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Cream of Tartar vs. Tartaric Acid: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Updated on December 20, 2023
Cream of tartar is potassium bitartrate, a byproduct of winemaking, used in baking and cooking, whereas tartaric acid is a natural acid found in many plants, essential in winemaking.

Key Differences

Cream of tartar, or potassium bitartrate, is a potassium salt derived from tartaric acid. Tartaric acid, a natural organic acid, is found in grapes and several other fruits.
Cream of tartar is a white, powdery substance often used in baking. Tartaric acid, in its pure form, is a white crystalline organic acid.
Cream of tartar is used in baking to stabilize egg whites and prevent sugar from crystallizing. Tartaric acid is used in winemaking for balancing the wine's acidity.
Cream of tartar is obtained from the sediment left in barrels after the winemaking process. Tartaric acid is either extracted from these sediments or synthesized in laboratories.
Beyond cooking, cream of tartar is used for cleaning and in playdough. Tartaric acid has wider applications, including in tanning, textiles, and as a leavening agent when combined with baking soda.

Comparison Chart

Chemical Formula


Physical Form

White powder
White crystalline

Primary Use in Cooking

Stabilizing agent, preventing crystallization
Acidifying agent in winemaking

Source of Production

Winemaking byproduct
Extracted from grapes or synthesized

Other Uses

Cleaning, playdough
Tanning, textiles

Cream of Tartar and Tartaric Acid Definitions

Cream of Tartar

It prevents sugar from crystallizing in syrups.
Use cream of tartar to keep your syrup smooth.

Tartaric Acid

Used as a souring agent in some foods.
Tartaric acid can sour candy and other confections.

Cream of Tartar

When combined with baking soda, it acts as a leavening agent.
Cream of tartar and baking soda are used in many cake recipes.

Tartaric Acid

It's a natural acid found in many fruits.
Grapes contain high levels of tartaric acid.

Cream of Tartar

It's effective as a household cleaning agent.
Mix cream of tartar with vinegar for a natural cleaner.

Tartaric Acid

It's used in textile dyeing and tanning.
Tartaric acid aids in setting dyes in fabrics.

Cream of Tartar

Cream of tartar stabilizes whipped egg whites.
Add cream of tartar to stabilize the meringue.

Tartaric Acid

Tartaric acid balances the acidity in wine.
Tartaric acid is added to adjust the wine's pH.

Cream of Tartar

Cream of tartar gives playdough its consistency.
Cream of tartar is essential for homemade playdough.

Tartaric Acid

Combined with baking soda, it acts as a leavening agent.
Tartaric acid is used in some baking powders.


Is tartaric acid natural or synthetic?

It can be both, naturally found in fruits or synthetically made.

What is cream of tartar used for in baking?

It stabilizes egg whites and prevents sugar crystallization.

How is tartaric acid used in winemaking?

It balances the wine's acidity and taste.

Can cream of tartar be substituted for tartaric acid?

In some recipes, but the results might differ due to potency.

Is cream of tartar vegan?

Yes, it's a byproduct of winemaking and is vegan-friendly.

Is tartaric acid harmful?

In large amounts, it can be, but it's generally safe in food.

Can tartaric acid be used in baking?

Yes, especially as a souring agent or in baking powders.

Is tartaric acid the same as citric acid?

No, they are different acids with distinct properties.

Are there any allergies associated with cream of tartar?

Allergies are rare but possible due to its sulfite content.

What's the shelf life of cream of tartar?

It has a long shelf life if stored in a cool, dry place.

Is tartaric acid good for the skin?

It can be used in skincare for its antioxidant properties.

How does tartaric acid affect wine flavor?

It imparts a tart, acidic taste, crucial for wine balance.

Can cream of tartar be used as a solo leavening agent?

No, it needs to be combined with baking soda.

What are the environmental impacts of tartaric acid?

Minimal when produced and disposed of responsibly.

What happens if you consume too much cream of tartar?

It can lead to hyperkalemia due to high potassium levels.

Is tartaric acid present in all wines?

Most wines contain it, but levels vary depending on the grape.

Can cream of tartar clean metals?

Yes, it's effective in cleaning stainless steel and copper.

Is tartaric acid used in any medications?

Yes, in some over-the-counter medications and supplements.

Does cream of tartar have health benefits?

There are no significant health benefits known.

Can cream of tartar spoil or go bad?

It doesn't spoil, but can lose potency over time.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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