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How To Make Buttermilk

5 Simple Buttermilk Substitutes


This image compares the appearance of milk (left) and buttermilk (right).

Milk (left) and buttermilk (right) have a different appearance from each other and different flavors and properties. Buttermilk is more acidic, thicker, and coats the inside of a glass.

Ukko-wc, Creative Commons License

If you don't have buttermilk on hand, it's easy to apply a little kitchen chemistry to make buttermilk from regular milk.

Why Use Buttermilk?

Usually buttermilk is used in recipes not just because it has a more complex flavor than regular milk, but because it is more acidic than milk. This allows buttermilk to react with ingredients such as baking soda or baking powder to produce carbon dioxide bubbles. Buttermilk is a key ingredient in soda bread, for example, because of its different chemistry.

5 Simple Buttermilk Substitutes

You can use any kind of milk to make buttermilk! Basically, all you are doing is curdling the milk by adding an acidic ingredient. Commercial buttermilk is made either by collecting the sour liquid from churned butter or from culturing milk with Lactobacillus. The bacteria curdles milk by producing lactic acid in the same process used to make yogurt or sour cream. Buttermilk made from butter often contains flecks of butter in it, but it is still relatively low fat compared with whole milk. If you want even lower fat content, you can make your own buttermilk from 2%, 1%, or skim milk. Be aware this may affect your recipe if the buttermilk is intended to supply some of the fat in the recipe. Using a low fat product cuts calories, but it also affects the texture and moisture of the final recipe.

Use any acidic ingredient, such as citrus juice or vinegar, or any cultured dairy product to curdle milk and produce buttermilk. For best results, add the milk to the acidic ingredient, rather than the other way around, and allow 5-10 minutes for the ingredients to react with each other. The exact measurements are not critical, so if you only have a teaspoon of lemon juice rather than a tablespoon, for example, you'll still get buttermilk. Don't overdo the acid, or you'll get a sour-tasting product. Also, you can refrigerate the buttermilk to use later. There is nothing magical about the 5-10 minutes given in these recipes. It's just a safe amount of time to allow the reaction to occur. Once the milk curdles, you've got buttermilk. You can use it or refrigerate it, as you prefer.

  1. Lemon Juice
    Pour 1 tablespoon of lemon juice into a liquid measuring cup. Add milk to reach the 1 cup mark. Allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes.


  2. White Vinegar
    Pour 1 tablespoon of white vinegar into a liquid measuring cup. Add milk to reach the 1 cup mark. Allow the mixture to stand for 5 minutes, then stir and use in a recipe.


  3. Plain Yogurt
    In a liquid measuring cup, mix together two tablespoons of milk with enough plain yogurt to yield one cup. Use as buttermilk.


  4. Sour Cream
    Simply thicken sour cream with milk to reach the consistency of buttermilk. Use as directed in the recipe. As with the milk, you can use any fat content sour cream. For best results, use low-fat or light sour cream rather than regular sour cream or fat-free sour cream.


  5. Cream of Tartar
    Whisk together 1 cup milk with 1-3/4 tablespoon cream of tartar. Allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes. Stir before use.


Note on Non-Dairy Buttermilk

You can use coconut milk, soy milk, or almond milk to make non-dairy buttermilk. The process is the same, but the flavor definitely will be different. Take the recipe into account when deciding whether or not this will work for you.

Buttermilk and Milk Chemistry

Does Buttermilk Contain Butter?
What Is the Boiling Point of Milk?
What Is the pH of Milk?

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