Have you ever needed buttermilk for a recipe — like Chili Pepper Madness’ jalapeno “bottle caps” or Alexandra’s Kitchen’s buttermilk blueberry breakfast cake — but didn’t have any on hand? If so, there are ways you can get around this. You can easily make buttermilk or a buttermilk substitute at home: here’s how.
What Is Buttermilk?
It doesn’t contain butter, nor does it have the same gold color or share the taste of rich, creamy flavor. Buttermilk gets its name from how it was originally made. Traditionally, buttermilk was the liquid left after churning milk into butter. While this is still the case in some parts of the world, modern buttermilk is a fermented dairy product in most Western countries.
It is cultured, which means beneficial lactic acid-producing bacteria cultures have been added. This turns it into something thicker than conventional milk with a slightly sour taste, making it ideal for certain recipes. But if you don’t have any on hand and need some, you can learn how to make buttermilk — or at least an adequate substitute.
Real, cultured buttermilk has unique properties that make it ideal in certain recipes and beneficial to your health. For instance, it is naturally low in fat and calories but high in protein, calcium, vitamin B12 and potassium. Its live cultures make it more easily digestible than milk, as well.
Because of its acidity, real buttermilk can act as a leavening agent when reacting with certain ingredients, such as baking soda. It can also tenderize meat, making it an effective and delicious addition to marinades for chicken or pork.
You can make real, cultured buttermilk at home, although doing so requires active buttermilk culture or a cup of cultured buttermilk, as well as some time. If you don’t have access to these, you can still learn how to make buttermilk to substitute in recipes. There are also some simple swaps you can use in place of buttermilk.
How To Make Buttermilk From A Starter
One way to make homemade cultured buttermilk is to use a “starter,” similar to the way you’d make sourdough bread. You can purchase starter culture to use at sites like Cultures for Health and New England Cheesemaking Supply Co. Or, as Serious Eats suggests, use leftover store-bought buttermilk.
Mix two tablespoons and two cups of milk in a glass container, cover with a coffee filter or cheesecloth and let it rest at room temperature until it “clabbers” or sours and thickens. This process can take between 10 and 24 hours and will help it develop that distinctive flavor. When it is ready, store the buttermilk in the refrigerator.
How To Make Buttermilk Substitutes
If you prefer a more convenient substitute, several swaps will work in a pinch. While they might not offer all of the benefits of real buttermilk, these swaps are suitable for many recipes. For instance, you can add two tablespoons of either lemon juice or vinegar to a cup of milk to replace a cup of buttermilk. The juice or vinegar acidifies the milk. Martha Stewart recommends selecting a mild-tasting vinegar, such as apple cider, white wine or rice vinegar.
To avoid the aftertaste of lemon or vinegar, you can add cream of tartar instead. Add 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 teaspoons of cream of tartar to your recipe and use milk in place of the buttermilk. For best results, whisk the cream of tartar into the dry ingredients rather than adding it straight to the milk, as it is likely to clump.
Some other buttermilk alternatives aren’t as much recipes as they are replacements. For instance, sour cream thinned out with milk or water works well, as it is fermented and has a similar, tangy flavor. Whisking 3/4 cup of sour cream with 1/4 cup liquid replaces one cup of buttermilk. Thinned-out plain yogurt or crème fraiche works this way as well. You can also swap plain kefir for buttermilk, cup for cup.
So, when you’re in the kitchen, and a recipe for fresh biscuits or pancakes could benefit from some buttermilk, you don’t have to run to the store. You can finish the dish without interruption when you know how to make buttermilk or something quite close.