What is Cream of Tartar?
Most people probably know cream of tartar from their kitchen. This common food additive is used in baking, especially as a stabilizing agent or leavener. When mixed with baking soda, cream of tartar helps create baking powder. (There’s a helpful tip for you, if you ever run out of baking powder and want to make muffins.) It is especially used in meringues as it helps to stabilize egg whites.
Cream of tartar does not come directly form a plant. Instead, it is a leftover of the wine-making process. It is a potassium acid salt of tartaric acid, which is left in wine barrels after fermentation. If you’ve ever seen white powder in wine barrels, that is cream of tartar. These white crystals do not dissolve into the wine, and you can also find them occasionally on the underside of wine corks.
In chemistry cream of tartar is called either potassium bitartrate or potassium hydrogen tartrate. It has the formula of K C₄ H₅ O₆ and is a carboxylic acid. This means that it is more acidic than other organic compounds. However, in the thousands of years that humans have been using cream of tartar, there are very few reported instances of cream of tartar toxicity.
When cream of tartar occurs in the wine barrels, it is in its crudest form, called argol or argal. That word comes to use from the 13th century. Then once the crystals are harvested they are known as beeswing. In order to become the common baking ingredient, the beeswing has to be purified. In the form that we know and love, it is a white and odorless powder. You can find cream of tartar in any grocery store.
But, in addition to its culinary uses, cream of tartar has been used as a medicine. You will find it in traditional or alternative health products aimed to treated constipation, cystitis, and smoking. We go into detail on how cream of tartar is used to treat these conditions below. Additionally, cream of tartar is used in products not consumed by humans, including cleaning products, toothpastes, and other “natural” products.
Cream of Tartar Health Benefits and Medicinal Uses
There are no scientific studies to confirm this, but many people use cream of tartar to help them stop smoking. They mix the cream of tartar in water and a little bit of orange juice. We discuss this process in more detail before. Anecdotal evidence seems to indicate that this process—if drunk every night before bed—will flush the nicotine from your system. This supposedly helps you stop craving nicotine but can take 7-21 days for you to feel the full effect.
Because cream of tartar has a laxative effect on the body—more on this below—it is sometimes used as a weight loss tool. However, like all laxatives, cream of tartar can be misused. This is especially dangerous with cream of tartar because of the high concentration of potassium, which could be life-threatening is overdosed on.
Also, there is some people suspect that when people use cream of tartar for weight loss—which has no scientific evidence to support it—they are confusing it with another “cream of tartar” plant, the baobab. The baobab tree from Africa and western Australia does have health benefits that could aid diets, but it is a significantly different substance than the cream of tartar we find in our kitchens.
Cream of tartar is often cited as a great detox tool, especially for people quitting smoking. It is claimed by bloggers and other non-scientific sources, that cream of tartar mixed with orange juice will flush the nicotine and lung damage from a smoker’s body. This use of cream of tartar does not have any scientific studies examining it, but you can find a plethora of anecdotal evidence to back it up.
You will find many people claiming that applying cream of tartar to your face or ingest it with water will help clear up any acne problems. There is no scientific evidence that these cures work, and you should always be careful when consuming cream of tartar because of its high potassium content. However, as a topical application, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that cream of tartar just might help to clear up your acne scars.
Gout is caused by too many uric acid crystals occur in your joints. This causes joint pain and can be hard to treat. Although there are medicinal options for treating gout, some people prefer to not use drugs. Many use creams of tartar to help control the uric acid in their system. To do this they drink water mixed with cream of tartar, which supposedly helps to break up the uric acid crystals. There are no scientific studies to support this treatment, so its effectiveness is purely anecdotal at this point.
Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
Some natural health practitioners believe that drinking a small amount of cream of tartar in warm water will help you get rid of your UTI faster. UTIs should never be treated without the input of a doctor. So, if you want to try this “cure,” you should speak to your doctor first. But, the author Jethro Kloss, claims that using cream of tartar for treating UTIs goes back for decades and can help you get well faster. Just, keep in mind, that these stories are all anecdotal.
Another common, but anecdotal, use for cream of tartar is arthritis. Many websites claim that if you combine cream of tartar with Epsom salts and bath in it, it will help ease your arthritis symptoms. These sites and blogs claim that a person has to bath in the Epsom salt/cream of tartar mixture for up to three times a week to feel the effects.
