When you need a cream of tartar substitute in a hurry, there are luckily quite a few kitchen staples that are going to work beautifully! No need to worry about your recipe failing, the alternatives are all quick and easy swaps!
This not-so-common pantry item is easy to work around!
Unless you are an avid baker, there are some ingredients that you probably don’t always have on hand. Cream of tartar is one of them.
While an important ingredient in many baked goods, it is not as frequently used as baking soda and baking powder.
Therefore, when it pops up in a recipe you may find yourself digging through the cupboard in hopes of finding a long-forgotten jar.
You may also find yourself searching for a cream of tartar substitute. What is this often forgotten ingredient?
What is cream of tartar?
Cream of tartar is a byproduct of winemaking. It is the component found inside wine barrels at the end of the fermentation process.
This white powdery substance is an acidic compound. Technically known as potassium hydrogen tartrate or potassium bitartrate.
It is one of the main components of baking powder and can also be used on its own in many recipes.
What is cream of tartar used for?
Cream of tartar is an acidic compound that is commonly used in baking. It acts as a stabilizer in baking and activates the leavening properties of baking soda.
It also helps to prevent sugar crystals. Therefore, it is a good additive to things like frosting that you want to maintain a smooth texture.
Beyond the kitchen, cream of tartar can also be used in different ways around the house. The acidic compound is great for removing stains and rust.
This versatile powder can even help bring back the shine to silver!
Best Cream of Tartar Substitutes in Baking
Even though cream of tartar is versatile both in and out of the kitchen, it tends to be an ingredient that is rarely on hand. Therefore, you may find yourself in a bind if you go to make a delicious dessert only to find that you have no cream of tartar.
The great thing is, even though cream of tartar is not a common ingredient for many home cooks to have on hand – most of the substitutes used for cream of tartar are regular kitchen staples.
So, don’t give up on making that tasty treat! Simply scan your kitchen for one of these easy substitutes.
1. Baking Powder
Baking powder is a mixture of baking soda and cream of tartar. Therefore, if you have a recipe that calls for both baking soda and cream of tartar, you can simply use baking powder.
Replacing the cream of tartar and baking soda with baking powder will not provide the exact amount of cream of tartar; however, it will be a good balance that will still help your baked goods rise.
Use 1 ½ teaspoons of baking powder to replace 1 teaspoon of cream of tartar (and baking soda) in any recipe.
2. Lemon Juice
Lemon juice is a great replacement for cream of tartar. The acid in lemon juice will react with the other ingredients in the same way cream of tartar would.
Fresh squeezed (or bottled) lemon juice is great because it is an ingredient that many people already have in their kitchen. The only downside is that lemon juice has a strong flavor. Therefore, it will impact the flavor of your recipe.
The taste of lemon is a wonderful addition to many desserts though, so it is often a welcomed taste addition. It works especially well to add a zest of lemon to vanilla frosting, cakes, or pastries.
Use 1 teaspoon of lemon juice to replace ½ teaspoon of cream of tartar.
3. White Vinegar
White vinegar is another simple substitute that many people have on hand. Like cream of tartar, the acid in white vinegar will react with the other ingredients to stabilize or leaven the recipe.
While the taste of white vinegar is not as distinct at lemon juice, it does have a very strong flavor profile. Therefore, it will add a bit of a punch to the overall taste.
That means that this alternative is best used in strongly flavored desserts like chocolate cake.
Use 1 teaspoon of white vinegar to replace ½ teaspoon of cream of tartar.
You may be surprised to learn that buttermilk has almost the same levels of acid as cream of tartar. The biggest difference between these two ingredients is the structure.
While cream of tartar is a powder, buttermilk is a liquid. In addition, you need a larger volume of buttermilk to get the same acidic levels in a very small amount of cream of tartar.
Despite the structure and volume differences, buttermilk is still one of the best substitutes for cream of tartar. Especially in dishes that already have a large liquid base (since you will need to replace some of it with the buttermilk).
Use ½ cup of buttermilk to replace ¼ teaspoon of cream of tartar in your baked goods. Leave out ½ cup of liquid (water, milk, oil, eggs) from the recipe to compensate for the added buttermilk.
5. DIY Buttermilk
While you may not have buttermilk on hand, you might have regular old milk in your fridge. If you have milk and either lemon juice or vinegar, you can make your own buttermilk. *You can see more ways to make homemade buttermilk (buttermilk substitutes) here!
