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Is cream of tartar or cornstarch better for meringue?

Meringue is a light, airy foam made by whipping egg whites with sugar. It is used to top pies and desserts like lemon meringue pie, add volume to mousses and soufflés, and make sweet decorations. The key to perfect meringue is properly whipped egg whites. They need to be whipped enough to incorporate air and gain volume, but not so much that they become dry or clumpy.

Cream of tartar and cornstarch are two common ingredients added to meringue to help stabilize the egg whites. But which one works better? Here is a detailed comparison of cream of tartar versus cornstarch for meringue to help you decide which is best for your recipe.

What is Cream of Tartar?

Cream of tartar, also known as potassium bitartrate, is an acidic byproduct of winemaking. It is a powdery white substance that adds tartness to recipes. Here are some key facts about cream of tartar:

– It lowers the pH of egg whites, which helps unfold the proteins so they can trap more air bubbles and gain volume. The more acidic the whites, the stiffer the foam they will form.

– It stabilizes beaten egg whites by preventing the foam from collapsing. The acidic environment helps maintain the air bubbles over time.

– It extends the whipping time of egg whites. The acidic pH slows down coagulation so whites can be whipped longer before forming stiff peaks.

– It helps prevent overbeating. The longer whipping time gives you more leeway in mixing without the meringue becoming dry or clumpy.

– It is used in a small amount, around 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon per egg white. More than that can make the meringue taste tart.

– It works best when added near the end of whipping right before soft peak stage. Adding it too early can make it harder to whip to stiff peaks.

What is Cornstarch?

Cornstarch is a fine powder made from corn kernels. Here are some of its characteristics:

– It is pure starch so it does not affect the pH of egg whites like cream of tartar.

– It stabilizes foams through a different mechanism. The starch molecules absorb water released by the egg proteins during whipping. This prevents the proteins from linking together too tightly and collapsing the foam.

– It is used in a higher quantity than cream of tartar, about 1 tablespoon per egg white. Too much can make the meringue powdery.

– It should be sprinkled into the egg whites at the beginning of whipping before foam starts to form. It will not stabilize a foam retroactively like cream of tartar.

– It does not significantly extend whipping time. The whites will still need to be carefully whipped to stiff peaks.

– It can leave a starchy taste in the meringue if overused. Cream of tartar has a more neutral flavor.

Key Differences

Here is a summary of the main differences between using cream of tartar versus cornstarch for meringue:

Attribute Cream of Tartar Cornstarch
Effect on pH Lowers pH, makes whites more acidic No effect on pH
Mechanism Acidic pH unfolds proteins, stabilizes foam Absorbs water, prevents protein links
Amount to use 1/4 – 1/2 tsp per white 1 Tbsp per white
When to add Near end before soft peaks Beginning before whipping
Effect on whipping time Extends whipping time Minimal effect
Flavor impact Minimal, neutral taste Can impart starchy taste

As you can see, the two ingredients stabilize meringue egg foams through different mechanisms. Cream of tartar is added later in mixing, lowers pH, and extends whipping time. Cornstarch is added earlier, absorbs water, and does not affect pH or whipping time as much.

Which Makes Better Meringue?

So which ingredient makes superior meringue – cream of tartar or cornstarch? Here are some key considerations:

– **Stability:** Cream of tartar creates a meringue that holds its shape and volume better over time. The acidic environment prevents the foam from breaking down. Cornstarch meringues are still stable, but may be more prone to weeping liquid and collapsing.

– **Texture:** Cream of tartar meringues tend to be lighter and airier with more volume. Cornstarch can make the texture slightly gummy or styrofoamy. Too much cornstarch can create dry, brittle meringue.

– **Flavor:** Cream of tartar has a neutral taste that does not affect the meringue flavor. Cornstarch can impart a starchy undertone. Cream of tartar is ideal when you want a clean, white meringue.

– **Convenience:** Cream of tartar only needs to be added at the end of mixing. Cornstarch requires more precision in timing to sprinkle it in before whipping starts.

– **Cost:** Cream of tartar is slightly more expensive than cornstarch. However, the amount needed is much less per egg white.

– **Gluten-free:** Cream of tartar is naturally gluten-free. Cornstarch is also GF, but check the label as some brands add wheat as an anti-caking agent.


Cream of tartar produces superior meringue with great stability, airiness, and neutral flavor. The acidic pH is ideal for whipping egg whites into a light, voluminous foam. Cornstarch certainly works too, but may not achieve the same level of lift and stability. It can also impart a starchy taste if overused.

