How To: Easy Buttermilk Substitutes 

How To: Easy Buttermilk Substitutes 

This guide provides helpful ratios for 5 buttermilk substitutes, using common ingredients you probably have on hand!  From vinegar & lemon juice to cream of tartar or yogurt, each method is detailed with step-by-step instructions and options for experimenting with dairy alternatives.  Using these easy ratios and simple staple ingredients, you’ll never be caught without buttermilk again!

Buttermilk is a versatile ingredient that adds a tangy flavor and tender texture to various recipes, including pancakes, biscuits, marinades, and dressings. However, it’s not always readily available in every kitchen. Thankfully, there are several simple and effective substitutes you can use to achieve similar results. In this guide, we’ll explore different methods for making buttermilk substitutes using common kitchen ingredients.

What is Buttermilk?

Real buttermilk is a traditional dairy product that has been used in cooking and baking for centuries. Contrary to its name, buttermilk is not directly derived from butter. Instead, it is the liquid left behind after churning butter from cream. This tangy and slightly acidic liquid has a creamy consistency and is prized for its ability to tenderize baked goods, add moisture to recipes and impart a unique flavor profile.

In traditional buttermilk production, fresh cream is left to ferment naturally, allowing beneficial bacteria to convert lactose into lactic acid. This fermentation process gives buttermilk its characteristic tanginess and helps break down proteins and fats, resulting in a smoother texture. While traditional buttermilk is still available, it is less common in modern kitchens, where commercially-produced cultured buttermilk is more readily accessible.

Cultured buttermilk is made by introducing lactic acid bacteria to pasteurized milk, replicating the fermentation process and resulting in a consistent product with the same tangy flavor and creamy texture as traditional buttermilk. This cultured version is what is typically found in grocery stores and is the base for most recipes that call for buttermilk.

Despite its popularity in cooking and baking, store-bought buttermilk may not always be on hand in every kitchen. Fortunately, there are several simple substitutes that can replicate its flavor and function, allowing you to enjoy your favorite recipes without compromising on taste or texture. The homemade buttermilk substitutes that follow provide you with plenty of options.  Whether you’re out of buttermilk or looking for a dairy-free alternative, these techniques will help you achieve the perfect results every time.

Easy Buttermilk Substitutes

Most of these substitutes for buttermilk consist of mixing a small amount of an acidic ingredient with a larger amount of milk. All of the ratios below work with any non-dairy milk alternative, as well, if you’re looking for a vegan buttermilk substitute.  This includes oat milk, coconut milk, almond milk as well as soy milk.  Try to use unsweetened non-dairy varieties, as it can throw the sugar balance off in your recipes if it is sweetened.  Keep in mind, the vegan buttermilk substitutes may be a little thinner than those made with regular whole milk.

Option 1: Milk & white vinegar

This method mimics the acidic tang of traditional buttermilk.  Makes 1 cup of buttermilk substitute. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 (scant) cup of milk (whole milk or any plant-based milk if you’re avoiding dairy products)
  • 1 tablespoon of white vinegar

Instructions:

  • Pour 1 tablespoon of white vinegar (or apple cider vinegar) into a liquid measuring cup.
  • Add just a little less than 1 cup of milk (fill up to 1-cup line) and stir gently to combine. Let the mixture sit at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • During this time, the milk will curdle slightly, thickening and tanginess will develop, giving it a buttermilk-like consistency and flavor. It’s now ready to use in your recipe!

Option 2: Milk & lemon juice

This easy buttermilk substitute also mimics the acidic tang of traditional buttermilk.  Makes 1 cup of homemade buttermilk substitute. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 (scant) cup of milk (whole milk or any plant-based milk)
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice

Instructions:

  • Pour 1 tablespoon of lemon juice into a liquid measuring cup and fill to the 1-cup line with milk. Stir to combine.
  • Let the mixture sit at room temperature for about 5 to 10 minutes. During this time, the milk will curdle slightly, thickening and tanginess will develop, resembling the consistency of buttermilk as well as the taste.  Your homemade buttermilk substitute is ready to use!

Option 3: Yogurt or Sour Cream Method

Yogurt or sour cream can be mixed with milk to create an excellent substitute.  The thicker consistency of this substitute more closely resembles traditional buttermilk. Yields 1 cup homemade buttermilk substitute. 

Note: if using Greek yogurt, reduce the amount of yogurt in the recipe to 1/3 cup (and increase milk to 2/3 cup).

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup of plain yogurt or sour cream
  • 1/2 cup of milk (whole milk or any plant-based milk)

Instructions:

  • In a mixing bowl, combine plain yogurt or sour cream with milk.
  • Whisk the mixture until smooth and well incorporated.
  • Proceed with your recipe! 

