Dr. Thomas Dwan - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Thomas Dwan

Is Cream Of Tartar Bad For You?

Also Known As: Potassium bitartrate



Short answer

Cream of tartar, or potassium bitartrate, is not inherently bad for you. It's particularly high in potassium, which is beneficial for heart health, muscle function, and nerve signaling. Used in typical culinary amounts, it's safe and offers several baking benefits. However, excessive consumption can lead to hyperkalemia, especially for those with kidney issues or on certain medications. It’s also a negligible source of calories and contains no macronutrients like fat, protein, or carbohydrates.



Long answer

Nutritional Profile of Cream of Tartar

When we think about cream of tartar, scientific name potassium bitartrate, our minds might not immediately jump to its nutritional value. This powdery, white substance is a byproduct of winemaking and is most commonly used as a cooking ingredient. But, as with any ingredient we add to our food, understanding its nutritional properties is crucial.

Let's break down the nutritional elements of cream of tartar. Primarily, it's known for its significant potassium content. Potassium is an essential mineral and electrolyte that's vital for several body functions, including proper nerve and muscle function as well as fluid balance.

  • Potassium: Important for cardiovascular health, nerve function, and muscle control. Cream of tartar is a potassium-rich additive, which can contribute to your daily intake of this important nutrient.
  • Calories: Cream of tartar has very few calories, making it a negligible contributor to your daily caloric intake.
  • Carbohydrates: It contains zero carbohydrates, which can be particularly beneficial for those following a low-carb or ketogenic diet.
  • Sodium: Naturally low in sodium, cream of tartar can be a good option for those looking to decrease their sodium intake for blood pressure control and overall heart health.
  • Fiber, Fat, Protein: Cream of tartar does not contain fiber, fat, or protein. It is not a significant source of any of these macronutrients.

A more detailed look at the nutritional content per 1 teaspoon (about 3.5 grams) of cream of tartar reveals the following:

Nutrient Amount % Daily Value (DV)
Potassium 495 mg ~10%
Calories 5 < 1%
Carbohydrates 0 g 0%
Sodium 2 mg < 1%
Fiber 0 g 0%
Fat 0 g 0%
Protein 0 g 0%

The potassium content in cream of tartar is noteworthy. Adult females should aim for 2,600 mg of potassium daily, while adult males should aim for 3,400 mg, according to the National Institutes of Health. Thus, cream of tartar can be a helpful additive for boosting potassium intake, especially for individuals needing to increase their consumption due to deficiencies or dietary needs.

While cream of tartar offers potassium and low sodium, it is not a significant source of other nutrients. It is not a substitute for nutrient-dense foods required for a balanced diet. Rather, it plays a functional role in cooking—acting as a stabilizing agent for egg whites, preventing sugar crystallization in desserts, and providing a tangy flavor to various dishes.

Potassium Content and Its Effects on Health

Potassium is a vital mineral and electrolyte that plays a crucial role in many bodily functions, including maintaining proper fluid balance, muscle contractions, and nerve signaling. Cream of tartar, also known as potassium bitartrate, is particularly high in potassium, with one teaspoon (about 5 grams) containing approximately 495 mg of potassium, which is about 10% of the recommended daily intake for adults. This concentration makes cream of tartar a potent source of potassium, which can have a variety of effects on health.

Firstly, it's important to understand the benefits of adequate potassium intake. A diet rich in potassium is associated with lowered blood pressure, reduced risk of stroke, protection against loss of muscle mass, preservation of bone mineral density, and reduction in the formation of kidney stones, according to studies such as those published by the American Heart Association.

  • Heart Health: Potassium helps to regulate heartbeats and is key in reducing hypertension. As per research in the Journal of Clinical Hypertension, higher potassium intakes are linked to lower blood pressure levels.
  • Muscle Function: This mineral is vital for the proper function of muscle cells, including those in the heart, which imply its importance in cardiovascular and muscular health.
  • Nerve Function: By conducting electricity within the body, potassium is paramount in the nervous system's communication and contributes to brain health.
  • Fluid Balance: As part of the cell's physiological processes, potassium plays a central role in maintaining the fluid balance within and outside cells, which is highlighted by research from the National Institutes of Health.

However, while adequate intake is beneficial, an excess of potassium can be harmful and lead to hyperkalemia, a condition characterized by too high levels of potassium in the blood. This condition might cause symptoms like muscle weakness, fatigue, and heart palpitations, and in severe cases, it could lead to cardiac arrest. Individuals with kidney problems are at an especially high risk of hyperkalemia, as the kidneys are responsible for regulating potassium levels in the body, and compromised function could lead to excessive accumulation.

For the majority of people, the body regulates potassium from foods and supplements efficiently, preventing hyperkalemia under normal circumstances. However, it's key for those with kidney impairment, who are on certain medications, or who are at risk for elevated potassium levels to be cautious when using cream of tartar due to its high potassium content.

