between cream of tartar and baking powder is crucial for successful baking. Cream of tartar serves as an acidic substance in recipes, while baking powder is a complete leavening agent. Keep in mind their distinct properties, and employ them properly to achieve the desired outcome in your baked goods.

Alternatives & Substitutes

When you’re in need of a substitute for cream of tartar or baking powder, there are several options available. It’s important to choose a substitute that matches the function of the original ingredient in your recipe.

For recipes that require cream of tartar as a leavening agent, you can utilize lemon juice or white vinegar. Both options provide the necessary acidity to activate the baking soda. To replace one teaspoon of cream of tartar, use:

  • 2 teaspoons of lemon juice, or
  • 2 teaspoons of white vinegar

However, be aware that these substitutions may slightly alter the flavor of your baked goods.

If your recipe calls for cream of tartar as a stabilizer in egg whites or whipped cream, there is no suitable direct replacement. In this case, it’s best to follow the recipe as directed, as omitting the cream of tartar may result in a less stable final product.

In recipes that require baking powder as a leavening agent, there are a few options for alternatives:

  1. Buttermilk: You can replace 1 teaspoon of baking powder by using a 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda and 1/2 cup of buttermilk or yogurt. Be sure to reduce the other liquids in your recipe to maintain the correct consistency.
  2. Cream of tartar: Combine 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda with a 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar. This will work as a substitute for 1 teaspoon of baking powder.
  3. Lemon juice: You can use 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda mixed with 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice to replace 1 teaspoon of baking powder. This may slightly alter the flavor of your baked goods.

Ultimately, the best substitute for cream of tartar or baking powder depends on the specific requirements of your recipe. By understanding the purpose of these ingredients and the available alternatives, you can continue to create delicious baked goods with confidence.

The Role of Cream of Tartar & Baking Powder in Recipes

When it comes to baking, knowing the difference between cream of tartar and baking powder is essential for your recipes’ success. Both play a significant role in providing structure, texture, and flavor in various treats like cookies, cakes, and meringues.

Cream of tartar is an acidic, white powder derived from the byproduct of wine-making. In recipes, it is often used to stabilize egg whites and whipped cream, producing light and airy textures. When mixed with lemon or yogurt, the acidity of cream of tartar reacts with the alkaline elements, leading to a chemical reaction that helps your baked goods rise.

For example, in meringues, cream of tartar helps form a stable structure by preventing sugar from crystallizing. Similarly, it plays a crucial role in syrups and icings by ensuring a smooth consistency. To maintain its effectiveness, store cream of tartar in an air-tight container and keep it in a cool, dry place.

On the other hand, baking powder is a leavening agent that contains a combination of an acid, like cream of tartar, and a base like sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). It’s used to make your dough and batters rise by releasing carbon dioxide when mixed with a liquid. Baking powder is commonly used in cakes, cookies, and other recipes requiring flour.

When substituting cream of tartar in a recipe, remember that it has a different effect than baking powder. If you are using cream of tartar to stabilize egg whites, you can try substituting with lemon juice or white vinegar. However, if your recipe calls for baking powder, using the same amount of cream of tartar may not provide the desired rising effect.

In conclusion, understanding the distinct uses and differences between cream of tartar and baking powder helps ensure the perfect result in your baked goods. Knowing when and how to use these essential ingredients will enhance the structure, texture, and flavor of your favorite recipes.

Health Benefits & Drawbacks

When it comes to Cream of Tartar and Baking Powder, both have their own set of health benefits and drawbacks. Understanding these can help you make an informed decision on which to use in your baking.

Cream of Tartar, also known as potassium bitartrate, provides a small amount of potassium in your diet. This can help you maintain a healthy balance of electrolytes, which is essential for proper muscle and nerve function. However, it’s worth noting that an excessive intake of potassium can lead to hyperkalemia, a condition characterized by high potassium levels in the blood. This may cause irregular heartbeat and muscle weakness.

