Health & Wellness

The 13 Best Buttermilk Substitutes In A Pinch

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There’s nothing worse than realizing, mid-recipe, that you don’t have all the ingredients needed to whip up your delicious meal or yummy baked item. Sure, if you’re just missing some milk or butter, you can often swap out the needed ingredient for another pantry staple, such as oil or water. But what about when you need something as unique as buttermilk?

What is Buttermilk? 

Before we can swap out our buttermilk for something else, it’s important to understand what exactly buttermilk is. 

Buttermilk is not what it sounds like — a mere mixture of butter and milk. The fermented, cultured milk that we know of as buttermilk was originally the milk leftover in the butter-churning process of ye olden days. The milk, which by process of churning ended up sitting at room temperature for a few hours, developed cultures due to the heat and, as a result, also developed the one-of-a-kind, tangy flavor buttermilk is known for. 

Today, buttermilk is made simply by introducing those cultures into regular milk via the magic of food production science, but the result is still the same — a tangy and acidic beverage that’s used primarily for baking, not drinking. And because it’s used primarily for baking rather than drinking, buttermilk isn’t as commonly found in most fridges as regular milk. So, what do you do when you’re in the middle of a recipe, and there’s no buttermilk to be found? You use one of these 13 best substitutes for buttermilk. 

Woman pouring buttermilk into a glass mixing bowl

1. Vinegar and Milk

Vinegar and milk is an easy buttermilk substitute. All you have to do is add a tablespoon of white vinegar to a cup of regular milk and then allow the mixture to sit for 10 minutes to curdle. This waiting time is important and gives the milk that buttermilk-esque sour flavor. 

2. Lemon Juice and Milk

Similarly, you can use lemon juice and regular milk to achieve the same results.

This is what Sense & Edibility chef and author Marta Rivera does. “The last time I bought buttermilk was back in the early 2000s. I have become a fan of mixing up quick buttermilk instead of wasting the money on a quart of buttermilk that I only need a few ounces of.

Mixing 1 tablespoon of white distilled vinegar or fresh lemon juice into a cup of 2% milk is a quick way to make buttermilk. After mixing you just let the milk sit there for 15 minutes, and you have curdled milk.”

3. Cream of Tartar and Milk

You might not have cream of tartar just sitting around in your cabinet as often as you might white vinegar, but if you do have it on hand, you can use it to make up a buttermilk substitute. Just add 1 and 3/4 teaspoon of the white powder to your cup of milk to create one cup of buttermilk.

4. Yogurt and Milk

Since buttermilk is a cultured, fermented version of regular milk, you can add a bit of another cultured dairy product to some plain milk for a faux version of buttermilk. Take a 3/4 cup of plain yogurt (or Greek yogurt, both work) and mix it in with 1/4 cup milk in order to get the desired thickness you need for your recipe. You’ll get a very similar tang to what you’d get with buttermilk, as well as some extra texture.

5. Yogurt 

Don’t have any milk at all on hand? If all you have is plain yogurt, you can sub one cup of plain yogurt for one cup of buttermilk. 

6. Sour Cream and Milk

Similarly, you can use sour cream and milk to get the same effect, using the same ratios. Just use a 3/4 cup of sour cream mixed in with about a fourth of a cup of milk, and you’re good to go. 

7. Sour Cream and Water

Again, if you don’t have any milk whatsoever on hand, you can mix your sour cream with water using the same ratios to get a tangy mixture that’ll replicate buttermilk in your favorite recipe. 

8. Kefir and Milk

Just like yogurt and sour cream (and buttermilk!), kefir is another fermented milk product. A little thinner than sour cream and yogurt, kefir is easy to use as a buttermilk substitute, as all you have to do is simply thin out the kefir until you reach your desired consistency, with a little bit of milk. 

9. Kefir and Water

You can also use kefir thinned out with a bit of water as your buttermilk substitute if you don’t have any real milk on hand. 

10. Kefir 

But no worries if you don’t want to add the water. You can use kefir plain as a one-to-one substitute for your buttermilk if you’re worried that adding the water or milk will thin out your kefir too much for your intended use. 

11. Buttermilk Powder

Just like you can find milk powder sold in boxes or cans at the store, you can also find buttermilk powder. Just add some water and the powdered buttermilk turns into something at least resembling true buttermilk. Just note — buttermilk powder won’t really give you the thick consistency that you’ll find in a glass of the real stuff. However, it will give you the exact buttermilk flavor that some recipes rely on. 

12. Tofu, Water and Lemon Juice or Vinegar

A dairy-free and vegan buttermilk substitute option, this substitute requires you to blend soft and silken tofu with water and your choice of acid — either lemon juice or vinegar. Blend a fourth of a cup of the tofu with three-fourths of a cup of water, plus a tablespoon of the vinegar or lemon juice, until smooth. 

13. Nut Cream

We know what you’re thinking. If you’re in the middle of a baking project and you suddenly realize that you’re all out of buttermilk, how likely is it that you’re going to go with a more time- and labor-intensive substitute, such as the tofu option above that requires you to pull out the blender? And, the answer is—not likely. But, if you do have a little time and a little patience, you might want to try either the tofu substitute or this nut cream substitute. 

