Is it okay to use expired cream of tartar?

Quick Answer

Cream of tartar has an indefinite shelf life if stored properly in a cool, dark place. While it may lose some potency over time, expired cream of tartar is still safe to consume in baked goods. However, it’s best to use fresh cream of tartar for recipes where it is a main leavening agent. Always inspect expired cream of tartar and throw away if it develops an off smell, appearance or taste.

What is Cream of Tartar?

Cream of tartar, also known as potassium bitartrate, is an acidic byproduct of winemaking. It is used in baking to help stabilize egg whites, prevent sugar crystallization, and act as a leavening agent in recipes that use baking soda. Cream of tartar is an odorless fine white powder that provides a slightly sour taste.

Some common uses of cream of tartar in baking:

  • Stabilizes egg whites when whipping into meringues or egg white foams
  • Creates volume in cakes, cookies, and other baked goods when used with baking soda
  • Prevents sugar syrups from crystallizing when making candy or frostings
  • Can help baked goods rise properly by adjusting the pH balance of recipes

Does Cream of Tartar Expire?

Cream of tartar has an indefinite shelf life as the powder is very stable and nonperishable. It will maintain its potency and effectiveness well past any best by date. However, very old cream of tartar that has been subjected to high heat or humidity may start to cake together or develop an off odor or taste. Any changes in appearance, smell or flavor indicate it’s time to discard the cream of tartar.

With proper storage in a cool, dark place away from heat and moisture, cream of tartar will stay fresh for many years. Keep it in an airtight container and it can easily last for 3-5 years or longer after opening. The shelf life depends on storage conditions. Refrigeration can extend its shelf life even further by preventing humidity exposure.

Is it Safe to Use Expired Cream of Tartar?

Yes, using expired cream of tartar is perfectly safe. As a dry, stable powder ingredient, cream of tartar does not spoil in the same way as dairy or other perishable ingredients. It does not grow mold or bacteria that can make you sick.

The main concern with expired cream of tartar is a loss of potency and effectiveness, especially for recipes that rely on it for leavening. Over time, the acidic and drying properties may degrade slightly. But in most baked goods, this small change will likely go unnoticed.

Always inspect the cream of tartar first and give it a sniff test. If it smells normal with no rancid or off odors, then it should be fine to use. Be sure to check the texture too. If it is heavily caked or clumping, then it is best to discard.

How to Test if Expired Cream of Tartar is Still Effective

Here are some ways to test if your expired cream of tartar still has the acidic punch needed for baking:

Add it to hot water

Add 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar to 1 cup hot water and stir to dissolve. Fresh cream of tartar will make the water slightly cloudy and have a sour taste. If the water stays clear and has no acidity, the cream of tartar is no longer potent.

Foam an egg white

Whip 1 egg white with 1/8 teaspoon expired cream of tartar. Fresh cream of tartar should create a light, airy foam that holds its shape. Flat, runny egg whites mean the cream of tartar has lost its stabilizing ability.

Fizz test

Mix just a pinch of expired cream of tartar with a pinch of baking soda in a spoon. Fresh cream of tartar will immediately begin fizzing with the baking soda. If it causes no reaction, then it’s no longer acidic enough to leaven baked goods.

Check baked good texture

Bake a simple recipe that relies on cream of tartar for leavening, such as biscuits, meringues or angel food cake. If items don’t rise properly and have a dense, heavy texture, the expired cream of tartar may be to blame.

Does Cream of Tartar Need to be Refrigerated?

Refrigeration is not required to extend the shelf life of unopened cream of tartar. It should be stored in a cool, dry place in an air-tight container away from heat and moisture to maintain freshness. The optimal storage temperature is below 68°F.

Once opened, cream of tartar can be kept in the refrigerator for prolonged freshness. The cool environment helps prevent moisture exposure that can cause caking.Transfer the cream of tartar to an airtight container before refrigerating.

Do not store cream of tartar in the freezer, as extreme cold temperatures may cause it to crystallize together into clumps. However, thawed cream of tartar can still be used.

Signs Your Cream of Tartar Has Gone Bad

Look for these signs that indicate your cream of tartar is no longer good to use:

Appearance Changes

  • Caked powder that is hard and clumped together
  • Bright white color starts to dull and yellow
  • Crystal formation and wet appearance

Texture Changes

  • Hard and solid clumps
  • Grainy or gritty
  • Oily film on surface

Smell Changes

  • No aroma (fresh cream of tartar is odorless)
  • Stale, musty or dusty smell
  • Rotten egg or sulfur-like smell

Taste Changes

  • Bitter, burnt or chemical taste
  • Diminished sourness or acidity
  • Strange flavors like fishy or soapy

Any of these changes mean the cream of tartar has been compromised and should be discarded.