Another advantage of using Cream of Tartar is its potential role in promoting skin health. It has been claimed that this compound can help alleviate acne symptoms when applied topically. This is due to its mild astringent properties, which may help to tighten and cleanse the pores.

On the other hand, Baking Powder has its own unique health benefits. It contains sodium bicarbonate which can help alleviate occasional constipation. Sodium bicarbonate acts as a natural antacid, which may encourage bowel movements and relieve constipation discomfort.

However, both Cream of Tartar and Baking Powder should be consumed in moderation. They are low in calories but contain minimal nutritional value. Neither provides a significant source of essential nutrients such as iron.

In conclusion, both Cream of Tartar and Baking Powder offer certain health benefits, but they also come with some drawbacks. Using them in moderation and understanding their properties can assist you in making the right choices for your baking and overall health.

Shelf Life & Storage

When it comes to shelf life, both cream of tartar and baking powder have a fairly long lifespan. However, there are differences in how long each will retain its potency. Cream of tartar can last for several years if stored properly, while baking powder typically has a shelf life of about 6 to 12 months. To ensure freshness, always check the expiration date on the packaging.

In order to prolong the shelf life of these ingredients, it’s essential to store them in an air-tight container. This will prevent moisture and air from affecting their freshness and potency. Keep these containers in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight and heat sources. Proper storage not only helps maintain the effectiveness of cream of tartar and baking powder, but also preserves their taste and consistency for future use.

If you’re unsure whether your cream of tartar or baking powder is still fresh and potent, you can conduct simple tests. For cream of tartar, mix a small amount with water, and if bubbles form, it’s still effective. For baking powder, combine a small amount with water and a few drops of vinegar. If it fizzes or bubbles, it’s still active. If either ingredient has expired, it’s best to replace it to ensure your recipes turn out as expected.

Remember, proper storage and being mindful of expiration dates will help maintain the freshness and potency of both cream of tartar and baking powder.

Cream of Tartar Beyond Baking

In addition to its role as a leavening agent in baking, cream of tartar offers several practical applications in your daily life. As a versatile and potent cleaning agent, you can incorporate this naturally derived substance into your cleaning routines.

For instance, you can create a homemade paste by mixing cream of tartar with a small amount of water. This paste serves as an effective cleaning solution for many surfaces, such as stainless steel and ceramic. Apply it to your sinks, faucets, or cookware, and you’ll notice how it quickly removes stains and restores shine.

Moreover, cream of tartar possesses acidic properties, which makes it ideal for dissolving mineral deposits on glassware and other delicate items. To use, simply sprinkle some cream of tartar onto a damp sponge and gently scrub away the residue. For more stubborn stains, consider adding a bit of vinegar to boost the cleaning power.

Beyond cleaning, cream of tartar is also useful in the kitchen when boiling vegetables. By adding a pinch to the boiling water, you can help your vegetables retain their vibrant colors and reduce cooking time. This is particularly beneficial for green vegetables, such as broccoli and green beans, as the cream of tartar’s acidity counteracts the natural loss of chlorophyll during the cooking process.

In summary, cream of tartar is an indispensable tool in both baking and everyday use. Its versatility as a cleaning agent and its ability to enhance the cooking process make it a valuable addition to your arsenal of household remedies.

Baking Tips & Techniques

When using cream of tartar or baking powder in your recipes, it’s essential to understand their differences and proper usage. Both ingredients serve as leavening agents, helping your baked goods to rise and achieve the desired texture.

Cream of tartar is a byproduct of winemaking, formed from the crystals that develop during fermentation. It is an acid, specifically potassium bitartrate, which means it can be mixed with baking soda to create homemade baking powder. This reaction releases carbon dioxide gas, giving rise to your dough or batter.

