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Ready or Not #66: Cream of Tartar

Updated: Jan 4, 2023

An article or so ago I made a mistake. I know – hard to believe (sorry to I had to take a laugh break). I wrote how you could brush your teeth, make a poultice for an insect bite, and refresh your fridge with baking powder. YOU CAN’T, you have to use BAKING SODA.

Sorry about that. But it got me thinking. How many of you know how to make your own baking powder? Actually, it is quite easy. For one-teaspoon worth of baking powder simply mix a ½ teaspoon of cream of tartar and a ¼ teaspoon of baking soda. I will continue to purchase the pre-made baking powder, but I have used this recipe as an emergency backup, and it works quite well. (In reality, when I found out how easy it was to make, I just started making it all the time in larger batches – 2 parts cream of tartar, and 1 part baking soda.)

Since we have brought up the subject of cream of tartar (from the recipe above), I wanted to find out a bit more about it. I have always been curious about cream of tartar, and I was once told that it was a by-product of wine making. Come to find out, it is.

The scientific name for cream of tartar is potassium hydrogen tartrate. It is an acid salt that comes from grapes and is easily extracted during the wine making process when the “tartaric acid is half neutralized with potassium hydroxide, transforming it into a salt.” ( When it settles in the bottom of the wine barrels as a sediment, it can be easily extracted. It’s all science to me, but I did find out that grapes are the only significant source of cream of tartar.

Cream of tartar is a natural acid that when used in cooking will help to stabilize egg whites, which are not acidic, and give them more volume – and isn’t that all we need to know?

Actually, I also found out that, “egg whites, baking soda, and milk are the only non-acidic (alkaline) foods we have.” ( I didn’t know that.

Not only does Cream of Tartar help egg whites get more volume, but it also helps to make candy and frosting creamier, and you will also find cream of tartar in commercially processed products like gelatin, soft drinks, desserts, and photography products. Photography products? Maybe older photography products, but with the digital age, I just don’t know.

In a pinch, if you don’t have enough cream of tartar on hand, you can substitute lemon juice or white vinegar, three times the amount, in most of your baking recipes. The lemon juice and vinegar aren’t a perfect substitute though because it has a tendency to make your creations a bit coarser in texture and shrinkage might happen with your end product. Just make sure that you have stored enough cream of tartar in your storage. Find out how much you will need with the A Prepared Home food storage calculator.

Now that we know the what and the why of cream of tartar, I have a useful drain cleaner recipe using the white acidic powder. Take one-cup baking SODA, one-cup salt and ¼ cup cream of tartar and mix together. Put ¼ cup of the mixture in the drain and add 1 cup of water and then let it sit for a while. Another really good drain cleaning recipe is to put about a cup of baking SODA in the drain and then pour about a cup or more of white vinegar to activate the soda (remember the school volcano experiments?). Do this about once a month and it will help your drains to stay clean and fresh smelling. Another tip, it can be used to clean brass and copper cookware.

I have used both of the drain cleaner recipes, but I prefer the second one because I don’t have to keep anything mixed – I’m a bit of a minimalist, a conserver of energy.


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