Furthermore, the potassium in cream of tartar is different from the potassium found in whole foods like fruits and vegetables. Since it is essentially a byproduct of wine production, cream of tartar lacks the accompanying nutrients that often come with potassium-rich foods, such as fiber and vitamins. Thus, relying on cream of tartar as a primary source of potassium is not recommended.

In conclusion, while potassium is an essential nutrient, and cream of tartar can be a rich source of it, moderation is key. It's important to consider overall dietary intake and individual health circumstances when incorporating cream of tartar into your diet. Consulting with healthcare professionals can help determine the appropriate level of potassium intake for your specific health needs.

Risks Associated with Excessive Consumption

Cream of tartar, also known as potassium bitartrate, is a byproduct of winemaking and has various culinary uses, such as stabilizing egg whites and preventing sugar crystallization. However, like many food additives and ingredients, there are risks associated with consuming it in excess. Let us whisk through some of the potential health concerns linked to overindulgence in cream of tartar.

Potassium Overload

Cream of tartar is a significant source of potassium, and while potassium is vital for many body functions, too much can lead to hyperkalemia, a condition characterized by an excessively high level of potassium in the blood. Symptoms of hyperkalemia can include:

  • Irregular heartbeats or palpitations
  • Muscle weakness or paralysis
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Mental confusion

It’s particularly important for individuals with kidney issues or those taking medications that increase blood potassium levels to avoid excessive intake of potassium-rich substances, including cream of tartar.

Interference with Medications

Regularly consuming large amounts of cream of tartar can interfere with certain medications, especially those for high blood pressure or other heart-related conditions. Medications such as ACE inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers, and certain diuretics can increase blood potassium levels, and combining these with potassium-rich additives might exacerbate the issue, increasing the risk for adverse health effects.

Metabolic Concerns

Excessive intake of cream of tartar can lead to metabolic issues due to its acidic nature. This can disrupt the body's normal pH balance, potentially causing acidosis if consumed in large amounts over a prolonged period. Metabolic acidosis is a serious condition that can cause:

  • Rapid breathing or shortness of breath
  • Confusion or lethargy
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches

Individuals with existing metabolic conditions should be particularly cautious with their consumption of cream of tartar.

Development of Allergic Reactions

Though rare, some individuals might develop an allergy or sensitivity to cream of tartar. Allergic reactions can range from mild to severe and include symptoms such as hives, skin rash, digestive distress, and in extreme cases, anaphylaxis. It’s always wise to monitor your body’s response while trying new ingredients, no matter how seemingly benign.

In summary, while cream of tartar isn't inherently bad for you and offers certain benefits in the kitchen, excessive consumption can pose risks. It's essential to enjoy it within the bounds of moderation—the culinary journey should be as safe as it is scrumptious. For those looking to use cream of tartar, it is always best to consult with a healthcare provider if you have concerns, especially if you have underlying health conditions or are on any medications that could interact with high-potassium foods or supplements.

Cream of Tartar in Baking and Potential Allergens

Cream of tartar, scientifically known as potassium bitartrate or potassium hydrogen tartrate, is a byproduct of winemaking and plays a crucial role in the culinary world, particularly in baking. It's cherished for its ability to stabilize egg whites, prevent sugar syrups from crystallizing, and act as a leavening agent when combined with baking soda. But when it comes to allergens, there are a few points worth considering.

Firstly, cream of tartar is naturally gluten-free. This is important for those with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance. The absence of gluten in cream of tartar makes it a safe choice for gluten-free recipes that require a stabilizing or leavening agent. However, as with any ingredient, it is essential to ensure that the cream of tartar has not been cross-contaminated with gluten during processing or packaging.

Secondly, for individuals with a sulfite sensitivity or allergy, cream of tartar can be a concern. During the winemaking process, tartaric acid naturally present in grapes combines with potassium to form potassium bitartrate. Sulfites are also naturally occurring or can be added to wines to act as preservatives. Consequently, trace amounts of sulfites may be present in cream of tartar. Those with asthma or sulfite sensitivities may experience allergic reactions, and thus, it's worth being cautious if you fall into this category.

Another potential allergen concern is salicylate sensitivity. Salicylates are chemicals found naturally in many plants, including fruits, and they can potentially be present in cream of tartar. While the levels are typically low, those with a known intolerance may want to consult with a healthcare provider before liberal use of cream of tartar in their baking.

Moreover, cross-reactivity with other food allergens is generally not an issue with cream of tartar since it does not contain proteins typically responsible for allergic reactions. Nonetheless, it is always advisable for individuals with serious allergies or intolerances to consult with an allergist or a healthcare provider to ensure the safety of cream of tartar for their specific situation.

Lastly, it's worth mentioning that cream of tartar is often used in modest amounts in recipes. This means that even if potential allergens are present, the quantity consumed is usually negligible, reducing the risk of a reaction. However, caution and personal discretion are still advised for those with known sensitivities.