All you have to do is soak a cup of unsalted nuts in water (cashew nuts are preferable), drain the water and then blend with a fresh cup of water and a tablespoon of your favorite acid — either lemon juice or vinegar. Blend until smooth, and then use the nut cream as a one-to-one substitute for your buttermilk. 

Related: What Is Tiger Nut Butter? And Our 8 Favorite Recipes

FAQs About Making a Buttermilk Substitute 

Woman smiling as she pulls out a glass bottle of buttermilk out of the fridge

Questions about any of the above? We probably have an answer.

Will any kind of milk work when creating a buttermilk substitute?

Yes! You can use any kind of milk when creating your buttermilk substitute when using a substitute that requires milk mixed with another ingredient, such as vinegar or lemon juice. Non-dairy milk works, too, including coconut milk, soy milk, rice milk, almond milk, cashew milk and oat milk. This is definitely worth keeping in mind for the next time you attempt to make a dairy-free version of your favorite baked good, and you need to swap out the buttermilk for a vegan alternative. 

How can I use my buttermilk substitute?

You can use your buttermilk substitute in any recipe that calls for traditional buttermilk. Buttermilk is used most often for its acidic flavor, in recipes such as dips and dressings; as a tenderizer, such as in fried chicken; or in baked goods, like biscuits, as a leavener. Buttermilk makes an ideal leavener and addition to baked goods because it helps to tenderize the gluten in your flour, creating a lighter, fluffier cake or cookie. 

Do certain buttermilk substitutes work best in certain recipes?

Yes! For recipes that require some tang, such as southern-style buttermilk biscuits, you’ll want to use a substitute with some similar tang in it, like Greek yogurt or sour cream. For a recipe that uses buttermilk as a leavening agent, such as a cake, you can really use any of the options, as the flavor doesn’t matter as much. 

Will I be able to tell the difference between my buttermilk and my buttermilk substitute?

It all depends on what you’re making. Typically, the more buttermilk a recipe calls for, the more likely you are to notice the difference, as the buttermilk plays a larger role in achieving the desired flavor and texture. 

Why can’t I just use milk instead of buttermilk?

You probably noticed something with our list of the best buttermilk substitutes. We didn’t mention using just plain milk as a one-to-one substitute. 

While it can be tempting to just reach in the fridge for your carton of milk and swap out your recipe’s buttermilk with your favorite 2%, doing so without adding in any acid or one of the other ingredients above can wreak havoc on your recipe. You won’t get the tartness at all, the consistency won’t be the same and, if you swap it out in equal portions, your batter will be runnier than it needs to be.

How long can I use my buttermilk substitute?

Most of the above buttermilk substitutes will last, in a sealed container and in the fridge, for up to a week. However, there’s not really much of a point in making a buttermilk substitute in bulk. Make only as much as you need for a certain recipe, and then save that fridge space for an actual carton of buttermilk. 

Have Buttermilk on Hand? Save Some for Later Use

If you find that the above options just don’t give you the same results as using straight buttermilk, you may want to do yourself a favor and save buttermilk for later use the next time you have a fresh carton on hand. 

Since buttermilk doesn’t last forever in the fridge, you can freeze buttermilk in an ice tray for use the next time you need it. Unlike regular milk, buttermilk freezes pretty well and will last for months once frozen; when you’re ready to use it, just pop the frozen cubes in the microwave. This also eliminates the issue of buying a carton of buttermilk for one recipe, only to use a few tablespoons of the milk, leaving the rest to go to waste.

Using leftover buttermilk  

Don’t want to freeze your buttermilk? There are a few unique ways you can incorporate it into your upcoming meals so that not a single drop goes to waste. 

  • Use it as a brine for your chicken, whether you plan on roasting, frying or cooking it any other way.
  • Make an easy salad dressing.
  • Add some buttermilk to your mashed potatoes alongside your regular milk for a ranch dressing-like tang.
  • Add it to your favorite tangy cake or dessert, such as a lemon cake or lemon bars.
  • Drink it! 

Really — while the scent might put you off at first, drinking buttermilk straight rather than merely incorporating it into a recipe comes with some surprising health benefits. Low in fat, buttermilk also contains a lot of vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin B12, potassium, phosphorus and, of course, calcium. If you can find traditionally-made buttermilk (so made via churning, not by introducing cultures to “regular” milk), you’ll also enjoy naturally-occurring probiotics. Buttermilk is also reportedly easier to digest for those with dairy sensitivities. 

Ready to Get to Baking? 

Making your own homemade buttermilk substitute is easy enough that you shouldn’t shy away from the next recipe you find that calls for this fermented, curdled milk. While it’s always best to have the real thing on hand (and there are plenty of ways to use up your leftover buttermilk when you’re finished!), it’s not always possible — and when it’s not, you can rely on common pantry staples, from vinegar to yogurt, to replicate that unmistakable buttermilk taste and texture.

You might also be interested in: 38 Vegan-Friendly Thanksgiving Recipes [Impress Any Critic]

Buttermilk Substitutes: 

  1. Vinegar and Milk
  2. Lemon Juice and Milk
  3. Cream of Tartar and Milk
  4. Yogurt and Milk
  5. Yogurt
  6. Sour Cream and Milk
  7. Sour Cream and Water
  8. Kefir and Milk
  9. Kefir and Water
  10. Kefir
  11. Buttermilk Powder
  12. Tofu, Water and Lemon Juice or Vinegar
  13. Nut Cream

Holly Riddle

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