You'll find buttermilk as an ingredient in many (maybe even most) of the recipes on this website because when it comes to baking, buttermilk is magical. Here are 7 ways to make it yourself.
If you're a frequent baker, I'd suggest keeping buttermilk stocked in your refrigerator. Unopened, buttermilk will last for about 3 months if it's refrigerated. Opened, it will keep for about 14 days.
If you're an infrequent baker, or like to use non-dairy plant-based buttermilk alternatives, keeping buttermilk on hand might not make sense. Also, there are those times when you're mid-recipe and realize you don't have any buttermilk, or don't have enough, or the buttermilk you have is spoiled.
No worries. There are many ways to make a delicious homemade buttermilk substitute using dairy or plant-based milk.
Baking with buttermilk and buttermilk substitutes
Buttermilk adds flavor to baked goods but its inclusion in recipes is often more about texture than flavor. Because buttermilk is so acidic it has a tenderizing effect. In addition, when buttermilk is used with baking soda, the two interact in a way that creates an extra fluffy texture.
But, will the following buttermilk substitutes create the same effects?
I tested each of the following methods for buttermilk substitutes in addition to powdered buttermilk to make this recipe for the perfect vanilla cake. All of the methods worked perfectly well and produced a soft, fluffy, flavorful cake. But there were some differences. Here's what I discovered:
- In comparison to the cake made with regular buttermilk, the cake made with powdered buttermilk was a bit more mellow-tasting.
- The cake made with powdered buttermilk had a fluffier and more even texture than the cakes made with any of the other buttermilk substitutes.
- The texture of all the cakes was very similar in texture from the cake baked with buttermilk - except for the one made with tofu (more about that in a minute). However, there were differences in flavor. Using lemon juice gave the cake a mild lemon flavor and the cake baked with yogurt had more flavor than the one baked with sour cream. Using cream of tarter created the most mild flavor.
- The cake baked with the tofu substitute for buttermilk did not rise as well and had a slightly tougher texture. It was still delicious, but out of all the buttermilk substitutes, this one worked the least.
- Using different plant-based milks will affect the flavor. This is not always a bad thing. For example, coconut milk can complement the flavor in many recipes like this coconut cream cake.
7 ways to make homemade buttermilk
Six of the following methods for DIY buttermilk start with milk. You can use whole milk, 2 percent, 1 percent, non-fat, or even non-dairy milk with equally great results. The seventh method uses silken tofu to make an excellent buttermilk substitute that's plant-based and does not require milk of any kind.
#1. Milk plus vinegar
When I need a good buttermilk substitute in a pinch I usually use milk plus vinegar or milk plus lemon juice because these are ingredients I almost always have on hand.
To use vinegar, add one tablespoon of white vinegar or apple cider vinegar into a measuring cup and then add your milk of choice until it reaches the one-cup line.
- Use 1 tablespoon of vinegar to make 1 cup of buttermilk
- Stir the mixture and let it sit for about five minutes before using
#2. Milk plus lemon juice
To use lemon juice, follow the same method as vinegar: Add one tablespoon of lemon juice into a measuring cup and then add your milk of choice until it reaches the one-cup line.
- Use 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to make 1 cup of buttermilk
- Stir the mixture and let it sit for about five minutes before using
Tip! If you are debating about whether to use milk plus vinegar or milk plus lemon juice, let the recipe be your guide. If it's a recipe that might benefit from a very slight lemon flavor, use lemon juice. If you'd like to avoid even the hint of lemon in whatever you're making, use vinegar.
#3. Milk plus yogurt
You can also combine milk plus yogurt to make an excellent buttermilk substitute. The method is simple:
- Add ¼ cup of the milk of your choice and ¾ cup of yogurt to a small bowl or measuring cup and whisk to combine.
In many recipes, yogurt can be substituted cup–for–cup for buttermilk. However, be aware that the water content of buttermilk and yogurt is different. Buttermilk is 90 percent water while yogurt is 88 percent water. In most cake or muffin recipes, this isn't enough of a difference to matter.
