When you need to approximate vegan meringue without eggs, cream of tartar is a must, but this naturally leads to the question – is cream of tartar vegan?
The answer is that it is technically vegan, except in some cases.
That’s because cream of tartar is derived from the process of making wine. The main ingredient, tartaric acid, is a human-friendly but potentially very pet-toxic compound extracted from grapes, but as some wines use animal-derived products there are certainly cases when it could be considered NOT vegan.
Like many vegan products, it boils down to a ‘this is probably vegan but…’, so it’s important to take a closer look at the cream of tartar so that you can take the facts and they come and make the right decision for YOU.
Is cream of tartar vegan? Read on and we’ll tell you all about it!
Despite the name, it’s not dairy at all
Starting off, since this is a product used often in baking and it has ‘cream’ in the name, then naturally that’s going to feel like a red flag. You can relax, however, as ‘cream of tartar’ is not really cream and it’s not dairy at all.
Chemically, it’s ‘potassium bitartrate’ or in some cases, it’s called ‘potassium hydrogen tartrate’ and it’s an acidic powder with a pH of 5 that is derived from a crystallization process that happens in a wine keg. Early winemakers quickly figured out that this was useful stuff – you can mix it with baking soda for leavening, it can prevent caking, it helps to stabilize meringue, and can stop sugar crystallization from occurring.
It also cleans off rust in a pinch – how about that?
So, if the ‘cream’ part of ‘cream of tartar’ felt like a red flag, then you can rest assured that this won’t be a problem. It’s just a powdery byproduct of making wine and its main ingredient is tartaric acid, so this means it’s vegan, right?
Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves – there ARE factors to consider in the winemaking process, so let’s take a look at that next.
Like anything vegan, the source is important
Okay, so we’ve established that cream of tartar is baking an acidic grape powder, so we should be done, right?
Wrong! Nothing in life is ever so easy, especially if you’re fighting the good fight by adhering to a strict vegan diet. So, like anything that gets a casual ‘vegan’ label, you need to be suspicious. In the case of cream of tartar, there’s a modifying factor that we need to consider that will decide if this product gets a hearty, honest thumbs-up or a shake of the head and emphatic thumbs-down and that factor is called “fining agents” – which are just ways to ‘clean up’ the wine, so that it isn’t cloudy, yeasty, overly packed with proteins, and such.
Now, you gotta remember that winemaking is a really old process, probably dating back to the first time someone decided that they loved grape juice and left it out a wee bit too long and it fermented (and what an interesting day that must have been!). Historically, the first evidence of winemaking that we have comes from Armenia and dates back to 4100 B.C., but that’s just a ‘strictly grapes’ example – China, one of the oldest civilizations on the planet, beat that with an archaeological find of evidence of a fermented drink that included grapes but ALSO rice as far back as 7000 B.C.
So there are a LOT of early ‘fining agents’ that were animal-derived because that’s what was easily available and it did the trick, and some of these are still in use today. Sadly, for vegans, that means there is a VERY REAL cross-contamination risk for cream of tartar, but we’ll let the facts speak for themselves so that you can see the bigger picture with crystal clarity.
Here are some examples of common animal-deriving fining agents used in winemaking in the days of yore and even today and what part they play in the winemaking process:
- Egg whites – Have you ever noticed that kind of dry feeling on your tongue that you get sometimes eating grapes, especially red ones? That comes from ‘tannins’, which are present in seeds, skin, and stems of grapes, and egg whites may be added to wine to bind to these tannins and take them to the bottom of the cask. This is still done today with a lot of Bordeaux, as it’s time-testing and definitely works – but it’s definitely not a vegan-friendly process.
- Gelatin – Gelatin is another way to deal with tannins, so that you get a clearer, nicer-looking white wine or a much smoother and fuller red. As this is usually derived from boiled animal bones, it’s also not a vegan part of the winemaking process.
- Casein – Sauvignon Blanc wines are sweet and super clear, and that’s often because of casein, a milk-derived protein that is often used as a fining agent for these types of wines.
- Chitosan – You might notice that ‘chitosan’ sounds like chitin, the same stuff that insect shells are made of, and that’s a big hint as to what it actually is. Chitosan is a carbohydrate derived from crustacean shells that can filter phenols (natural chemicals associated with astringency and bitterness) and can lighten and perfect the color of the wine. So, with sea animal shells we’re definitely NOT in vegan territory.
- Isinglass – Another means of filtering out excess color and unwanted solids produced in the fermentation process, Isinglass sounds innocuous but it’s essentially fish oil, often procured from sturgeons. The verdict – not vegan.
Wait a minute – so cream of tartar is NOT vegan then, right?
Not so fast! As we live in a modern age, there definitely ARE options and so our aim here is to empower you to find 100% vegan cream of tartar in two ways – first, we’re going to give you a means of finding vegan wineries so that you know any cream of tartar that you get hasn’t been subjected to animal derivative fining agents.
Secondly, we’ll also share some brands with you but just remember to check and double-check – we do our best, but recipes change, and companies get new owners – you know the drill!
As far as the vegan wineries, if you go to Barnivore – a website for vegan beer, wine, and liquor – then you’ll find an extensive list of wineries and other resources to source your cream of tartar. This is the method that will take a little more time on your part at first, but it’s also the most effective one.