For the fluffiest, most reliable meringue every time, cream of tartar is worth the extra cost. A little goes a long way, and it is easier to use than cornstarch. Keep some handy in your pantry for pie toppings, meringue cookies, and decadent desserts where texture and taste matter.

Tips for Using Cream of Tartar and Cornstarch

Here are some tips for incorporating cream of tartar or cornstarch into your meringue:

**Cream of Tartar Tips:**

– Add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon per egg white depending on desired acidity. Start with less until you see its effect.

– Sprinkle it in right before or when soft peaks start to form from whipped whites. Do not add too early.

– Mix for about 30 seconds after adding to evenly distribute.

– Avoid overbeating once added or meringue can become dry. Watch for stiff peak stage.

– Store in an airtight container away from humidity to prevent clumping.

**Cornstarch Tips:**

– Use 1 tablespoon cornstarch per egg white. It takes more than cream of tartar.

– Blend the cornstarch with a tablespoon of the egg whites first. This prevents clumping when adding to the rest.

– Sprinkle in cornstarch slurry before any whipping, as soon as whites are foamy. Do not add later.

– Whip several minutes after adding to fully incorporate cornstarch.

– If meringue starts weeping liquid, the cornstarch likely was not mixed in well enough.

Troubleshooting Meringue Problems

Here are some common meringue issues and how to fix them:

Meringue Not Whipping Up

– **Old eggs** – The whites thin out over time. Use fresh eggs within 2 weeks of purchase.

– **Fat in the whites** – Even a speck of fat from egg yolk or bowl will prevent whipping. Separate eggs carefully.

– **Over or underbeating** – Underbeaten whites won’t whip up. Ovebeaten ones form dry clumps. Go for stiff glossy peaks.

– **Low acidity** – Without cream of tartar or another acid, whites don’t whip up as well. Add cream of tartar as directed.

– **Not enough sugar** – Sugar helps stabilize the foam. Use proper sugar ratios in recipes. Add gradually while whipping.

Meringue Deflates or Weeps Liquid

– **Insufficient mixing** – Cream of tartar or cornstarch must be fully incorporated. Mix in well at the proper stage.

– **Overbeating** – Once stiff peaks form, stop mixing or meringue will deflate.

– **High humidity** – Meringue will break down faster on humid days. Store in an airtight container.

– **Sugar crystals** – Undissolved sugar can cause weeping. Make sure sugar fully dissolves when heating meringue.

– **Low stabilizer** – Use the recommended cream of tartar or cornstarch for your recipe. A bit more can help.

Meringue Has Beady Bubbles

– **Fat contamination** – Even a tiny bit of fat will create beading rather than smooth foam.

– **Whisking too fast** – Slow down mixing once soft peaks form to properly stabilize bubbles.

– **Insufficient whipping** – The whites need to be whipped thoroughly to a stiff glossy peak stage.

Meringue Is Brittle or Styrofoamy

– **Overbeaten** – Mixing too long causes the proteins to over-bond and squeeze out moisture.

– **Too much cornstarch** – Excess cornstarch gives a gummy, styrofoam-like texture. Reduce to proper ratio.

– **Low moisture** – Meringue needs some moisture for tenderness. Keep some large sugar granules.

– **Baked too long** – Dry, crisp meringue results from overbaking. Watch carefully for doneness.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does cream of tartar stabilize meringue?

Yes, cream of tartar is an excellent meringue stabilizer. The acidic pH helps unfold egg white proteins so they can form a strong, stable foam structure that resists collapsing and weeping.

When should I add cream of tartar to meringue?

Add cream of tartar just before or when the egg whites reach soft peak stage, around 1-2 minutes before expected stiff peaks. This gives it enough time to stabilize the foam without overbeating.

Can I use lemon juice instead of cream of tartar?

Yes, the acidity of lemon juice helps stabilize meringue the same way. Use 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice per egg white. Bottled juice works too but may impart more flavor.

Does cornstarch make meringue stiffer?

Cornstarch helps stiffen and stabilize meringue to an extent by absorbing water from the egg whites. But it does not strengthen the foam as much as cream of tartar’s acidic pH effect does.

Can I use cornstarch and cream of tartar together?

Yes, you can use both for extra insurance in stabilizing meringue. Keep the amounts of each closer to the lower end of the recommended ranges and add as directed.


Cream of tartar is the clear winner over cornstarch for optimal meringue with great stability, lift, and neutral flavor. But cornstarch can work too with proper technique. For the lightest, fluffiest meringue, use fresh eggs, cream of tartar, and careful mixing to stiff glossy peak stage – not a moment longer. With the right ingredients and handling, you will achieve picture-perfect meringue every time.