Historically, cream of tartar has been used as a laxative. In fact, cream of tartar has an extremely long history as a laxative. There is some scientific evidence to back up the claims about cream of tartar’s laxative properties. A 2003 study gave one group of test subjects sun-dried raisins and the other group received 5 grams of cream of tartar. The researchers found no difference in the laxative properties of the two substances; although, the fiber in sun-dried raisins did increase feccal weight.
Additionally, the high levels of potassium in cream of tartar may explain its laxative properties. Potassium increases the amount of water in your bowels, which them can work more quickly and efficiently. Since cream of tartar has a high amount of potassium in it, it makes sense that it would have a laxative effect on the body.
There is plenty of scientific evidence to support the use of cream of tartar as a laxative—in small amounts of course—however, some people take this a step further and use the substance as a way to cleanse their body. For one, the idea of cleansing is not supported by the medical community and is only upheld by anecdotal evidence.
Also, there is a real danger when using cream of tartar in this way. A 2013 paper published in the Journal of Medical Toxicology examined two cases where people took cream of tartar as a cleanse and ended up giving themselves Hyperkalemia. Hyperkalemia is a condition where you have too much potassium in your body, and it can be fatal. So, if you use large amounts of cream of tartar to cleanse your body, you may in fact just be poisoning it.
Cream of Tartar and Orange Juice
There are a lot of anecdotes out there that claim drinking a cup of orange juice with ½ teaspoon of cream of tartar will help you quit smoking cold turkey. There are no studies on the effectiveness of this treatment. However, many people swear that drinking this concoction will help to repair your lung functioning and other smoking damage.
There is some reason to suspect that orange juice—not from concentrate—and cream of tartar might have a healing effect on a quitting smoker’s body. First of all, cream of tartar has a lot of potassium in it, which is usually deficient in smoker’s systems. Second, it may help to balance the body’s pH. And, third, the Vitamin C you receive from the orange juice help to support your immune system, especially for people—like smokers—who have a suppressed immune system to begin with.
Keep in mind that the only evidence for this effect is anecdotal. So, you could try drinking orange juice and cream of tartar every night and it may work for you. But, you should always consult your physician before beginning a new health regime.
Cream of Tartar Dosage
The recommended dosage of cream of tartar depends on the way you are planning to use it. If you are baking with cream of tartar, then you should just use the amount called for in your recipe. For example, if you want to make a tablespoon of homemade baking powder, you should mix one teaspoon of baking soda and two teaspoons of cream of tartar—so it will be a 2:1 ration of cream of tartar to baking soda. However, if you are using cream of tartar to stabilize whipped cream, you might only use 1/8 of a teaspoon.
The dosage you probably care most about: medicine. Again, it depends on what you are curing. But, because of the high amount of potassium in cream of tartar and its laxative effect, it is best to start with an extremely small amount, probably 1/8 teaspoon or less. As always, discuss cream of tartar dosing with your doctor.
Cream of Tartar Side Effects, Safety, Dangers and Warnings
Cream of tartar contains a large amount of potassium. In fact, each teaspoon provides 14 percent of your daily recommended value. Because of the high potassium content, you need to make sure that you don’t consume too much of cream of tartar or you could end up with a condition called Hyperkalemia, which can be life threatening in some instances.
It is highly unlikely that normal, healthy adults will get Hyperkalemia from cream of tartar because of the small amounts used in most doses. But, people with kidney problems or those on medications that effect kidney function will need to be especially careful when consuming cream of tartar.
Another health concern to keep in mind with cream of tartar is its laxative effect. Again, this will likely not be a problem for most people. Most culinary recipes using cream of tartar use too small an amount to create that effect. Yet, take care when using medicinal products with cream of tartar in them, as they could have more of the substance than is good for your body.
Because of the potential problems with cream of tartar, if you are pregnant or nursing, you should discuss using cream of tartar medicinally with your doctor. For cooking purposes, so little cream of tartar is used that there is no risk. However, it is always better to be safe than sorry, especially if you have kidney issues.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Does Cream of Tartar go Bad?
Because cream of tartar is made of inorganic compounds, it is not perishable. That means that no, cream of tartar does not go bad. However, if somehow contaminates have gotten into your jar of cream of tartar, then it may no longer be good.
If you have a bottle of cream of tartar you need to check it for any punctures, rust, cracks, etc. Also, if when you open the bottle, there is signs of moisture, then you should not use the cream of tartar. You can also shake the jar before opening to make sure that the cream of tartar is not formed into a single lump. And, finally, you can always check the potency of your cream of tartar by putting ½ a teaspoon into water with a pinch of baking soda. If the mixture foams, then it is still good.