Molecular formula: C4H6O6
Tartaric acid is a white, crystalline organic acid that occurs naturally in many fruits, most notably in grapes, but also in bananas, tamarinds, and citrus. Its salt, potassium bitartrate, commonly known as cream of tartar, develops naturally in the process of fermentation. It is commonly mixed with sodium bicarbonate and is sold as baking powder used as a leavening agent in food preparation. The acid itself is added to foods as an antioxidant E334 and to impart its distinctive sour taste.
Tartaric acid is used making silver mirrors, in the manufacturing of soft drinks, to provide tartness to foods, in tanning leather and in making blueprints. Tartaric acid is used in cream of tartar (for cooking) and as an emetic (a substance used to induce vomiting).
Tartaric acid may be most immediately recognizable to wine drinkers as the source of "wine diamonds", the small potassium bitartrate crystals that sometimes form spontaneously on the cork or bottom of the bottle. These "tartrates" are harmless, despite sometimes being mistaken for broken glass, and are prevented in many wines through cold stabilization (which is not always preferred since it can change the wine's profile). The tartrates remaining on the inside of aging barrels were at one time a major industrial source of potassium bitartrate.
Tartaric acid plays an important role chemically, lowering the pH of fermenting "must" to a level where many undesirable spoilage bacteria cannot live, and acting as a preservative after fermentation. In the mouth, tartaric acid provides some of the tartness in the wine, although citric and malic acids also play a role.