Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Cream of Tartar - what the heck is it?

Cream of Tartar pops up in recipes and I don't always have it on hand. Sometimes I leave it out, which is probably not a good idea because it does have a purpose. To answer my burning question of what exactly is this stuff, I did a little research and present my findings to you. Sleep easy now that this important question has been answered for us all.

Cream of Tartar actually comes from the inside of wine barrels. No fooling. The sediment from inside the casks is scraped out and then pulverized into powder. Why exactly anyone thought to do this is beyond me, but there you go. Traces of the sediment have been found in 7,000 year old pottery. No idea if it was actually used by the ancients, but you never know. If folks could build the pyramids, a little ground up sediment is surely possible.

At some point, an enterprising winemaker must have figured out that the powder helps stabilize egg whites when making a meringue. Some other clever person figured out that if you add it to baking soda, you get baking powder. I raise a biscuit to that swell chemist.

Cream of Tartar goes beyond eggs; it also makes frostings creamier. Durkee (the makers of many spices) claims that it makes foods more tender and that it improves the texture of cakes.

If you still aren't convinced that Cream of Tartar is worthy of space in your pantry, you can also clean with it. Recipes abound on the internets for cleaning stainless steel sinks, removing rust stains from fabric, getting rid of tough bathtub stains, cleaning copper - all kinds of tough jobs. Just google "cleaning cream of tartar" and you'll find them.

For those who don't have it on hand, GourmetSleuth claims that you can substitute lemon or vinegar in its place (at a ratio of 3x the substitute to 1 cream of tartar). I would fear that the flavor of lemon or vinegar would linger in your food, but I suppose it is worth a try. Easier to just pick up a little can of CoT for those meringue/frosting/baking emergencies.


Domestic Chicky said...

I only use it for snickerdoodles, but it's good to know it's good for something else!

Professor said...

Good to know and believe it or not, I always wondered cuz I don't usually have any and omit too!