How To Make A Buttermilk Substitute

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Do you know how easy it is to make a buttermilk substitute? You may have already made your own “buttermilk” without even realizing it.

When I was a child, my mom’s banana bread recipe taught me to add a bit of vinegar or lemon juice to a cup of milk and let that rest for a few minutes while mixing the other ingredients. Then, I’d add the now-curdled milk to the recipe.

I didn’t know that I was making a buttermilk substitute. I just knew that her banana bread never failed me.

How to make a buttermilk substitute

As an adult, I rarely purchase buttermilk because it’s so easy to make your own and typically more affordable as well.

At its core, Buttermilk is simply soured milk. If that description wasn’t appetizing enough for you, it is a somewhat curdled and thickened milk as well.

Sounds delicious, right?

How To Make Buttermilk

Traditionally, buttermilk was made from the milk leftover in a butter churn after removing the butter. The sour taste was the result of leaving the milk in a churn at room temperature to ferment. All that acid meant buttermilk kept longer at room temperature then its fresh milk counterpart, which was pretty handy in the days before electric refrigerators!

These days, buttermilk is often made commercially by adding cultures to milk. It’s thicker and tangier than the buttermilk our great-grandmothers used in cooking.

Buttermilk may not sound appetizing, but it is a fantastic thing when it comes to baking. The acid in the buttermilk reacts with baking soda in a recipe to create lighter and fluffier baked goods. It’s the secret to muffins with a light and tender crumb, delicious quick breads and my very favorite Gluten Free White Cake.

But few of us just keep cartons of buttermilk lying around and, if you’re like me, you won’t want to trek to the store for just one ingredient when the urge to bake hits you.

Enter homemade buttermilk. This substitute for store bought buttermilk couldn’t be easier.

How To Make A Buttermilk Substitute

Buttermilk Recipe

When you run across a recipe calling for buttermilk, making your own is a simple matter. Follow this formula: Acid + Milk + a few minutes to rest = Buttermilk

I often use lemon juice to curdle the milk but white vinegar works just as well. I’ve also seen others use apple cider vinegar with good results. Just be sure to avoid the more pungent, strong vinegars like balsamic vinegar and wine vinegar.

There are plenty of other methods out there for making buttermilk substitute. You can dilute a little sour cream or plain yogurt with water or add a pinch of cream of tartar to your regular. I haven’t tried them myself but I trust that they work just as well.

This buttermilk substitute functions identically to the real stuff on a chemical level. So even though it’s not technically buttermilk, it’s the only recipe you need for baked goods that call for buttermilk as an ingredient.

If you’re interested in making true homemade cultured buttermilk, my friend Rebecca has a great tutorial on Home Cultured Buttermilk.(Her husband likes it so much he drinks it by the glass!)

Dairy Free Buttermilk

You can use this same method of making buttermilk substitute with non-dairy milk. While I haven’t tried it myself, many bakers and cooks make buttermilk substitute by adding vinegar or lemon juice to their plant-based milk of choice (like in this vegan Raspberry Buttermilk Cake).

Coconut milk, soy milk, almond milk and cashew milk should all work just fine as the “milk” in this recipe as a vegan and dairy free alternative. Just be sure you’re using an unsweetened variety so you don’t disrupt the sugar ratios or sweetness level of your baked goods.

It's easy to make a buttermilk substitute!

You can use this buttermilk substitute recipe in any baked good that calls for buttermilk.

One of the most common uses for buttermilk is as an ingredient in biscuits, where the acidic, curdled milk interacts with baking powder to create a tall fluffy biscuit. My Tender Fluffy Gluten Free Biscuits are buttermilk biscuits at their best (and they just happen to be wheat free!).

Like biscuits, soda bread is quick bread that relies on a reaction between the acid in buttermilk and non-yeast leaveners (like baking soda) to make for delicious bread that requires no time at all to rise. As far as soda breads go, you can’t get much better than Irish Raisin Soda Bread .

I recommend trying these gluten free Light and Fluffy Buttermilk Waffles with a generous pour of Buttermilk Syrup on top, the combination is tasty enough to satisfy the biggest waffle snobs.

Another breakfast favorite around these parts are Blueberry Bran Muffins that use a whole cup of buttermilk in the batter. The resulting muffins are tender and full of juicy blueberry flavor with just the slightest crunch thanks to the generous amount of raw sugar sprinkled on top.

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How To Make A Buttermilk Substitute

Buttermilk Substitute

Make your own buttermilk substitute with just two ingredients.
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Prep Time: 2 mins
Total Time: 2 mins
Course: Condiment
Cuisine: American
Servings: 1 recipe makes 1 cup

Ingredients 

  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 cup milk

Instructions

  • Add one tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar to a liquid measuring cup. Add milk until the amount reaches one cup. Let this mixture sit at room temperature for 5 minutes. The milk should look curdled. Stir the milk and use in any recipe that calls for buttermilk.

Nutrition

Calories: 152kcal · Carbohydrates: 12g · Protein: 7g · Fat: 7g · Saturated Fat: 4g · Cholesterol: 24mg · Sodium: 105mg · Potassium: 322mg · Sugar: 12g · Vitamin A: 395IU · Vitamin C: 5.8mg · Calcium: 276mg
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{originally published 10/24/12 – recipe notes and photos updated 4/14/20}

How To Make A Buttermilk Substitute

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Mary Younkin

Mary Younkin

Hi, I’m Mary. I’m the author, cook, photographer, and travel lover behind the scenes here at Barefeet In The Kitchen. I'm also the author of three cookbooks dedicated to making cooking from scratch as simple as possible.

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  1. Jenn says

    This is exactly how I make mine too! I stumbled upon this tip by accident though… I picked up milk instead of buttermilk once and didn't know what to do with the recipe I was going to make… Google is an amazing thing sometimes! lol

  2. Chris says

    I probably end up doing this half the time just because we're out of buttermilk. Just like most of the time I'm out of half and half and just blend milk and cream together.

  3. LauraChristine says

    I'm sorry, but you are mistaken. This is simply a SUBSTITUTE for Buttermilk. Buttermilk is not just soured milk.
    To make buttermilk, you must first make butter: put cream in a bowl and mix it until you have a lump of butter… take the lump out and look at the leftover liquid in your bowl. THAT is buttermilk.

    • Mary says

      You are correct, Laura. However, this is a great substitute that I have used for many years. I've also used the buttermilk leftover after making butter and I have to admit that I prefer this flavor. Thank you for adding the clarification.

    • Anonymous says

      I can assure you the liquid leftover from making butter is NOT the same as the buttermilk you buy in the store. The buttermilk in the store has been treated with a culture. The liquid in the butter bowl has had the butter fat removed and is basically skim milk and untreated with any cultures. It is not acidic.