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Baking Powder vs Cream of Tartar: How Do They Compare?

Maria Foster
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by Maria Foster

Baking powder and cream of tartar have many similarities, but they also differ significantly in key ways. For instance, one is a stabilizing agent, and the other is a leavening agent.

If you often bake pastries, you should always have both on hand. What’s more, the same recipe might mention the two components together.

Understanding the culinary science behind them, as well as their chemical features, can help you decide which ingredient best suits your recipe and what function each one fulfills. So let’s get to explaining, shall we?

The Difference Between Baking Powder and Cream of Tartar

Baking Powder
Baking Powder

The fundamental distinction between baking powder and cream of tartar lies in the components. Cream of tartar is made from tartaric acid, a byproduct of the winemaking process. On the other hand, baking powder is a combination of baking soda and cream of tartar.

Cream of Tartar
Cream of Tartar

The formula is what makes both baking powder and cream of tartar leavening agents, but cream of tartar offers a little bit more — like stabilizing whipped egg whites and preventing sugar from crystallizing. Let’s learn how.

What Is Their Difference in Function?

As we already mentioned, to make baking powder, you need an alkali, such as baking soda, an acid, such as cream of tartar, and a binder, such as cornflour. Baking soda and cream of tartar combine to produce carbon dioxide bubbles – giving baking powder a leavening function.

Tartaric acid, on the other hand, is a waste product of wine production that makes cream of tartar. It’s somewhat more versatile than baking powder. It maintains whipped cream and egg whites solid, prevents sugar crystals, and preserves the color of boiling vegetables. Cream of tartar may also be used to remove rust and stains.

What Is Their Difference in Recipes?

Baking powder is a leavening agent and can be single-acting or double-acting. Single-acting baking powders are fast-acting baking powders, which means they act quickly when moistened.

Yet, the majority of commercial baking powders have dual-action. A baking powder with dual-action will react twice: once when mixed with liquid and another time when heated.

Baking powder is used in cakes, pancakes, waffles, cookies, syrup sponges, pies — or in other words, anything bake and batter-related.

On the other hand, cream of tartar is commonly used in recipes like meringue pie and soufflé to keep their lofty rise. Pancakes, cookies, or any recipe that doesn’t call for yeast will also get fluffier if you add cream of tartar to it. Pancake and syrup recipes, as well as frosting and icing recipes, come out creamier.

What Is Their Difference When it Comes to Storage?

They are the same when it comes to storage, you need to keep both products in an air-tight container and a place without sunlight.

Cream of tartar should always be stored at room temperature since it’s sensitive to heat, moisture, and light. The same goes for baking powder.

Fun tip: If you want to check the quality of the baking powder, add 1/2 tsp in 1 cup of boiling water. If bubbles start to form, your baking powder is of great quality, if not, you should get rid of it.

What Is Their Difference When it Comes to Shelf Life?

The shelf life of baking soda and cream of tartar is comparable. Cream of tartar has a two-year maximum shelf life, whereas baking powder has a shelf life of between 1 and 2 years. The product’s expiration date should always be checked before use.

Baking Powder vs. Cream of Tartar Comparison Table

CategoryBaking PowderCream of Tartar
FormulaCream of tartar + baking sodaTartaric acid
UsageLeavening agentLeavening agent, stabilizer, color perseverer, and cleaning agent
FunctionHelps batter rise and remain light and airyHelps batter rise and become fluffy, stops sugar from crystalizing, stabilizes the texture of baked goods, preserves the color of boiled veggies, removes rust and stains
Type of recipesCakes, pancakes, waffles, cookies, syrup sponge, piesMeringue pie, soufflé, pancakes, cookies, pancake syrup, frosting and icing
StorageIn an air-tight container, at room temperature in a place without sunlightIn an air-tight container, at room temperature in a place without sunlight
Shelf life1 to 2 years1 year

Nutritional Content Breakdown: Which One Is Healthier?

The nutritional data below shows that baking powder is the better choice since it has fewer calories, less potassium, and more iron and calcium.

While cream of tartar has more calories, that’s not what makes it less healthy. The more problematic issue with cream of tartar is its potassium levels.

Due to its high potassium concentration, cream of tartar’s most significant adverse impact is the potential for hyperkalemia or excessive potassium levels in your blood. But if you consume it moderately, cream of tartar has a couple of benefits as well, like relieving constipation and boosting skin health.

Baking Powder vs Cream of Tartar: Nutritional Profile

Category (1tsp)Baking PowderCream of Tartar
Vitamins & Minerals

Can I Substitute Baking Powder for Cream of Tartar & Vice Versa?

Yes, you may switch baking powder for cream of tartar and vice versa.

You may use 1.5tsp baking powder for 1 tsp cream of tartar. This ratio can be used in any recipe without changing the flavor or texture of the finished dish.

Other good alternatives to cream of tartar include freshly squeezed lemon juice, white vinegar, yogurt, and buttermilk.

On the other hand, if you want to use cream of tartar instead of baking powder, remember that you have to include baking soda. If you want to make 1 tsp baking powder, you need to mix ½ tsp cream of tartar with ¼ tsp baking soda.

If you wish to store it for a few weeks, you may include ¼ tsp cornstarch. Cornstarch prevents the powder from becoming dry and clumpy – you can certainly skip this ingredient if you are using your baking powder right away.

Can I Skip Baking Powder or Cream of Tartar in a Baking Recipe?


If you don’t use baking powder, your baked goods will still taste good, but they won’t fluff since the chemical processes needed for that to happen won’t take place.

The same goes when leaving out cream of tartar. Your desserts will still taste fantastic, even if they aren’t as fluffy as you want. Also, if you’re making meringue, remember that the peaks might crumble.


Overall, the fundamental distinction between baking powder and cream of tartar seems to be that baking powder contains cream of tartar and baking soda! So sharing the same ingredient makes them both leavening agents.

However, creating air bubbles in the dough isn’t cream of tartar’s only specialty. This powder also acts as a stabilizer and prevents sugar from crystallizing.

Cream of tartar may be more versatile, but it isn’t the healthier choice. It has more calories and higher potassium levels than baking powder.

Whichever one you choose to go for, your baked goods will be thankful!

About Maria Foster
Maria Foster
Maria Foster is a mother of 3 and she and her husband of 23 years share their home with 2 faithful dogs. Besides being CEO of the household and active in her community, Maria is the lead contributor to Food Champs and loves to try new food ideas and kitchen accessories to make easier and more delicious meals.
Maria Foster
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