How to Make Buttermilk

6 Simple Kitchen Chemistry Recipes

Buttermilk in a measuring cup

The Picture Pantry/Getty Images

If you don't have buttermilk on hand, it's easy to apply a little kitchen chemistry to make buttermilk substitute from regular milk.

Why Use Buttermilk?

Usually, buttermilk is used in recipes not just because it has a more complex flavor than regular milk, but also because it is more acidic than milk. This allows buttermilk to react with ingredients such as baking soda or baking powder to produce carbon dioxide bubbles. Buttermilk is a key ingredient in soda bread, for example, because of its different chemistry.

Use Any Kind of Milk

You can use any kind of milk to make buttermilk! Basically, all you are doing is curdling the milk by adding an acidic ingredient. Commercial buttermilk is made either by collecting the sour liquid from churned butter or from culturing milk with Lactobacillus. The bacteria curdles milk by producing lactic acid in the same process used to make yogurt or sour cream. Buttermilk made from butter often contains flecks of butter in it, but it is still relatively low fat compared with whole milk.

If You Want Lower Fat Content

If you want even lower fat content, you can make your own buttermilk from 2%, 1%, or skim milk. Be aware this may affect your recipe if the buttermilk is intended to supply some of the fat in the recipe. Using a low-fat product cuts calories, but it also affects the texture and moisture of the final recipe.

Use Any Acidic Ingredient to Curdle Milk

Use any acidic ingredient, such as citrus juice or vinegar, or any cultured dairy product to curdle milk and produce buttermilk. For best results, add the milk to the acidic ingredient, rather than the other way around, and allow 5-10 minutes for the ingredients to react with each other. The exact measurements are not critical, so if you only have a teaspoon of lemon juice rather than a tablespoon, for example, you'll still get buttermilk.

Don't overdo the acid, or you'll get a sour-tasting product. Also, you can refrigerate the buttermilk to use later. There is nothing magical about the 5-10 minutes given in these recipes. It's just a safe amount of time to allow the reaction to occur. Once the milk curdles, you've got buttermilk. You can use it or refrigerate it, as you prefer.

Pick the perfect recipe for your needs. There's even a vegetarian and vegan recipe option.

of 06

Use Lemon Juice

Two glasses of buttermilk made with lemons

Michael Brauner/Getty Images

One of the easiest ways to make buttermilk is to mix a small amount of lemon juice into milk. The lemon adds a pleasant tangy flavor to the buttermilk.

Pour 1 tablespoon of lemon juice into a liquid measuring cup. Add milk to reach the 1 cup mark. Allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes.

of 06

Use White Vinegar

Vinegar mixed with milk is used to make homemade ricotta cheese as well as buttermilk.

Studer-T. Veronika/Getty Images

Vinegar is a good kitchen chemical for making homemade buttermilk because it's readily available and adds acid without making a big change to the flavor of the buttermilk. Of course, you can use flavored vinegar if it works for your recipe.

Pour 1 tablespoon of white vinegar into a liquid measuring cup. Add milk to reach the 1 cup mark. Allow the mixture to stand for 5 minutes, then stir and use in a recipe.

of 06

Use Yogurt

Buttermilk made with yogurt

Ragnar Schmuck/Getty Images

If you have plain yogurt on hand, it's a perfect choice for making homemade buttermilk!

In a liquid measuring cup, mix together two tablespoons of milk with enough plain yogurt to yield one cup. Use as buttermilk.

of 06

Use Sour Cream

A dollop of sour cream on a spoon

Jeff Kauck/Getty Images

Got sour cream? Add a dollop of sour cream to milk to make buttermilk.

Simply thicken milk with sour cream to reach the consistency of buttermilk. Use as directed in the recipe. As with the milk, you can use any fat content sour cream. For best results, use low-fat or light sour cream rather than regular sour cream or fat-free sour cream.

of 06

Use Cream of Tartar

Man in a winery with casks of wine
Cream of tartar crystallizes from solution when grapes are fermented to make wine.

Les and Dave Jacobs/Getty Images

Cream of tartar is a kitchen chemical typically sold with spices that you can use to make a simple buttermilk substitute.

Whisk together 1 cup milk with 1-3/4 tablespoon cream of tartar. Allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes. Stir before use.

of 06

Try a Non-Dairy Buttermilk

Coconut milk pouring into a glass

eli_asenova/Getty Images

You can use coconut milk, soy milk, or almond milk to make non-dairy buttermilk, perfect as vegetarian or vegan buttermilk. The process is the same using these ingredients as it would be using dairy milk, but the flavor will be different.

Simply follow any of the earlier recipes using lemon juice (1 tablespoon), vinegar (1 tablespoon), or cream of tartar (1-3/4 tablespoon) mixed with 1 cup of your choice of non-dairy milk to make the buttermilk. Take the recipe into account when deciding which ingredients to use, to get the best flavor and result.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "How to Make Buttermilk." ThoughtCo, Sep. 7, 2021, Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2021, September 7). How to Make Buttermilk. Retrieved from Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "How to Make Buttermilk." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 7, 2023).