Listed below are the primary considerations regarding cream of tartar and potential allergens when used in baking:

  • Gluten-Free: A safe ingredient for those avoiding gluten, but watch out for cross-contamination.
  • Sulfites: A possible concern for those with sulfite sensitivities or allergies due to its winemaking origin.
  • Salicylates: Low presence, yet a concern for those with salicylate intolerance.
  • Cross-Reactivity: Generally not an issue, but consulting with a healthcare provider is recommended for those with severe allergies.
  • Usage in Recipes: Typically used in minimal amounts which might minimize potential allergic reactions.

For individuals concerned about allergens, it's always wise to reach for pure, high-quality cream of tartar products that provide detailed labeling about potential cross-contaminants and allergens. Transparency in labeling helps consumers make informed choices and use cream of tartar confidently in their baking endeavors.

Safe Usage and Guidelines for Cream of Tartar

When you're reaching for that little jar of cream of tartar, typically nestled between your baking soda and cornstarch, it's important to handle it with a nod to both culinary finesse and health consciousness. Potassium bitartrate, the official name for cream of tartar, has multiple roles in the kitchen – stabilizing egg whites, preventing sugar crystallization, and even acting as a leavening agent when combined with baking soda.

However, like any good thing, it's best used in moderation. Here we'll slice through the information on how to safely incorporate cream of tartar into your culinary adventures, keeping health implications in focus:

  • A Pinch Will Do: Often, recipes will call for no more than a teaspoon of cream of tartar. Considering its effectiveness in small doses, stick to the recipe measurements to avoid any unnecessary consumption.
  • Check Your Dietary Potassium: Since cream of tartar is potassium bitartrate, it adds to your daily intake of potassium. High levels of potassium can be harmful, especially for those with kidney issues or those on potassium-restrictive diets. On the flipside, it can benefit those needing to boost their potassium intake – moderation is key.
  • Baking Bliss: When used in baking, cream of tartar typically plays well with other ingredients. There's little risk of ingesting too much through occasional baking — your angel food cake or snickerdoodles are still on the menu!
  • Homemade Playdough Safety: Parents crafting homemade playdough with cream of tartar should keep a watchful eye on little ones. While it's nontoxic, it's not meant to be eaten in large quantities. Educating kids about kitchen ingredient safety is always a prudent step.
  • Adverse Reactions: In some situations, cream of tartar can lead to hyperkalemia, a condition caused by excessive potassium in the bloodstream. Symptoms can include muscle weakness, temporary paralysis, and arrhythmias. If any serious symptoms occur, consult a healthcare provider immediately.

For the average, healthy individual, using cream of tartar in standard culinary amounts poses no significant health risks. It's when you step into the realm of the less common uses — such as trying natural remedies that suggest larger consumption — that you should proceed with caution. Let’s unravel that a bit:

  • Natural Remedies Consideration: Some use cream of tartar mixed with liquids for its supposed health benefits, like quitting smoking or relieving urinary tract infections. However, these uses are not scientifically backed and can lead to excessive potassium intake. Always discuss with a healthcare provider before attempting such home remedies.
  • Quantity Control: It's generally advised that daily potassium intake should not exceed 4700 mg for adults. Remember, 1 teaspoon of cream of tartar contains about 495 mg of potassium. Keeping track of your daily potassium can help prevent overconsumption.
  • Potassium Interaction: Be aware of medications or supplements that you are taking which could interact with high-potassium foods or additives. Some medications can increase the amount of potassium your body retains.

In essence, the sage advice is to cherish cream of tartar for its culinary flair, using it to perfect your meringues and fluffy pastries, all while respecting its chemical makeup. Mindful use aligns with a happy, healthy relationship with food — where each ingredient is celebrated for its uniqueness and utilized with an understanding of its broader effects on our well-being.

Frequently asked questions

Pregnant women should use cream of tartar in cooking within normal culinary amounts and there are no reported side effects from culinary usage. However, they should avoid consuming it in large quantities or as a supplement due to potential risks of high potassium intake unless under the guidance of a healthcare provider.

Cream of tartar should not be used as a replacement for potassium supplements unless advised by a healthcare professional. While it is high in potassium, it lacks other nutrients typically found in potassium supplements and is not designed for medicinal use.

Cream of tartar should be stored in a cool, dry place away from moisture and heat. It tends to have a long shelf life and does not expire easily but it can lose its potency over time, which might affect its performance in recipes.

Individuals with heart conditions should use cream of tartar in moderation as it is high in potassium, which can affect heart health. Consuming it in large amounts could interfere with certain heart medications, therefore it’s best to consult with a healthcare professional before significant use.

Ask a question about Cream Of Tartar and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • irregular heartbeats
  • muscle weakness or paralysis
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • breathing difficulties
  • mental confusion
  • rapid breathing
  • fatigue
  • headache

Possible long-term side effects

  • hyperkalemia
  • metabolic acidosis

Commonly found in

  • stabilizing agent for egg whites
  • prevent sugar crystallization in sweets
  • leavening agent when combined with baking soda

Ingredients to be aware of


  • significant potassium content
  • low calorie
  • zero carbohydrates
  • naturally low sodium
  • no significant source of fiber, fat, or protein

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Rachel Adams
Published on: 12-21-2023

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Rachel Adams
Published on: 12-21-2023

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