Cream of tartar is one of those necessary ingredients (bought for that once-in-a-blue-moon angel food cake or lemon meringue pie), that can end up sitting untouched in the pantry for months then thrown out during an overzealous spring clean. If you’re wondering how to use it — or if you should add some to your grocery list, here are few things to know.
What is cream of tartar?
The cream of tartar found in the spice aisle is not creamy at all — it’s tartaric acid, a dry powder that’s a byproduct of fermenting grapes into wine. The acid dries into crystals on the inside of wine barrels and is collected once the wine has been removed.
How does cream of tartar work?
Acidic cream of tartar adds volume and stabilizes the structure of beaten egg whites by helping air and water stay put within the network of protein strands. This turns frothy egg whites into stiff, mile-high meringues, airy cakes and fluffy frostings. Cream of tartar is also used in combination with baking soda to create leavening action in baked goods.
But before adding cream of tartar to your grocery list — it’s important to know this: You can also make a cream of tartar substitute without risking meringue-failure.
How to make a cream of tartar substitute
To make a cream of tartar substitute, you need to recreate the acidity it adds. Fresh lemon juice or plain white vinegar are the two best alternatives to use (and you probably already have them in your kitchen). To make the substitution follow this ratio: For every 1 tsp of cream of tartar use 2 tsps of lemon juice or vinegar. For meringues, this should end up being a quarter of a teaspoon of lemon juice or vinegar per egg white.