“What is cream of tartar?”

Chemical structure of cream of tartar. (Image: Jü)

Said the Four-Year-Old, on hearing that we needed cream of tartar to make snickerdoodles last week. Mommyo duly made a note to Ask the iPhone sometime when she wasn’t up to her elbows in creamed butter and sugar.

Days pass, and naturally, the iPhone is never asked, until Sunday morning when Daddyo announced that we would need cream of tartar to cook up a batch of Play-Doh.

Pause, then Daddyo: “What is cream of tartar anyway?”

The Four-Year-Old: “Yes, Mommyo, has Caterpickles told you yet?”

Caterpickles has been stubbornly silent on the subject of cream of tartar or as we science-y types like to refer to it, potassium hydrogen tartrate.

Fortunately, Baking Bites is more forthcoming. From it, I’ve learned that:

1) We have the wine industry to thank for this mysterious white powder. Derived from tartaric acid, a naturally occurring substance in grapes, cream of tartar collects along the inside of the wine barrel during the fermentation process.

2) As those of you who are in the habit of mixing your own baking powder at home already know, when purified cream of tartar is a major component of baking powder.

3) Baking soda + cream of tartar + water = home chemistry fun. (Or satisfactorily risen baked goods, depending on your motivations for breaking out the potassium hydrogen tartrate cream of tartar in your home chemistry lab kitchen.)

4) In addition to its critical role in snickerdoodle and Play-Doh production, cream of tartar is often used to give candies a creamier texture. Apparently adding cream of tartar to the mix can prevent cooked sugar from crystallizing. Go figure.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to stir the Play-Doh.

Look at all these things you can do with cream of tartar!

What’s your favorite recipe?

About Shala Howell

I spent two decades helping companies like Bell Labs, Juniper Networks, and a genetic testing company that was later acquired by CVS translate some of the world’s most complicated concepts into actionable, understandable English. Now I'm working on a much harder problem -- fostering children’s curiosity and engagement in the scientific, artistic, and linguistic world that surrounds them. The first book in my Caterpickles Parenting Series, What’s That, Mom?, focuses on how to use public art to nurture children’s curiosity in the world around them. My next book will focus on science, and how parents without a science degree can answer their curious child's questions without enrolling in a college level refresher course. In the meantime, you can find me blogging about life with a very curious Eleven-Year-Old at Caterpickles.com, chatting about books and the writing life at BostonWriters.blog, and tweeting about books, writing, science, & things that make me smile at @shalahowell.
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3 Responses to “What is cream of tartar?”

  1. Pingback: Your Questions About Cream Of Tartar | Cake

  2. Pingback: How to make your own leprechaun money | CATERPICKLES

  3. Pingback: Throwback Thursday: How to make your own leprechaun money | CATERPICKLES

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