How many times have you found the perfect recipe for pancakes, cornbread, or another delicious baked good, only to find that you do not have the buttermilk that it calls for? If you’ve ever used plain milk instead of buttermilk in a recipe, you know that it never turns out as well as you’d like. Your baked goods may have been drier or your meat less tender—this is because the properties of buttermilk that make it a unique ingredient are missing from regular milk.
While some people may always keep a jug of buttermilk in their fridge, it is not an ingredient that is frequently used on a daily basis. This may make it impractical to purchase an entire jug of buttermilk if a recipe only calls for a small amount, you may not have time to go and purchase buttermilk, or you may not be sure when you will need to use buttermilk again. Thus, knowing how to create or purchase a buttermilk substitute may be a useful way to ensure you have buttermilk on hand when the need arises.
Buttermilk can be found in a huge range of recipes all over the world. Previously also known as soured milk, buttermilk is typically thicker than regular milk but thinner than cream. Traditional buttermilk (sometimes called true buttermilk or whey buttermilk) is what is left over after milk is churned into butter. Traditional buttermilk contains a number of healthy probiotics, is lower in fat than regular milk, and is frequently consumed in countries such as India, Nepal, and Pakistan. Cultured buttermilk (what is typically sold in grocery stores in the United States) refers to milk (from skim to full fat) into which lactic acid bacteria have been incorporated to mimic the properties of traditional buttermilk. Often, cultured buttermilk also has yellow colored flecks so that it looks more like traditional buttermilk.
Buttermilk (both cultured and traditional) contains a number of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B12 and calcium. Buttermilk is also an appealing addition to recipes because of its acidic properties, which are drawn from the lactic acid bacteria it contains. Its acidity means that buttermilk reacts more dramatically with baking soda, leading to fluffier pancakes and light-as-air biscuits.
Buttermilk may also be used as a meat marinade, leading to tender beef and poultry, and can be utilized in other recipes, such as dips and salad dressings, due to its taste and texture. As a result, it is important that when your recipe calls for buttermilk, you have a few go-to buttermilk substitutes in case you don’t have a jug on-hand.
Table of Contents
How to Make Buttermilk Substitute
1. Milk and lemon juice
Lemon juice can be added to milk to create an acidic liquid that mimics the properties of buttermilk in recipes. First, add one tablespoon of lemon juice to a measuring cup. Then, add enough skim, low fat, or whole milk to reach 1 cup. Stir the mixture and let sit for at least two minutes—you can usually see the milk becoming thicker! After it sits, the milk will be acidic and curdled and can be used in recipes in place of buttermilk. This is one of the most commonly recommended buttermilk substitutes because of its simplicity, as well as the availability of lemon juice in most kitchens. While some recipes recommend fresh lemon juice, both fresh and bottled lemon juice will do the trick.
2. Milk and White Vinegar
Like the lemon juice mixture described above, white vinegar may be added to milk to increase its acidity so it may be used as a buttermilk substitute. Unlike some of the other buttermilk substitutes in this article, the acidity of vinegar comes from acetic acid (rather than the lactic acid found in buttermilk). Nonetheless, this buttermilk substitute effectively adds the acidity that your recipes needs. Mix one tablespoon of white vinegar with one cup of milk and let stand for at least 10 minutes. The mixture will thicken and contain the same acidic properties as buttermilk and can be used as a buttermilk substitute in any recipe.
3. Sour Cream and water
Sour cream is common fermented dairy product that is used in everything from soups to sauces. It can also be used as a buttermilk substitute, thanks to the lactic acid that lends acidity and a tangy taste to sour cream. It is a particularly good buttermilk substitute in pancakes and coffee cakes, as its texture and taste translates well in these types of recipes. To create a buttermilk substitute, whisk together equal parts water and sour cream, then add the resulting emulsion to your recipe.
4. Cream of Tartar and Milk
Easily one of the most misleadingly-named baking products, cream of tartar is also one of the most versatile. Created as a byproduct of fermenting grapes into wine, cream of tartar is a dry, acidic powder that is used in a variety of recipes. To create a buttermilk substitute, mix 1 ¾ teaspoons of cream of tartar with 2 tablespoons of milk, then incorporate this milk mixture into one additional cup of milk. This will create a non-lumpy mixture with acidic qualities that mimic those of buttermilk that can be easily used in a number of recipes.
5. Yogurt and milk
Yogurt (also spelled yoghurt) is a fermented dairy product created by adding live bacteria (include those that produce lactic acid) to milk. Thus, plain yogurt can be a one-to-one buttermilk substitute in many recipes. This buttermilk substitute is especially helpful if you are making a recipe with thicker texture, such as a dressing or sauce. In addition, using plain yogurt can boost the amount of protein in your recipe and also contains healthy probiotics that aid with digestion.
If you need a thinner buttermilk substitute, you can create one by mixing in a small amount of milk. Stir ¾ cup plain yogurt into ¼ cup milk to create a buttermilk substitute that imitates both the texture and acidic properties of buttermilk, without adding too much thickness.
6. Soy or Almond Milk, Yogurt, and a splash of vinegar
Do you avoid lactose products but still want your recipe to benefit from the acidic and textural assets of buttermilk? You can easily create a substitute from almond milk, soy milk, or other lactose-free products. Stir ¼ cup almond or soy milk into ¾ cup almond or soy yogurt. Mix about ½ teaspoon of white vinegar into the blend and let sit for a few minutes. This mixture may then be used to add the properties of buttermilk without the lactose. If you’re debating whether to create your buttermilk substitute using almond milk, soy milk, rice milk, or coconut milk, you can check out this article which compares these dairy substitutes with cow’s milk.
Note: when creating a buttermilk substitute, it is usually recommended that you make it as needed (rather than trying to create an entire gallon of buttermilk substitute at one time). However, if you do make a bit too much, you can keep your buttermilk substitute stored in an airtight container in your refrigerator for up to one week.
Purchase a Buttermilk Substitute
7. Powdered Buttermilk Blend
If your recipe calls for liquid buttermilk or sour milk, you can use a powdered blended buttermilk substitute. In fact, scientists have been working to create the perfect powdered buttermilk substitute for over a hundred years! There are a number of easily purchasable powdered buttermilk substitutes, including SACO Cultured Buttermilk Blend and Hoosier Hill Buttermilk Powder. With a shelf life of up to 18 months, these types of buttermilk substitutes may be helpful additions to your pantry if you infrequently use buttermilk in recipes. Simply mix water or plain milk with the powdered buttermilk using the ratios described for whichever powdered buttermilk you have.
Kefir is a fermented drink created by adding kefir grains to goats’ or cows’ milk. It can easily be used as a one-to-one substitute for buttermilk. Like traditional and cultured buttermilk, Kefir contains yeasts and bacteria that increase its acidity, making it an ideal buttermilk substitute. Kefir also contains a variety of healthy features, including probiotics, calcium, and vitamins. It is also believed to contain antibiotic properties, and is often well-tolerated by individuals who are lactose intolerant. The primary issue with kefir is that it may not be readily available in grocery stores in the United States, so keep in mind that you may need to buy it from a specialty market or finer grocery store.
The Bottom Line
These recipes and substitutions will enable you to utilize buttermilk substitutes without losing the properties of buttermilk that make it an effective baking agent. Many of these substitutes also mimic the texture of buttermilk, which can play a key role in making sure your recipe tastes and looks delicious. However, keep in mind that purchasing store-bought cultured buttermilk is still your best bet if you are making a high-stakes dessert or drinking buttermilk as a cool, refreshing drink.
Happy baking and cooking!