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I've got a recipe that asks for meringue powder and I have no idea what it is. So my question is what is meringue powder and what purpose does it serve in recipes?

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I'm going to assume implied -- where do you get it? I've never seen it in general grocery stores; I either get it from a cake shop that sells supplies (colors, decorations, etc), or a larger craft store that has a cake decorating section; Wilton sells one that comes in something like a baking powder can. (paper sides, plastic top) –  Joe Nov 26 '10 at 13:03
    
I wasn't really that interested in where you get it, more in what it was and what the purpose of using it in cooking was. Thanks for the info tho –  lomaxx Nov 26 '10 at 13:05
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up vote 4 down vote accepted

Meringue powder is a pasteurized egg product - "dried egg whites with stabilizers and anti-clumping agents such as cornstarch".

It is used to stiffen recipes and I think there are two main reasons for using it (as opposed to egg whites):

1) Reduced risk of salmonella

2) Less time/labour/effort used - you don't have to beat the egg whites for a long time to stiffen them

I would guess as well that it would have more consistent results. When making meringues with egg whites you have to be careful not to get any yolk or other fat into the mixture or it won't stiffen properly. There is no real risk of this with meringue powder.

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You also get more consistent/precise results -- it's easy to measure out a quarter teaspoon of meringue powder, whereas the same isn't true when dealing with measuring egg whites. –  Joe Nov 26 '10 at 13:01
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