There’s nothing worse than realizing you’ve run out of an ingredient when you’re in the middle of baking.
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Buttermilk is not a common ingredient in everyone’s pantry, after all. So, what happens when you’ve run out of it or if you have dietary restrictions?
Fortunately, there are multiple substitutes for buttermilk that can be found in every refrigerator, pantry, and cupboard.
All you need is something that resembles milk (vegan or not) and an acidic substance.
Here are our top substitutes for buttermilk!
What is Buttermilk?
Buttermilk is fermented milk that has a tart and sour flavor. It is a common ingredient in most baking recipes, including pancakes, muffins, and biscuits. The creamy texture is also used in salad dressings and creamy sauces.
Buttermilk doesn’t actually contain any butter. Instead, the name derives from traditional buttermilk that was collected as a leftover liquid from when milk was churned into butter.
Modern buttermilk is a combination of water, milk lactose, and casein. Casein is a dairy protein that people often take as a supplement for recovery purposes.
The lactic acid in buttermilk makes the milk lactose easier to digest than regular milk. Those with mild lactose intolerance might be able to handle buttermilk, but it should be avoided by those with serious intolerances or allergies to dairy.
Dairy-Based Substitutes for Buttermilk
Please note that our substitute recipe recommendations will amount to 1 cup of buttermilk. Add more if necessary according to the recipe.
- Milk and Lemon Juice
As buttermilk requires acid, lemon juice is an ideal substitute. It is recommended to use freshly squeezed lemon juice rather than bottled lemon juice which contains padded preservatives.
Simply add a tablespoon of lemon juice to a cup of milk and stir. This will make one cup of the buttermilk substitute, so make more according to the recipe.
As the texture of this mixture will be runnier than buttermilk, we recommend leaving the mixture out at room temperature for around 5 or 10 minutes for it to thicken slightly.
- Milk and Vinegar
Vinegar is another good acidic substitute for buttermilk. We recommend using distilled white vinegar instead of flavored vinegar (apple cider, for example) which might alter the taste.
To make one cup of this substitute, mix one tablespoon of vinegar with one cup of milk. Use the appropriate type of milk depending on the recipe - if the recipe requires low-fat buttermilk, use low-fat regular milk.
- Yogurt and Milk/Water
Plain yogurt has a tart and sour flavor much like buttermilk, which is what makes it a good substitute for buttermilk. It also helps to provide a thicker consistency that buttermilk is often characterized by.
We recommend combining ¾ cup of plain yogurt with ¼ cup of milk. Plain yogurt might work fine by itself but may need watering down with milk to help with the consistency. You can use water instead of milk.
- Plain Kefir
Plain kefir is fermented milk that has a high volume of lactic acid, which makes it an ideal substitute for buttermilk.
It offers the same consistency and does not need to be mixed with another ingredient, so you can use one cup of kefir to replace one cup of buttermilk.
However, if the consistency feels too thick, you can mix the kefir with water or milk to loosen it.
- Milk and Cream of Tartar
Cream of tartar is another useful acidic substance known as potassium bitartrate. Like white vinegar, cream of tartar offers a neutral taste that can be mixed with milk to substitute for buttermilk.
For every 1 cup of milk, use 1 ¾ teaspoon of cream of tartar. As cream of tartar can curdle and become clumpy when mixed with milk, we recommend combining the cream of tartar with other dry ingredients in the recipe and then add the milk afterward. This won’t affect the taste of the baked goods.
- Milk/Water and Sour Cream
Sour cream is probably the most accurate substitute for buttermilk when it comes to taste. Sour cream is fermented with lactic acid bacteria, which is why it has that distinctive bitter flavor.
The only difference between sour cream and buttermilk is the texture, as sour cream is much thicker and requires loosening.
To do this, combine ¾ cup of sour cream with ¼ cup of water or milk and mix until the mixture is smooth to make one cup of “buttermilk”. We recommend whisking this mixture as it will be quicker than stirring with a spoon.
- Buttermilk Powder and Water
Buttermilk powder is a great pantry purchase for avid bakers who don’t often buy buttermilk. However, we understand that this isn’t a common item in everyone’s inventory - after all, you came here for some useful substitutes that you will have access to!
If you do have buttermilk powder, you can mix this with water to create your own buttermilk. You should follow the instructions given by the brand, which is usually ¼ cup of powdered buttermilk combined with 1 cup of water to make 1 cup of buttermilk.
Dairy-free/Vegan Buttermilk Substitutes
Whether you are a vegan by choice or you have an intolerance or allergy to dairy, there are several non-dairy substitutes for buttermilk.
- Unsweetened Soy Milk and Lemon
As with regular milk and lemon, soy milk and lemon is a great substitute for buttermilk! Just make sure you use unsweetened soy milk so the flavor isn’t distorted - remember, buttermilk is tart.
The same measurements go for this vegan substitute. Combine one tablespoon of lemon juice (fresh, if possible) with one cup of soy milk. To thicken the mixture, leave it at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Unsweetened Soy Milk and Vinegar
The same rules apply to the regular milk and vinegar mixture substitute. Make sure to use white vinegar so the flavor isn’t altered.
Combine one tablespoon of vinegar with one cup of unsweetened soy milk, and leave the mixture out at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes for it to thicken.
- Vegan Yogurt and Unsweetened Soy Milk/Water
As long as you use plain vegan yogurt, such as almond or coconut, it can be mixed well with unsweetened soy milk or water to substitute for buttermilk.
