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University of Illinois Extension serving Livingston, McLean and Woodford Counties

Main Office (McLean County)
402 North Hershey Road
Bloomington, IL 61704
Phone: 309-663-8306
FAX: 309-663-8270
Hours: Monday - Friday 8 am to 5 pm

Branch Office (Woodford County)
P.O. Box 162
117 West Center
Eureka, IL 61530
Phone: 309-467-3789
FAX: 309-467-6034
Hours: Monday - Friday 8 am to 4:30 pm (Closed 12 - 1pm)

Branch Office (Iroquois County)
UNITY Community Center
632 Orlando Avenue
Normal, IL 61761
Phone: 309-862-4041
FAX: 309-663-8270
Hours: Monday - Friday 12 noon - 7 pm

Branch Office (Livingston County)
1412 S Locust
Pontiac, IL 61764
Phone: 815-842-1776
FAX: 815-842-6547
Hours: Monday - Friday 8 am to 4:30 pm (Closed 12 - 1pm)

News Release

Cream of Tartar

(by Courtney Markey, ISU dietetic intern)

Cream of tartar is an essential product for baking. Many of us follow recipes and add it when called for. But what is its function? Is it really essential for a tender, moist, great tasting cookie or cake? The answer is yes!

Cream of tartar is an acidic powder, which is usually mixed with a base, such as baking soda. When these products are combined in a liquid they create carbon dioxide bubbles. Formation of these small bubbles causes baked products to rise and be tender. The acidic nature of cream of tartar is also necessary when making candies and icing. Acid from cream of tartar prevents sugar in these treats from crystallizing, or becoming very hard. When making egg white foam, cream of tartar can be used to make the foam more stable. The addition of cream of tartar may require more beating time to generate stiff peaks, but the result is worth the extra mixing.

Beyond its use in baking, cream of tartar can also be used as a household-cleaning product. It will clean spotted, dingy aluminum pots and pans. Simply boil a quart of water with one Tablespoon cream of tartar. After boiling for about ten minutes, wash and rinse. The spots should easily wipe away.

With so many uses for cream of tartar, what should you do if you run out? A quick back-up plan calls for simple substitutions. Recipes requiring both cream of tartar and baking soda can be replaced by baking powder. Baking powder is simply a combination of cream of tartar and baking soda with added fillers to prolong shelf life. If a recipe needs both baking powder and cream of tartar, more acid may be needed. Using just baking powder can work, but the product may not be as tender. For beating egg foams, cream of tartar can be replaced by white vinegar or lemon juice. It is best to use slightly less so the product doesn't become runny.

Cream of tartar should be stored in a cool, dry place. Moisture can cause the powder to clump, and possibly alter its effectiveness. It is important to replace once a year, or by the date on the packaging. Prolonged storage provides opportunity for moisture to enter and damage the product.

So the next time you are baking, consider the chemistry that is occurring inside that recipe.

Local Contact: Robin Bagwell, Program Coordinator, Family Consumer Sciences, bagwell@illinois.edu