The wineries that you will find here employ fining agents such as plant caseins, silica gels, limestone, kaolin, and bentonite clay — all animal-free and in case you feel celebratory sometime, also a fine reference to bookmark for obtaining a little vegan-friendly wine or other fine spirits.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s go to our next option of vegan-friendly cream of tartar that you can find online. Don’t forget our disclaimer – ‘trust but verify’ is really important to vegans and we’d hate to steer you wrong – but to the best of our knowledge, these brands should be vegan-friendly and ready to go!
Vegan sources for Cream of Tartar to avoid cross-contamination
In this section, we’ve collected a handful of cream of tartar sources that are touted as vegan options. As always, be sure to check a little on your own, but we’ll give you the links and a little information about each to get you started.
Pure Original Ingredients Cream of Tartar
Considered to be non-GMO and vegan, Pure Original Ingredients is a restaurant-grade cream of tartar that is sold and used around the world. Based in Lindon, Utah, this company is dedicated to providing natural and wholesome ingredients for all of your cooking needs.
Unpretentious Baker’s Cream of Tartar
A popular brand for many vegans, Unpretentious Baker offers this slotted-spice shaker container of cream of tartar for your cooking needs and it makes a great tartar substitute for buttermilk in your recipes as well. Non-GMO- gluten-free, and vegan, it’s just what the doctor ordered!
Too Good Botanics Cream of Tartar
Too Good Botanics is an Ontario-based option that features 100% organic products, ethically sourced from farms and local producers. This highly rated brand prides itself on being USDA, HACCP, NOP, and FDA compliant.
Herbaila Cream of Tartar
Sourced in the USA, this Herbaila cream of tartar 1-pound bag should provide for your cooking or cleaning needs for a good, long time. Take a look at the link and reviews and see what you think – it’s 100% natural and might be exactly what you’re looking for!
A notice to vegans with pets — Keep Cream of Tartar and baked goods from it AWAY from your pets
While we are on the subject of cream of tartar, there is an important little side note that vegans with pets should know about. You may have read before that grapes are a fruit that dogs and cats cannot eat, as it is considered to be toxic for them.
For years, veterinarians didn’t know what it was that was making pets sick and it’s not mild toxicity – with dogs, a handful of grapes or raisins may be enough to cause renal failure, depending on the size and weight of the dog, and cats make experience diarrhea, dehydration, vomiting, and other milder, but still serious symptoms.
The culprit was discovered very recently when a dog owner brought in a pet that had eaten some homemade play dough made with cream of tartar. This popular kid’s recipe for playdough was the key that veterinary scientists needed to determine that the tartaric acid in grapes was the component that was actually so toxic for these animals. This is important, as Tartaric acid is the main ingredient in cream of tartar.
As such, it is VITAL that you don’t share any baked goods or other foods made with cream of tartar with your pets and you should keep your stock of the powder in a container where they cannot get access to it. In case of accidental ingestion, get your pet to the vet immediately or you may contact the ASPCA Poison Help line toll-free at 888-426-4435.
Vegan-friendly alternatives to cream of tartar
If the worry of cross-contamination or pet toxicity has got you down, then don’t worry – you can easily substitute cream of tartar in your recipes. All that you need to do is add 1 teaspoon of white vinegar or lemon juice for every ½ teaspoon of cream of tartar that is called for.
It’s a simple substitution that really does the trick nicely!
It’s just about for us to ‘call it a day’ and make our exit, but before we do we have some frequently asked questions that we think you will find useful. Below are some questions and answers that we received the most on the subject of cream of tartar and how it pertains to veganism.
Let’s take a look!
Does cream of tartar have gelatin in it?
No, cream of tartar does not contain gelatin and despite the name, it’s not creamy at all. It’s simply a white, powdery substance that comes as a byproduct of winemaking which is completely plant-derived – basically, it’s a powder made from grapes and bacteria that occurs naturally in response to fermentation in casks.
Is cream of tartar the same as baking powder?
This is a bit of a tricky question, but definitely useful information for vegans looking to avoid cream of tartar out of worry of cross-contamination. The proper answer is that ‘baking powder is roughly 2/3’s cream of tartar’. That’s because baking powder is simply baking soda with cream of tartar and a little cornstarch added.
The baking powder ratio of cream of tartar to baking soda is 2 parts cream of tartar to one part baking soda, so while they aren’t the same thing exactly, they are MOSTLY the same thing.
Can I skip using cream of tartar in vegan recipes?
Don’t skip it altogether, otherwise you may notice a difference in your finished recipe. The better way to go is to use our substitution of 1 teaspoon of white vinegar or lemon juice to every 1 teaspoon of cream of tartar that is called for in a recipe.
Also, don’t forget that you can always check with one of the wineries that we’ve shared through the Barnivore link. After all, you can still get cream of tartar that doesn’t come with the risks, it just takes a little extra effort to find a supplier that you have full confidence in.
In today’s article, we’ve answered the question ‘Is cream of tartar vegan?’ and while the product itself is completely plant-derived, you’ll want to source it from a vegan winery or another vegan supplier that you trust. While it’s basically made from grapes, bacteria, and fermentation, the problem for many vegans with this product is that the wine industry does use a lot of fining agents which are animal derived.
Thankfully, with the basics that we have provided today, you should be able to source a cream of tartar that you can enjoy with confidence through a vegan winery or a supplier that you trust. Beyond this, just be sure to keep cream of tartar and treats that you’ve made from it well away from your pets, or substitute it in your recipes with lemon juice or white vinegar – easy-peasy!
That’s all the time that we have today, but thanks so much for reading and we hope to see you again soon!