If using is Greek yogurt, which is only 83 percent water, it's wise to mix it with a bit of milk before using it as a buttermilk substitute.
#4. Milk plus sour cream
Sour cream contains a lot less water than yogurt, around 74 percent, so it's always a good idea to mix it with milk when using it as a buttermilk substitute.
- Add ¼ cup of the milk of your choice and ¾ cup of sour cream to a small bowl or measuring cup and whisk to combine.
#5. Milk plus cream of tartar
Cream of tartar is dry, powdery, acidic byproduct of fermenting grapes into wine. The key word here is acidic. Combining milk with an acid in the form of lemon juice, vinegar, yogurt, sour cream, or cream of tarter will yield a mixture that's a perfect substitute for buttermilk.
- To use cream of tartar to make buttermilk, add 1 ¾ teaspoons per cup of milk.
When using cream of tarter as a buttermilk substitute, I like to add it to the dry ingredients rather than mixing it into the milk. Cream of tarter can clump together when added directly to milk. And, there's no reason it has to be added to milk.
Simply by adding it to the dry ingredients in a recipe you're increasing the amount of acid in the batter to something equivalent to buttermilk.
#6. Using dairy-free milk to make buttermilk
You can use dairy-free milk in any of the methods described above. But, if you want to make dairy-free buttermilk, stick to either lemon juice, vinegar, or cream of tarter.
I feel that soy milk, almond milk, and cashew milk work best. Coconut milk also works well, but only use it if the recipe you're making might benefit from a slight coconut flavor. For example, these raspberry cupcakes already include some virgin coconut oil, so using coconut milk as a buttermilk substitute is perfect.
You can also generally use dairy-free yogurt as a cup-for-cup substitute for buttermilk. Most plant-based yogurt is quite thin and has a high water content, which makes it an ideal non-dairy buttermilk. If you happen to have a brand of non-dairy yogurt that appears quite thick, just thin it out with some water or non-dairy milk.
# 7. The no-milk method: turn silken tofu into a buttermilk substitute
Silken tofu makes a delicious plant-based non-dairy substitute for buttermilk! It's important to puree the silken tofu first before using it. I like to use my mini food processor for this job but a blender works just as well.
- Combine ¼ cup pureed silken tofu + ½ cup plus three tablespoons of water + one tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar or apple cider vinegar, + a pinch of salt.
- Blend in a food processor or blender until smooth and creamy.
Please note that of all the buttermilk substitutes listed here, this method is the most tricky in baked goods.
A few more buttermilk substitutes
- Probiotic drinks. Drinkable yogurt or plant based non-dairy probiotic drinks can make a good substitute for buttermilk but please keep in mind that many of them include sweeteners and flavorings. At times, this might be a benefit to the recipe you're making. If in doubt, use one of the methods listed above instead.
- Plain, unsweetened kefir. Kefir is fermented milk that's very similar to yogurt. It's similar in consistency and water content to buttermilk so can be used as an easy cup-for-cup replacement.
- Orange or grapefruit juice. Orange juice and grapefruit juice are both acidic but not quite to the level of lemon or lime juice. This makes them a good substitute for buttermilk in a recipe. You can substitute orange or grapefruit juice cup-for-cup for buttermilk but keep in mind that using juice will also add sugar to whatever you're making. Juice also won't add the richness that the bit of extra fat in buttermilk includes. But for some recipes, like marinades, it can work well.
- Store-bought dairy-free buttermilk. These days, there are several plant-based buttermilk options on the market. If you are looking for a non-dairy buttermilk substitute, this is the easiest option.
Recipes that use buttermilk
Buttermilk is used in everything from cakes and muffins to pie crust and fried chicken. My favorite method for roasting chicken involves soaking it for 24 hours in buttermilk and salt. Likewise, this recipe for Italian meatballs in marinara and this one for sheet pan Greek meatballs both use buttermilk to create meatballs that are incredibly tender, juicy, and flavorful.
For a huge list of buttermilk baking recipes, check out this list of what to make with buttermilk.