Summit Up 6-26-10: Caked in cream of tartar |

Summit Up 6-26-10: Caked in cream of tartar

Special to the Daily

Good morning and welcome to Summit Up, the world’s only daily column that’s thinking about old spice. And know, we’re not talking about that evil-smelling stuff your Uncle Vern used to slather on by the gallon just before he gave you a series of tremendous noogies and, if you were lucky, a nickel. We’re talking about that jar of cream of tartar in your cabinet that appears as though it dates back to the Korean War era. Not only is it old, caked and nasty looking, but you have absolutely no idea what cream of tartar is for and what you would use it for. But you feel guilty throwing it away because your mom gave it to you, and you figure they wouldn’t want it down at the food bank.

MILLIONS OF SUMMIT UP READERS: Yes! What the hell is cream of tartar, anyway? We’re dying to know.

SU: It’s mostly used in baking, we think. But let’s have a Google:

(sound of Googling)

OK, sez here on that cream of tartar is the common name for potassium hydrogen tartrate, an acid salt that has a number of uses in cooking. Cream of tartar is obtained when tartaric acid is half neutralized with potassium hydroxide, transforming it into a salt. Grapes are the only significant natural source of tartaric acid, and cream of tartar is obtained from sediment produced in the process of making wine. (The journal Nature reported some years ago that traces of calcium tartrate found in a pottery jar in the ruins of a village in northern Iran are evidence that wine was being made more than 7,000 years ago.)

Cream of tartar is best known in our kitchens for helping stabilize and give more volume to beaten egg whites. It is the acidic ingredient in some brands of baking powder. It is also used to produce a creamier texture in sugary desserts such as candy and frosting, because it inhibits the formation of crystals. It is used commercially in some soft drinks, candies, bakery products, gelatin desserts, and photography products. Cream of tartar can also be used to clean brass and copper cookware.

Well, there you have it! Once you’ve used your C of T (as we like to call it) making candy, you can clean your brass andirons with it.

MSUR: What about mace? What’s that?

SU: According to Mace is a spice made from the waxy red covering which covers nutmeg seeds. The flavor is similar to that of nutmeg, with a hint of pepper and a more subtle note which can be overwhelmed by heavy-handed cooks. Mace is readily available in many cooking supply stores in both whole and ground form, and it has a wide range of uses from desserts to savory roast meats. The versatile flavor can make mace a useful spice to have around, especially since many recipes call for it.

MSUR: OK, how about capers?

SU: Well, we’re not sure capers are a spice, per se, but according to the Encyclopedia of Spices at, a caper is the green, dried bud of an unopened flower. It is graded based on its size – the smaller, the higher the grade. Usually, it is cured with brine, vinegar, or oil. Caper has a sharp fermented bitter taste, and its characteristic taste is developed when placed in vinegar or brine. Pickled capers have an acrid, tart, and pungent taste with a lemony tang

MSUR: Hmmm, acrid eh? Wonder what the origins are?

SU: A close relative of the cabbage family, caper is derived from the Latin word capra, which means “goat,” a name that reflects its strong smell. Thought to originate from the Near East or Central Asia, it has been used by Arabs for medicinal purposes. Caper grows wild in the Mediterranean and is cultivated in Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Algeria, Cyprus, and Iran.

MSUR: Now we’re curious about the chemical components of caper

SU: Caper contains mainly water (85%), bitter glycosides (such as rutin and glucocapparin), pentosans, rutic acid, pectin, and saponin. Similar to mustard or wasabi, upon enzymatic action, methyl glucosinate releases methyl isothiocyanate which gives capers its pungency. Rutin is the whitish spots (crystallizes during pickling process) on pickled capers. It has high sodium content.

Who knew?


OK, so yesterday we were kidding around a little bit about oil on the Gulf Coast and the Redneck Riviera, and we got an e-mail from Carolyn Costanza in Breckenridge, which writes:

“I am from the Redneck Riviera, home of the most beautiful beaches in all the world, and wanted you to see pictures from yesterday and see if you can see any oil in the water or tar balls on the beach. These pictures are from my son’s rental management agency and he has been keeping up with the oil spill daily. It seems as if the media is doing everything in its power to keep people away from this beautiful area and to hurt their economy. The Ft Walton Beach/Destin economy is down about 35 percent and for no reason at all as the beaches have not been impacted, at least not yet. For the future who knows, but I do know a lot of businesses have been hurt so far. Plus the county and state of Florida have taken control of some of the beach cleanup and not depending totally on the US government or BP do do the dirty work for them. Homeowners and visitors patrol the beach and help clean up the little tar as it comes on shore. There are other beaches in LA, AL, MS and parts of FL that are not as lucky as Ft Walton Beach and the Destin area.”

Thanks for clearing that up, Carolyn. Get thee to the Redneck Riviera, folks – the water’s great and the beaches are fine!

Well folks, it’s Saturday – go do that thang!

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