Mix 1 cup of milk with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar. Let sit for 10-15 minutes until the milk starts to curdle. Use the freshly made buttermilk as a substitute in the same way as you would store-bought buttermilk (see directions above).
This is a good choice if you have lemons at home, but you don’t want the lemon flavor to come through in your recipe. Once the lemons are mixed with the milk it will lose the lemon flavor.
Like buttermilk, yogurt also has an acidic base since it is fermented. Therefore, it can be used in a similar way to replace the acid in cream of tartar.
Even though it has the same acidic base, yogurt can be a bit too thick and can alter or ruin the texture of your baked goods. So, prior to using it as a substitute be sure to thin it out with a little bit of milk or water.
Use ½ cup of thinned yogurt to replace ¼ teaspoon of cream of tartar.
Depending on how thin you make the yogurt, leave out ¼ cup to ½ cup of additional liquid from the recipe. This will change from recipe to recipe, so adjust it as needed based on the desired consistency of the recipe.
7. Leave it Out
While there are many times it is not an option to leave out an ingredient, in this case, you can get away with it. However, I would recommend first trying one of the other substitutes first.
If you do decide to skip the cream of tartar, be aware of how it will impact your overall recipe.
The best choices for omitting cream of tartar are recipes where it is used as a leavening agent. In these recipes, your final baked goods will be flatter and denser. The overall taste will still be great!
Remember that cream of tartar is not used only for leaving, it also helps stabilize certain ingredients (such as egg whites). It also helps to keep sugar crystals at bay. In these cases, leaving the cream of tartar out may have a greater impact on the final recipe.
Before skipping the cream of tartar for stabilizing or reducing sugar crystals, try one of these final two substitutions.
8. Corn Syrup
Corn syrup is a liquid sweetener. When used alongside regular granulated sugar, it has a similar effect as cream of tartar.
For recipes like frosting where the cream of tartar helps to maintain a smooth texture, corn syrup can do the same thing. One thing to be mindful of is that corn syrup is much sweeter than sugar; therefore, it may increase the overall sweetness.
The ratio of corn syrup will vary depending on the recipe. Overall, you will simply replace some of the sugar with corn syrup. For example, if the recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar, then use ¼ cup of corn syrup and ¾ cup of sugar (these ratios will vary depending on how sweet you want your final treat).
If you're looking to prevent sugar crystals from forming in candy making, the fructose in strawberries has also worked exceptionally well for me. See my tanghulu recipe for more information!
The fat in butter can also help to keep sugar from crystalizing. Therefore, in certain recipes where butter can easily be whipped in you can use butter as your cream of tartar substitute.
However, this option is a bit trickier to find the exact ratio. Generally, begin with 1 tablespoon of butter for ¼ - ½ teaspoon of cream of tartar. Add more if needed.
Keep in mind that this will add a mild buttery flavor to your recipe.
10. Silver or Copper Bowl
This substitution will not be for everyone, and it is quite specific to egg whites. It is a fun one to share though in case you have a silver or copper bowl at home and want to try it out.
A common cooking practice in France, the molecular structure of copper and silver bowls helps to remove the air from egg whites. This aids in creating stiff peaks needed for creating luscious meringue.
While the use of a silver or copper bowl is a fun thing to incorporate into your kitchen, don’t feel the need to run out and purchase one just as a substitute. As a whole, your other substitutes above will be better choices as they are the most versatile.
We love working around shortages and hope that you've found this list of cream of tartar substitutes helpful! Let us know what works best for you in the comments below!
Cream of Tartar Substitute: Baking Powder, Buttermilk (+More Great Alternatives!)
Option 1 - Baking Powder
- 1 ½ teaspoon baking powder (for each 1 teaspoon cream of tartar)
Option 2 - Buttermilk
- ½ cup buttermilk (for each ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar)
Option 1 - Baking Powder
- Use 1 ½ teaspoons of baking powder to replace each 1 teaspoon cream of tartar called for in your recipe.1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
Option 2 - Buttermilk
- Use ½ cup of buttermilk for each ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar, making sure to adjust your liquids in the recipe down to allow for the added buttermilk.½ cup buttermilk
Angela is an at home chef that developed a passion for all things cooking and baking at a young age in her Grandma's kitchen. After many years in the food service industry, she now enjoys sharing all of her family favorite recipes and creating tasty dinner and amazing dessert recipes here at Bake It With Love!