Joy the Baker

Baking 101: The Best Buttermilk Substitutes

November 18, 2013

the best buttermilk substitutions

Let’s talk about buttermilk.  More specifically, let’s talk about how I never have buttermilk in the refrigerator when I need it.  Wwhhyy!?

What is buttermilk?  Buttermilk is a slightly sour milk.   The sourness of buttermilk comes from acids in the milk, most notably, lactic acids.  Because the proteins in buttermilk are curdled, buttermilk is slightly thicker than regular milk, but not quite as thick as cream.  Buttermilk is also usually much lower in fat than regular milk and cream.

Cultured buttermilk, as it is called in the United States these days, is a pasteurized milk product.  A culture of lactic acid bacteria is added to low-fat milk to curdle and sour the milk.  Many dairies also add tiny yellow colored flecks of butter to simulate, well… buttermilk.

Buttermilk is an important part of baking.  The acidic milk combined with baking soda in a recipe is a baker’s dream. It’s helps add a lightness and tenderness to baked treats.  When baking soda is combined with the lactic acids of buttermilk, the acid neutralizes the metallic taste of sodium carbonate.  We talked about this in-depth in Baking 101: The Difference Between Baking Soda and Baking Powder.

What if you’re plum out of buttermilk?  There are solutions…. let’s talk.

The Best Buttermilk Substitutes

Milk and Lemon or Vinegar

In a 1-cup measuring cup, add 1 Tablespoon of fresh lemon juice.  Top the lemon juice with skim, low fat or whole milk.  Stir and let sit for two minutes.  After two minutes, your milk is both acidic and curdled.  If you need 2 cups of buttermilk, add 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of lemon juice or vinegar to the milk.  Two tablespoons aren’t necessary.

Milk and Yogurt

Stir 1/4 cup milk into 3/4 cup plain yogurt to create a nicely thick buttermilk substitute.

Milk and Cream of Tartar

Stir together 1 cup of milk and 1 3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar.  To ensure that the mixture doesn’t get lumpy, mix the cream of tartar with 2 Tablespoons of milk.  Once mixed add the rest of the cup of milk.  Cream of tartar is an acid and will simulate the acidic environment of buttermilk in a pinch.

Non-Dairy Option: Almond Milk and Yogurt (with a splash of vinegar)

Stir 1/4 cup almond milk into 3/4 cup almond milk yogurt.  Add a splash (about 1/2 teaspoon) vinegar to the mixture and stir well.  Soy milk and yogurt can also be substituted for the almond milk products.

What We’re Making With Buttermilk

Buttermilk Beignets

Buttermilk Beignets

So soft and tender straight from the fryer.  Don’t inhale and eat.  Trust me.

Roasted Strawberry Buttermilk Cake

Roasted Strawberry Buttermilk Cake 

Soft cakes topped with ultra sweet, roasted strawberries.

Brown Butter Banana Bread with Rum and Coconut

Brown Butter Banana Bread with Rum and Coconut

Brown Butter and Buttermilk in their greatest union yet.

Chive and Feta Buttermilk Biscuits

Feta Chive and Sour Cream Scones

Dream biscuits.  On the savory side.


59 Comments Add A Comment

  • I LOVE these post! so freaking helpful. keep ‘em coming!

  • I’ve been using powdered buttermilk for years and it works very well. I never had any success freezing buttermilk, either.

  • Such a relevant and handy post! I will definitely be turning to these substitutions in a pinch during future buttermilk baking endeavors

  • i am curious why you only need an additional teaspoon of lemon juice for a whole additional cup of milk? Does the same ratio continue on if you needed say, 3 cups of buttermilk? (ie you’d only need 1 tbsp and 2 teaspoons of lemon juice?)

  • I keep powdered buttermilk (like this: on hand and use it in my recipes that call for buttermilk. If I’m out of that, I do the vinegar method, but find that the powdered version is easy and quick!

  • This is great — I always use milk & vinegar (I NEVER have buttermilk on hand when I need it either!) but it’s nice to know some other options, just in case :)

  • I never have buttermilk at my house! We attempted to portion it out and then freeze it and use it later, but it never worked out. My mom just got back from Amish Country and found powdered buttermilk that you simply add water to. I’m pretty excited about it. I imagine it is probably similar to your milk and cream of tartar sub. Maybe evaporated milk and cream of tartar?

  • I buy the powdered buttermilk and keep it in the frig and mix with water when needed.

  • Thanks so much for these baking 101 posts! I love them and I am learning so much! I also never have buttermilk on hand and have just been substituting with sour cream. I thought the buttermilk was more of a flavor thing and not so much a chemistry thing!

  • We don’t have it in the Philippines, so I normally use sour cream when a recipe calls for buttermilk. It’s nice to know that there are other (better!) alternatives!

  • Thanks so much for this post Joy – I’ve been avoiding most American recipes calling for buttermilk recently as it is so expensive to do it in the UK as Buttermilk for us usually only comes in smaller tubs like cream, not the big cartons from Ralphs I used to pick up. Then again, at the time I was forever making biscuits as I always had leftover; I was not used to having buttermilk in such large cartons!

  • Mmmm…. tasty biscuits!! thanks for the info on buttermilk subs :)

  • These posts are so useful! Buttermilk isn’t something I use very much but when I do I can almost never find it in the supermarket.

  • Amazing! Buttermilk is not something we have in Sweden and I always struggle with what to replace it with and usually end up not doing the recipes at all. But this will help a whole lot. Thank you! =)

  • Oooh err, missus, looks good!

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