Best Substitutes for Cream of Tartar

Leavening agent for cream of tartar

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The name is a bit deceiving, but cream of tartar is not a cream. It is a powdery substance formed during the winemaking process and most often used as an ingredient in baking. If you like snickerdoodles or lemon meringue pie, then cream of tartar may be a staple item in your kitchen.

However, if you are not a regular baker, you may not have this tart-flavored leavening agent in your cupboard. But there is no need to worry, even if you are right in the middle of whipping your egg whites for your lemon meringue pie. There are many good substitutes for cream of tartar that you may have on hand. 

About Cream of Tartar

Cream of tartar is a leavening agent which helps your baked goods rise, creating the right texture and crumb you expect in your cookies, muffins, and quick breads. Cream of tartar also is an acid you combine with baking soda to create carbon dioxide bubbles in your chocolate chip cookies.

In fact, your baking powder may contain this exact combination—baking soda and cream of tartar.  The leavening properties in the baking soda and cream of tartar react to form bubbles when you combine your dry ingredients with your wet ingredients.

Scientifically known as bitartrate, cream of tartar is the potassium salt of tartaric acid, which is a naturally occurring crystalline acid found in fruits like grapes. Cream of tartar is what remains after fermenting grapes to make wine

Though sold on its own in the spice section of the grocery store, cream of tartar is not a common ingredient in many baked goods. On its own it helps strengthen the air bubbles in your whipped egg whites and adds a tart flavor to foods, providing that distinct sour taste in your snickerdoodles.

You may also use cream of tartar when steaming vegetables to help retain the bright color. The leavening agent may also prevent the sugar in your homemade frosting from crystalizing.

Cream of Tartar Nutrition Facts

Cream of tartar is not a significant source of calories and has no fat or protein, but is a source of potassium. Nutrition information for 1 teaspoon (3 grams) of cream of tartar comes from the USDA.

  • Calories: 7.7
  • Fat: 0
  • Sodium: 1.56mg
  • Carbohydrates: 1.84g
  • Fiber: 0
  • Sugars: 0
  • Protein: 0
  • Potassium: 495mg

Potassium is a mineral and electrolyte that regulates your heartbeat, supports nerve function and muscle contraction, and helps maintain fluid balance. Though cream of tartar may not be the best source of this mineral, filling your diet with potassium-rich foods may offset the negative effects of too much sodium, helping to lower your blood pressure. Bananas, potatoes, and tomatoes are high-potassium foods.

Why Use a Substitute

There are many reasons you may need a substitute for cream of tartar. As noted, cream of tartar is not a common ingredient and you may need a substitute because you just do not have the leavening agent in your kitchen cupboard. You may also need a substitute if you cannot find cream of tartar at the market where you shop.

Though you can develop an allergy to any item, cream of tartar is not a common food allergen. Its name is deceptive, and you may think you need to avoid it if you have an allergy to milk. But cream of tartar is milk-free.

However, you may be searching for cream of tartar substitute if you need to follow a low potassium diet. If you have problems with your kidneys, you may not be able to get rid of excess potassium in your urine. Too much potassium in your blood, known as hyperkalemia, can damage your heart and lead to a heart attack.

There have also been cases of life-threatening hyperkalemia from ingestion of cream of tartar. But in these cases, the individuals purposely consumed the ingredient in large amounts in an effort "to clean themselves out," according to a case report published in the Journal of Medical Toxicology.

Best Cream of Tartar Substitutes

The good news is, no matter the reason, you have many suitable substitutes for cream of tartar. In fact, many of these substitutes may be staple items in your kitchen. Here are some of the best substitutes for cream of tartar. 

Lemon Juice

Lemon juice makes a good substitute for cream of tartar in baking and when whipping up egg whites. For baked goods, use 2 teaspoons of lemon juice for every 1 teaspoon of cream of tartar. For egg whites, use 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice for each egg white.

Lemon juice is acidic and sour like cream of tartar and should not significantly affect the flavor when used as a substitute for cream of tartar. For those that need to limit potassium in their diet, lemon juice makes a good option. 


The acidity in vinegar also makes it a good replacement for your cream of tartar. Use 2 teaspoons of vinegar for every 1 teaspoon of cream of tartar when baking. Adding vinegar may not affect the flavor of your goodies, but it adds a little more liquid, which may affect the texture.

Any vinegar you have on hand should work, but white vinegar adds the acidity and flavor without altering color or flavor like a balsamic or red wine vinegar might. White vinegar is calorie and nutrient-free, according to data from the USDA.

Baking Powder

Baking powder is a baking ingredient that contains baking soda and an acid, usually cream of tartar. When combined, these two ingredients leaven—or add air bubbles—to your baked goods when you combine the dry ingredients with the wet.

When substituting baking powder for cream of tartar, use 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder for every 1 teaspoon of cream of tartar. Because it contains salt, using the baking powder in place of the cream of tartar may make your baked goods a bit saltier.

Baking powder is low in potassium, but a source of sodium. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting daily sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams a day. Too much sodium in your diet increases your risk of developing high blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.

A Word From Verywell

When cooking a recipe and finding yourself in need of cream of tartar, it can be tricky to know the right replacement without running to the grocery store. When choosing an alternative, the best substitutes are likely found in your kitchen already. From baking powder to lemon juice and vinegar, you can likely find what you need and salvage your recipe without having to make a trip to the grocery store.

9 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. K-State Research and Extension, Johnson County. 3 key leavening agents in baking.

  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Tartaric acid.

  3. USDA, FoodData Central. Leavening agents, cream of tartar.

  4. National Institute of Health, MedlinePlus. Potassium.

  5. Food Allergy Research and Education. Milk allergy.

  6. Cleveland Clinic. Hyperkalemia.

  7. Rusyniak DE, Durant PJ, Mowry JB, Johnson JA, Sanftleben JA, Smith JM. Life-threatening hyperkalemia from cream of tartar ingestion. J Med Toxicol. 2013;9(1):79-81. doi:10.1007/s13181-012-0255-x

  8. USDA, FoodData Central. Distilled white vinegar.

  9. USDA. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025.

By Jill Corleone, RD
Jill is a registered dietitian who's been learning and writing about nutrition for more than 20 years.