What Happens If You Use Bad Cream of Tartar?

Using spoiled cream of tartar likely won’t make you sick, but it can negatively impact your baked goods. Here’s what may occur:

  • Loss of leavening ability leading to dense, heavy items with no lift
  • egg whites don’t whip up properly into foams or meringues
  • Sugar syrups crystallize instead of remaining smooth
  • Icing and frostings may take on a grainy texture
  • Cakes have domed, sunken tops without proper rise
  • Biscuits and cookies don’t get flaky layers; remain flat and tough
  • Overall off tastes and smells are imparted to the food

Inedible baked goods are the worst result of using expired or spoiled cream of tartar. At worst, it may just not work as well in providing lift and stability. As long as mold hasn’t actually grown, then it’s not a food safety issue.

How to Store Cream of Tartar Properly

To get the longest shelf life out of your cream of tartar, store it correctly:

  • Keep cream of tartar in a tightly sealed glass, plastic or ceramic container
  • Store in a cool, dry cupboard away from heat sources like the oven or stovetop
  • Avoid humidity by keeping it away from damp areas
  • Refrigerate after opening for prolonged freshness
  • Place container in freezer for 24 hours to extend shelf life if cream of tartar gets clumpy
  • Transfer to an airtight freezer bag if storing for more than 6 months
  • Write the purchase or open date on the container

Proper storage keeps cream of tartar fresh and effective for several years. Discard if any changes in appearance, texture, smell or taste are noted.

Substitutes for Expired Cream of Tartar

If your cream of tartar is no longer providing leavening or stability, try using one of these substitutes in recipes:

Lemon juice or vinegar

As other acidic ingredients, lemon juice and distilled white vinegar can be substituted at a ratio of 1 1/2 teaspoons per 1 teaspoon cream of tartar. They work best in recipes that need some rise from acidity. Vinegar substitutes well in cakes, cookies and meringues.

Sour milk

Sour milk has a similar acidity level to cream of tartar. Replace 1 teaspoon cream of tartar with 1 cup sour milk. The extra liquid may affect the texture, so remove some other liquid. Sour milk works well in biscuits, scones, pancakes and cakes.

Potassium acid tartrate

This chemical cousin of cream of tartar can be used measure for measure with same amount of leavening ability. It may be labeled as potassium hydrogen tartrate on ingredients lists. Can be harder to find in home kitchens.

Baking powder

Use 1/2 teaspoon of double acting baking powder to replace 1 teaspoon cream of tartar. Baking powder provides a similar lift but also imparts a metallic taste. Only suitable for recipes where cream of tartar is not the main leavening agent.

Whipped egg whites

Instead of whipping egg whites with cream of tartar to stabilize meringues, use chilled eggs whites whipped on low speed to form stiff peaks gradually. Add cream of tartar only if whites begin to look bubbly and frothy.


For stabilizing foams and whips, use 1/4 teaspoon unflavored gelatin in place of 1 teaspoon cream of tartar. Sprinkle over egg whites and whip as usual. Gelatin works well for meringues and mousses.

With some creativity, you don’t have to discard old cream of tartar. Use these handy substitutions to get the most out of those last bits in the container.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can old cream of tartar make you sick?

No, consuming expired cream of tartar does not pose any health risks or food poisoning. The worst that can happen is poorly rising or dense baked goods. As long as it does not have mold, it’s still safe to eat.

How do you restore hardened cream of tartar?

To soften hardened cream of tartar clumps, place the container in the freezer for 24 hours. This temperature change helps break down the crystals. You can then break apart the cream of tartar into a powder again.

Can you use cream of tartar after the expiration date?

Yes, cream of tartar will still work after its best by date, though it may start to lose potency after several years. Always do a freshness test first. If it still acidifies water and foams egg whites, it should still be good for baking.

Does heat affect cream of tartar?

Yes, prolonged exposure to high temperatures can degrade the quality of cream of tartar over time. Storing it near ovens or other heat sources can shorten its shelf life. Warmth causes moisture loss, which leads to caking.

Why does my old cream of tartar smell bad?

A foul, rotten or eggy smell means your cream of tartar has gone rancid. This is usually caused by moisture exposure due to improper storage. Dampness causes microbial growth which gives off bad odors. Discard cream of tartar with any funky smells.

The Bottom Line

While cream of tartar has an indefinite shelf life, its potency and effectiveness will diminish over time. Expired cream of tartar is still safe to consume in baked goods but may not provide the desired results. Check the powder for freshness and store properly in a cool, dry place to get the most use out of it. With proper care, cream of tartar can last for years.

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