Cream of tartar is a baking ingredient that often doubles as a household cleaning agent.

Many recipes call for cream of tartar due to its stabilizing properties. Yet recent trends suggest that it may also have a range of health benefits, from relieving migraine attacks to helping you quit smoking.

This article reviews some popular claims surrounding cream of tartar’s benefits, its potential side effects, and how to get the most out of it.

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Cream of tartar — also known as potassium bitartrate or potassium acid tartrate — is the potassium acid salt of L-tartaric acid, which is naturally present in wine (1).

Formed as a byproduct of winemaking, cream of tartar crystallizes and forms deposits at the bottom of wine casks during the fermentation process (1, 2, 3).

Cream of tartar is an additive classified by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as generally recognized as safe — meaning that it’s shown to be safe if used as intended (4).

It has an acidic but pleasant taste, and you may find it in the spice aisle of your grocery store as a white, dry powder.

Summary

Cream of tartar is an additive formed as a byproduct of winemaking. It is a white, dry powder with a slightly acidic taste.

Cream of tartar can be used in so many different ways. Here are some of its primary uses.

Food additive

Cream of tartar is used as an additive in the food industry for the following purposes (1, 4):

  • Anticaking agent: prevents lumps caused by moisture in powdered or granulated ingredients
  • Antimicrobial agent: prevents the growth of microorganisms such as bacteria or fungi
  • Leavening agent: helps dough rise by releasing carbon dioxide from baking soda (2, 5)
  • Control agent for pH: changes or maintains the pH level — the acidity or basicity — of a product
  • Stabilizer and thickener: structures and thickens your recipes and food products

Culinary uses

Bakers often use cream of tartar in baked goods by mixing it with egg whites to help create stiff peaks in meringue. This prevents the formation of sugar crystals.

Cream of tartar can be a substitute for anything from buttermilk to baking powder and lemon juice in your favorite recipes.

It is also used as an ingredient in (4):

  • frostings, gelatins, and puddings
  • hard and soft candies
  • jams and jellies

Cleaning agent

You can use cream of tartar as a cleaning agent around the house. Some popular uses include:

  • Appliance polish. Mix one part cream of tartar with four parts white vinegar to create a paste that will help you polish stainless steel, aluminum, and silver appliances.
  • Rust remover. Mix with hydrogen peroxide and baking soda and let sit on rusty areas for an hour. Wipe clean.
  • Stain remover. Applying cream of tartar on a damp stain may help you remove difficult stains before washing your clothes.
Summary

Cream of tartar has numerous uses as an additive in the food industry, an ingredient in baked goods, and a household cleaning agent.

Cream of tartar is typically consumed in small amounts.

One teaspoon (3 grams) of cream of tartar contains (6):

  • Calories: 8
  • Carbs: 2 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams
  • Protein: 0 grams
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Potassium: 11% of the daily value

As you can see, cream of tartar provides few macronutrients but packs a relatively high amount of potassium. In fact, based on its chemical formula, it is 20% potassium (7).

Potassium is an essential mineral that your body needs to function. It is present in all body tissues. Most of cream of tartar’s health claims revolve around its potassium content (8).

Cream of tartar contains trace amounts of other minerals, such as:

  • calcium
  • iron
  • magnesium
  • phosphorus
  • sodium
  • zinc
Summary

As the name potassium bitartrate implies, cream of tartar provides a relatively high amount of potassium and very few macronutrients.

Health food bloggers praise cream of tartar for its alleged health benefits. However, only a few of these claims are backed up by scientific evidence.

Here are some of the most popular ones and what science says about them:

  • Relieves constipation. An older study determined that a 5-gram daily dose of cream of tartar may relieve constipation by softening stools and shortening intestinal transit time (9).
  • Helps a person quit smoking. Despite anecdotal evidence as a means to quit smoking, cream of tartar has no scientific evidence as a smoking cessation treatment (10).
  • Relieves migraine symptoms. Another myth that’s strongly perpetuated by different online sources is cream of tartar’s positive effect on migraine attacks. There’s no evidence to support this claim.
  • Aids skin health. Many believe that cream of tartar’s antimicrobial effect helps treat acne when applied to the skin. While tartaric acid belongs to a group of alfa hydroxy acids (AHA), used in cosmetics and dermatology, there’s no available information on the effect of tartaric acid nor cream of tartar on the skin (11).
  • Lowers blood pressure. Cream of tartar’s purported effect on blood pressure comes from its potassium content, which does help lower your risk of high blood pressure. Still, there are no studies that draw a link to cream of tartar itself (8).

Other unsubstantiated claims about cream of tartar include its ability to:

  • aid in weight loss
  • reduce urinary tract infections
  • improve arthritis

Again, these claims lack any scientific proof.

Summary

Health food bloggers promote cream of tartar for many different health benefits, but its only proven benefit is constipation relief — backed up by an older study. More research is needed in these areas.

Cream of tartar’s most important side effect is the risk of hyperkalemia — or excessive potassium levels in your blood — due to its high potassium content (10).

Evidence shows that consuming high amounts of cream of tartar may cause abdominal discomfort, abnormal heart rate, and muscle weakness — all common symptoms of hyperkalemia (8, 10).

People with mild to moderate kidney disease, type 1 diabetes, heart failure, liver disease, or those taking medication to increase blood potassium levels have a higher risk of developing hyperkalemia (8, 10).

While excess potassium is typically released through your urine, consuming large amounts of potassium may still lead to dangerously high blood potassium levels (10).

Summary

High intakes of cream of tartar may lead to hyperkalemia, or dangerously high blood potassium levels, due to its high potassium content.

Cream of tartar is a white, acidic powder similar to baking powder used as a food additive, baking ingredient, and all-purpose cleaning agent.

Composed of 20% potassium, it is a byproduct of winemaking.

Cream of tartar is praised for multiple potential health benefits, from migraine relief to help quitting smoking. Yet, the only claim that’s backed by science is its effect as constipation relief.

The FDA recognizes cream of tartar as a safe ingredient when consumed in small quantities. Ingesting high amounts of it may lead to hyperkalemia, or dangerously high potassium blood levels.