Option 4: Milk & cream of tartar

Cream of tartar adds acidity to milk, replicating the tangy flavor of buttermilk.  

Ingredients:

  • 1 (scant) cup of milk (whole “regular” milk or any plant-based milk)
  • 1 ¾ teaspoons of cream of tartar

Instructions:

  • Combine 1 cup of milk and 1 ¾ teaspoons of cream of tartar in a mixing bowl or liquid measuring cup.
  • Stir well with a whisk until the cream of tartar dissolves completely into the milk.
  • Allow the mixture to rest for about 5 to 10 minutes to let the acidity develop and the milk to slightly thicken.
  • Your buttermilk substitute is now ready to be used 1:1 in your recipe.

Option 5: Buttermilk powder

No milk or yogurt on hand?  No problem!  Powdered buttermilk, or dried buttermilk powder, is shelf stable powder made with real buttermilk. Some brands of buttermilk powder, like Saco, are shelf stable until opened and stored in the refrigerator after being opened.  Other brands, like King Arthur and Bob’s Red Mill, can be stored at room temperature after opening so they’re even more handy. Buttermilk powder is a great alternative to liquid buttermilk if you find you’re not able to work through a full quart of buttermilk before its expiration or if you don’t like to stock milk and/or yogurt to make the other buttermilk substitutes. 

Follow the instructions on the package, or mix together using this ratio to make 1 cup of buttermilk:

  • 4 tbsp. cultured buttermilk powder
  • 1 (scant) cup of water

Instructions:

Whisk water and buttermilk powder together until smooth and well incorporated. Proceed with recipe using this buttermilk substitute 1:1 for buttermilk in your recipe. 

Looking for a homemade breakfast shortcut using powdered buttermilk? See this homemade “boxed” pancake mix recipe.

Tips for Cooking with These Buttermilk Substitutes

  • Use the buttermilk substitute immediately after preparing for best results.
  • Adjust the amount of acidity to your preference by varying the quantity of vinegar, lemon juice, or yogurt or cream of tartar used.
  • Experiment with different types of milk and dairy alternatives to find the flavor and consistency that work best for your recipe.  

With these easy-to-follow methods, you can create homemade buttermilk substitutes using common kitchen ingredients. Whether you prefer the tangy flavor of vinegar, the acidity of cream of tartar, or the creaminess of yogurt, there’s a substitute option suitable for every recipe. By mastering these simple ratios with ingredients you already have on hand, you’ll never be in a bind when you find you’re out of buttermilk or don’t want to go to the store!

A few of my favorite Uses for buttermilk

  1. Buttermilk scones – the acidity of buttermilk reacts with baking soda (or baking powder), giving them a lovely rise. Try this traditional Irish buttermilk scones recipe or how about these chocolate strawberry shortcakes.
  2. Buttermilk pancakes – buttermilk creates a perfect light and fluffy texture in old-fashioned buttermilk pancakes, vegan buttermilk pancakes and in these lacy oatmeal pancakes.
  3. Cakes, muffins & quick breads – In all three of these categories, buttermilk aids in creating a moist, tender crumb and high rise as its acidity reacts with the baking soda/powder. It also deepens the flavor profile of the cake or muffin. Try this delicious whole wheat chocolate zucchini bread!

See more useful How-Tos…

Buttermilk Substitutes

This guide provides helpful ratios for buttermilk substitutes, using common ingredients you probably have on hand!
Servings: 1 cup of buttermilk substitute

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (scant) milk (whole milk or any plant-based milk if you’re avoiding dairy products) use unsweetened non-dairy varieties
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice, white vinegar, or apple cider vinegar

Instructions

  • Pour 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar into a liquid measuring cup.
  • Add just a little less than 1 cup of milk (fill up to 1-cup line) and stir gently to combine. Let the mixture sit at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • During this time, the milk will curdle slightly, thickening and tanginess will develop, giving it a buttermilk-like consistency and flavor. It’s now ready to use in your recipe!

Notes

YOGURT OR SOUR CREAM METHOD 

1/2 cup of plain yogurt & 1/2 cup of whole milk. Stir until well incorporated.
Note: if using Greek yogurt, reduce the amount of yogurt in the recipe to 1/3 cup (and increase milk to 2/3 cup).

MILK & CREAM OF TARTAR METHOD

Ingredients:
  • 1 (scant) cup of milk (whole “regular” milk or any plant-based milk)
  • 1 ¾ teaspoons of cream of tartar
Instructions:
  • Combine 1 cup of milk and 1 ¾ teaspoons of cream of tartar in a mixing bowl or liquid measuring cup.
  • Stir well with a whisk until the cream of tartar dissolves completely into the milk.
  • Allow the mixture to rest for about 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Your buttermilk substitute is now ready to be used 1:1 in your recipe.


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