Cream of tartar, or potassium bitartrate, is a substance that has several properties that make it useful in a range of applications, from food production to cosmetics, medicine, and general household use.
Is cream of tartar vegan? Yes, cream of tartar is 100% vegan-friendly. It’s simply potassium bitartrate (KC4H5O6) which is a derivative of tartaric acid.1 Tartaric acid is a crystalline organic acid that naturally occurs in many fruits. So, it’s plant-based and thus vegan.
What we’ll do here is go over the various reasons cream of tartar is considered vegan.
Why Cream of Tartar Is Vegan
It basically comes down to the fact that the substance is 100% plant-based.
Potassium bitartrate, aka potassium hydrogen tartrate, is a derivative of tartaric acid, an organic acid that occurs naturally in fruits like grapes, bananas, citrus, and tamarinds.1,2
The only thing slightly controversial about it is that it tends to be produced as a byproduct of winemaking.
Potassium bitartrate crystallizes during the fermentation of grape juice, though it can precipitate out of fresh grape juice that’s been chilled or allowed to stand for a period of time.3
The substance crystallizes in wine casks during the fermentation process, and often precipitates after the wine has been made, adhering to the sides of wine bottles.
Over time, the crystals, or wine diamonds, tend to form on the underside of corks in wine-filled bottles, especially when the bottles are stored at temperatures below 50 °F (10 °C).
Anyway, I bring all of this up because wine is often produced using animal-derived products. Winemakers filter the liquid through substances called “fining agents” to remove yeast, protein, “off” colors and flavors, and cloudiness.
However, this does not render cream of tartar non-vegan by most standards.
For one, not all wine is made with animal products.
While fining agents can be animal-derive (casein, albumen, bone marrow, chitin, gelatin, etc.), there are several vegan-friendly fining agents that are commonly used. These include bentonite clay, carbon, limestone, silica gel, kaolin clay, and vegetable plaques.4
For another, cream of tartar seems to be widely accepted as a vegan-friendly ingredient for household use.
For example, in their short guide to dealing with insects and “pests” PETA suggests pouring lines of cream of tartar as a means to deter ants.5
Vegan and Non-Vegan Cream of Tartar Applications
Just because a substance is itself vegan, doesn’t mean that every use of the ingredient is vegan-friendly.
For most, this is probably the function that comes to mind when it comes to cream of tartar, as it’s a common component of baking powders.
There two common white powdery substances that are used for chemical leavening (i.e. leavening by way of CO2 production).
One is plain baking soda or sodium bicarbonate and the other is baking powder, which is a combination of baking soda, cornstarch, and an acid source.
Baking soda reacts with the acid to produce CO2, a gas that expands to help dough and batter rise. When there’s already an acidic substance present in a recipe (e.g. molasses), then baking soda is all that’s needed.
In the event that the recipe doesn’t call for an acidic ingredient, baking powder does the trick because it contains an acid to react with the sodium bicarbonate.
Cream of tartar is one such acid, but monocalcium phosphate is also common. In fact, the latter seems to be more common these days, at least in my experience.
Nowadays, it seems that most commonly available baking powders (e.g. Clabber Girl) contain monocalcium phosphate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium aluminum sulfate, and cornstarch.6
Thickening and Anticaking
Cream of tartar can be used to help thicken mixtures and prevent them from caking.7
Anti-caking agents help powdered foods remain free-flowing and prevent from absorbing moisture.8
Other examples of anti-caking substances include salt, confectioner’s sugar, iron ammonium citrate, and silicon dioxide.
Cream of tartar serves as a thickening agent by helping liquids, soups, and stews increase their viscosity without affecting the taste and other properties.7
Cream of tartar helps prevent sugar syrups from crystallizing. It does this by causing some of the sucrose to break down into fructose and glucose.9
Color Preservation (Vegetables)
While it’s true that briefly blanching veggies can give them a brighter, more vibrant color, it’s also true that boiling veggies for too long can result in the opposite.
For this reason, acids like cream of tartar are often used to help prevent discoloration.10
Cream of tartar is used to stabilize egg whites, helping them maintain their volume and tolerance to warmth.11
Cream of tartar is also used to stabilize whipped cream, helping maintain its volume and moisture.3,12
There are other applications, but those should give you an idea.
Anyway, that’s it for the vegan status of cream of tartar. Thanks for reading.
You may also want to check out the following related articles:
- John Brodie, John Godber “Bakery Processes, Chemical Leavening Agents” in Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology 2001, John Wiley & Sons. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/0471238961.0308051303082114.a01.pub2
- Duarte, A.M.; Caixeirinho, D.; Miguel, M.G.; Sustelo, V.; Nunes, C.; Fernandes, M.M.; Marreiros, A. (2012). “ORGANIC ACIDS CONCENTRATION IN CITRUS JUICE FROM CONVENTIONAL VERSUS ORGANIC FARMING”. Acta Horticulturae (933): 601–606. https://www.actahort.org/books/933/933_78.htm
- Potassium Bitartrate. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potassium_bitartrate
- Is Wine Vegan? https://www.peta.org/about-peta/faq/is-wine-vegan/
- What About Insects and Other “pests”? https://www.peta.org/about-peta/faq/what-about-insects-and-other-pests/
- (2 Pack) Clabber Girl Double Acting Baking Powder, 22 Oz – https://www.walmart.com/ip/2-Pack-Clabber-Girl-Double-Acting-Baking-Powder-22-oz/712354184
- Stephens, Emily (18 February 2017). “The Incredible Cream of Tartar – How to Use and What to Substitute With”. https://www.mygreatrecipes.com/blog/incredible-cream-tartar-use-substitute/
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 57). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011. ISBN-10: 0-538-73498-1
- Provost, Joseph J., et al (2016). The science of cooking: understanding the biology and chemistry behind food and cooking (p. 504). John Wiley and Sons, Inc. ISBN 9781118674208.
- Cream Of Tartar Can Do More Than Boost Egg Whites. – https://www.charlotteobserver.com/living/food-drink/article9159653.html
- The science of good cooking: master 50 simple concepts to enjoy a lifetime of success in the kitchen (1st ed.). America’s Test Kitchen. 2012. p. 199. ISBN 978-1-933615-98-1.
- How To Use Cream Of Tartar. Person- wikiHow – https://www.wikihow.com/Use-Cream-of-Tartar