Buttermilk is an acidic dairy drink that people drink for health benefits or add to recipes for flavor, leavening, or other reasons. Originally, buttermilk was liquid leftover from churning butter or separating cream. The milk naturally fermented during the time it took for it milk and cream to separate, becoming acidic. Most modern buttermilk is cultured, meaning lactic acid-producing bacteria are added to (usually, pasteurized and homogenized) milk. Either method makes buttermilk thicker than regular milk and gives it a creamy color.
Does Buttermilk Contain Butter?
Uncultured buttermilk, made from fermented raw milk, may contain flecks of butter. But, cultured buttermilk ranges anywhere from fat-free to low fat to whole fat milk. It really depends on the milk. Usually, buttermilk contains no butter.
Why Use Buttermilk in Recipes
Buttermilk serves multiple purposes in recipes, but its two main uses are adding a tangy flavor and reacting with sodium bicarbonate (in baking soda and baking powder) to make baked goods rise. It also acts as an emulsifier, bringing together ingredients that may not mix well together otherwise. It affects the texture and browning of foods.
How to Make Buttermilk
It’s easy to make buttermilk using any kind of milk and an acidic ingredient. The milk can be dairy milk, nut milk, soy milk, or whatever you like to drink. However, if you’re using buttermilk in a recipe, keep in mind the fat content of the milk makes a difference because it affects moisture and texture.
What you do is measure the milk and add the acidic ingredient (not the other way around). The measurements for the acidic ingredient are not that critical. For example, if a buttermilk recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and you only have 1-1/2 teaspoons, you’ll still get buttermilk. What matters is that you don’t add way too little or much acid. If you add too little then you won’t give the desired result in a recipe. If you add to much, the final flavor may be sour.
Here are several quick and easy buttermilk recipes:
Make Buttermilk With Lemon Juice
- 1 cup milk
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
Make Buttermilk With Vinegar
- 1 cup milk
- 1 tablespoon vinegar
You can easily adjust the lemon juice and vinegar recipes so you have exactly the amount of buttermilk you need:
- 1/4 cup buttermilk: 3/4 teaspoon vinegar or lemon juice + 1/4 cup milk of choice
- 1/3 cup buttermilk: 1 teaspoon vinegar or lemon juice + 1/3 cup milk
- 1/2 cup buttermilk: 1-1/2 teaspoons vinegar or lemon juice + 1/2 cup milk
- 2/3 cup buttermilk: 2 teaspoons vinegar or lemon juice + 2/3 cup milk
- 3/4 cup buttermilk: scant 2-1/2 teaspoons vinegar or lemon juice + 3/4 cup milk
- 1 cup buttermilk: 1 tablespoon (3 teaspoons) vinegar or lemon juice + 1 cup milk
How to Make Buttermilk Using Yogurt
In a liquid measuring cup, mix 2 tablespoons milk with enough yogurt to yield 1 cup. Or, mix 1 tablespoon of milk with enough yogurt to make 1/2 cup.
Make Buttermilk Using Sour Cream
Simple mix sour cream into milk until you achieve the consistency of buttermilk. You can use any fat content of both sour cream and milk.
Make Buttermilk Using Cream of Tartar
Cream of tartar adds acidity to recipes and easily turns regular milk into buttermilk.
- 1 cup milk
- 1-3/4 tablespoons cream of tartar
Whisk the cream of tartar into the milk.
Can You Freeze Buttermilk
Freezing buttermilk is fine. In fact, it’s actually a great way to keep buttermilk if you have more than you need because frozen buttermilk lasts about three months while refrigerated buttermilk remains good about two weeks (14 days).
Freeze buttermilk in its original carton, but only if you’ve used some first so there is airspace that allows for expansion during freezing. Another option, for either store-bought or homemade buttermilk, is using plastic freezer bags. Write the amount of buttermilk and the date on the bag and then squeeze out any excess air before sealing the bag. Lay bags of buttermilk flat to optimize space.
Thaw buttermilk either by placing it in the refrigerator overnight or within 30 minutes in a bowl of warm water.
How to Tell If Buttermilk Is Bad
Buttermilk changes its consistency when it expires. It changes from smooth to thick or chunky. The normal tangy odor changes into a strong scent. Of course, discard buttermilk if it looks discolored or moldy.
- Hunziker, O. F. (1923). “Utilization of Buttermilk in the form of Condensed and Dried Buttermilk”. Journal of Dairy Science. American Dairy Science Association. 6 (1): 1–12. doi:10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(23)94057-9
- Sodini, I.; Morin, P.; Olabi, A.; Jiménez-Flores, R. (2006). “Compositional and Functional Properties of Buttermilk: A Comparison Between Sweet, Sour, and Whey Buttermilk”. Journal of Dairy Science. American Dairy Science Association. 89 (2): 525–536. doi:10.3168/jds.s0022-0302(06)72115-4