Combine ¾ cup plain vegan yogurt with ¼ cup of unsweetened soy milk or water to loosen the consistency. Make sure to add the soy milk or water slowly and in small portions, as you don’t want the mixture to be too watery.
- Vegan Sour Cream and Unsweetened Soy Milk/Water
The same rules apply with vegan sour cream! Whisk ¾ cup of vegan sour cream with ¼ cup of unsweetened soy milk or water to achieve the desired consistency.
- Tofu and Water
Tofu is one of the most reliable ingredients for vegans, and it can be used to make your own buttermilk substitute!
With a blender, puree ¼ cup of silken tofu with something acidic - this can be lemon juice, vinegar, or a pinch of salt. Slowly blend ¾ cup of water until you have reached the desired consistency.
It’s important to let this sit for 5 to 10 minutes before adding it to your ingredients so it has a chance to thicken accordingly.
- Unsweetened Almond Milk and Acid
If soy milk isn’t your preferred plant-based milk, unsweetened almond milk will do the trick. The same rules apply with unsweetened soy milk and regular milk substitute recipes.
For every cup of buttermilk, combine one cup of unsweetened almond milk with an acidic ingredient. This can be a tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar.
Allow this to sit at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes so it can thicken slightly.
- Unsweetened Coconut Milk and Acid
Likewise, coconut milk is a great substitute for buttermilk due to its bland flavor. It also has the most similar consistency to buttermilk than other plant-based milks.
Combine one cup of unsweetened coconut milk with one tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar to create a bitter, acidic taste.
- Homemade Nut Cream
If you’re not in a rush and looking to make the most authentic and homemade baked goods, try making homemade nut cream to substitute for buttermilk! This is also ideal if you’re not a fan of plant-based milk alternatives as there are no added preservatives.
Soak one cup of unsalted nuts in water (macadamia or cashew nuts are ideal for this), and then put them in a blender after draining the water.
Puree them in the blender with one cup of water with a tablespoon of acid, either lemon juice or white vinegar.
What You Can Cook With Buttermilk
Buttermilk is a great ingredient to use in baking and cooking as it is so versatile. It is also very easy to substitute with an array of ingredients that can be found in any cupboard or pantry.
Here are some of the things you can cook or bake with buttermilk:
- Buttermilk chicken
- Buttermilk biscuits
- Buttermilk pie
- Lemon and buttermilk pie
- Buttermilk salad dressing
- Buttermilk pancakes with fruit (blueberries, for example)
- Buttermilk pound cake
- Buttermilk mashed potatoes
- Buttermilk bread
Why Should I Use Buttermilk in Baking/Cooking?
Whilst buttermilk has a distinctively tangy flavor, that is somewhat disguised in the food amongst other ingredients.
However, we recommend using buttermilk with caution when substituting buttermilk for regular milk in a recipe that involves baking powder.
This is because the mixture of alkali in the baking powder does not mix well with the acid in buttermilk. These recipes require regular milk as it has lower acidic content.
Buttermilk is also a great component in savory meals due to the tart taste.
Frequently Asked Questions
What happens if you use milk instead of buttermilk?
Using milk instead of buttermilk could potentially change the entire taste and flavor of your recipe.
Buttermilk has a very distinct sour taste and that is one of the main reasons it is used in recipes when there is a desire for tartness. Regular milk (unless it has gone bad) does not taste sour or tart, and since out of date or rotten milk can make you sick, you should not use it.
Of course, if you do not mind missing out on that sourness, then regular milk will be just fine. It is not the best substitute by any means, but if it is the only thing you have available then you can use it.
It would be best to use regular milk alongside a sour or tart ingredient such as lemon juice or cream of tartar. This will give you a similar flavor to that of buttermilk.
Milk also has a thinner consistency compared with buttermilk, and so if you did use it in place of buttermilk you should use less of it or else you risk your recipe being too liquidy.
How do I substitute milk for buttermilk?
When you are substituting milk for buttermilk, it is not recommended that you use milk alone. Not only is the consistency a little different, but it is also lacking one of the key elements of buttermilk - its sourness.
In order to properly replace buttermilk with regular milk, we recommend adding something that can create a sour or tart flavor to the regular milk first. This could be lemon juice, vinegar, cream of tartar, or sour cream, among other ingredients.
Typically you will just need one tablespoon of the sour ingredient added to your milk. You may want to consider using a little less milk than buttermilk since the consistency might be a little thinner. Plain, regular milk will not work as well in terms of flavor.
How do you make your own buttermilk?
To make your own buttermilk, the best method is to use plain milk and something sour. We like using lemon juice best. Simply grab a cup of fresh regular milk. Use full fat for the best results. Add in a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice. Mix it and leave it for around 10 minutes to curdle.
This should only take a few minutes, and after the time has passed you will have your very own homemade buttermilk that you can use in place of store-bought buttermilk in your recipes.
You could also make your own buttermilk following this same method but using distilled white vinegar in place of the fresh lemon juice. Use the same amount (one tablespoon) per one cup of full fat regular milk.
There is a multitude of substitutes for buttermilk that can be found in everyone’s pantry or cupboard.
We’ve all been in a sticky situation where the buttermilk has gone off or we have forgotten to buy some, but fortunately, there are lots of homemade substitutes.
The key point to remember when substituting buttermilk is to stick to unflavored milk, dairy, or plant-based products with acidic ingredients.