Potassium bitartrate is actually a byproduct of the winemaking process, produced during fermentation. This white powder, also known as potassium acid tartrate and cream of tartar, is used in baking as well as some medications.
Use in Baking and Cooking
Baking powder is made of a mix of baking soda and cream of tartar. It causes baked goods to rise because the acidity of the mix of cream of tartar and water reacts with baking soda and creates carbon dioxide, which can cause a similar effect to that of yeast. Cream of tartar can also act as an emulsifier to keep the fats and liquids from separating in dairy products and help keep canned fruits from browning.
Use in Medications
Potassium bitartrate can have laxative and diuretic effects. The small amount typically used in baking and foods won't cause this reaction, but the larger amounts used in certain medications can. Don't take any other laxatives or diuretics while using a medication containing potassium bitartrate as they could have additive effects.
Potassium bitartrate is high in potassium, with each teaspoon providing 14 percent of the daily value for this essential mineral. For most people, this is a good thing because potassium helps counteract the blood pressure-raising effects of sodium. However, for people with kidney problems, getting too much potassium can cause side effects, including potentially increasing the risk for an irregular heartbeat or a heart attack.
The potential for side effects and toxicity for potassium bitartrate is low, although it could irritate your eyes if you get it in them, and it can cause skin or upper respiratory tract irritation with long-term contact or nausea and vomiting if you ingest a lot of it. The amount of potassium bitartrate typically found in foods shouldn't cause problems.