To create your own baking powder, you can follow this simple ratio:

  • 1 part baking soda
  • 2 parts cream of tartar

Some tips for using cream of tartar include:

  • Enhancing the stability of beaten egg whites in meringues or other recipes
  • Preventing sugar crystals from forming in recipes like caramel when added in small amounts
  • Adding a tangy flavor to certain baked goods

Baking powder, on the other hand, is a combination of baking soda, cream of tartar, and a moisture-absorbing agent like cornstarch. It is most commonly used in cakes and other baked goods that don’t have acidic ingredients. This pre-made mixture saves time and ensures even distribution of the leavening components.

When using baking powder, keep in mind:

  • Make sure it’s fresh by checking the expiration date or doing a quick test with water (if it doesn’t bubble up, it’s no longer effective)
  • The general guideline is to use 1 teaspoon of baking powder per 1 cup of flour in the recipe
  • Over-mixing can release too much carbon dioxide and lead to a dense or collapsed baked good

Lastly, baking soda is a crucial ingredient that can also be used on its own in recipes containing acidic ingredients, such as lemon juice or yogurt. It serves as a leavening agent when paired with an acid, causing similar reactions that release carbon dioxide and provide lift to the baked good.

Remember, using the right proportions and techniques with cream of tartar, baking powder, and baking soda will elevate your baking skills and result in delicious treats for you and your loved ones.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main purpose of cream of tartar in baking?

Cream of tartar is an acid, specifically potassium bitartrate, which serves several purposes in baking. It helps stabilize egg whites, increase the volume of beaten egg whites, and improve the texture of baked goods. Additionally, it prevents sugar crystals from forming in recipes like frostings and candies.

Can you substitute cream of tartar with baking powder?

No, you cannot directly substitute cream of tartar with baking powder. Cream of tartar is an acidic ingredient, while baking powder is a combination of an acid and baking soda. Baking powder already contains cream of tartar, so substituting it directly would affect the leavening and taste of your baked goods. However, you can substitute cream of tartar with other acidic ingredients if needed.

What are common cream of tartar substitutes?

There are several substitutes you can use if you don’t have cream of tartar on hand. Some common substitutes include lemon juice and white vinegar, as they provide similar acidity levels. You can use 1 teaspoon of lemon juice or white vinegar for every 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar in your recipe. Another option is to replace both the cream of tartar and baking soda in a recipe with baking powder.

How to make homemade baking powder using cream of tartar?

You can make your own baking powder at home by combining cream of tartar and baking soda. Mix 2 parts cream of tartar with 1 part baking soda. For example, to make 1 tablespoon of baking powder, use 2 teaspoons of cream of tartar and 1 teaspoon of baking soda. Store homemade baking powder in an airtight container to keep it fresh.

What is the difference between cream of tartar and baking soda?

Cream of tartar is an acidic ingredient, while baking soda is an alkaline ingredient. When combined, they react to produce carbon dioxide, which helps leaven baked goods. However, they serve different purposes individually. Cream of tartar is used to stabilize beaten egg whites, prevent sugar crystallization, and enhance the texture of baked goods. Baking soda is used as a leavening agent, mainly in recipes containing acidic ingredients.

In which recipes should you use cream of tartar instead of baking powder?

Use cream of tartar in recipes where its specific properties are needed, such as stabilizing beaten egg whites in meringues, preventing sugar crystallization in icings and candies, or improving the texture of baked goods like cookies and cakes. Opt for cream of tartar in recipes that call for it, rather than attempting to substitute it with baking powder, as this could lead to undesirable results in your final product.

Cream of Tartar vs Baking Powder + Recipe

Here's a recipe for Snickerdoodle cookies that uses cream of tartar:
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 4
Calories 288 kcal


  • 1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon


  • Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and 1 1/2 cups of sugar until light and fluffy.
  • Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt.
  • Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix until just combined.
  • In a small bowl, mix together the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar and the cinnamon.
  • Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and then roll each ball in the cinnamon sugar mixture until coated.
  • Place the balls on the prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart.
  • Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the edges are lightly golden brown.
  • Remove the cookies from the oven and let them cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.


Calories: 288kcal
Keyword cream of tartar vs baking powder
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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
Cassie Marshall
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