7 Easy Buttermilk Substitutes
Buttermilk is a popular ingredient in many households around the world, as well as in pastry kitchens for its acidic quality and leavening ability.
Buttermilk, aptly named as it is the liquid left behind from churning butter, is most common in Indian, Arabic, European and Middle Eastern kitchens, where temperatures soar, meaning milk sours more quickly. Buttermilk can also be found just about anywhere a tanginess (or leavening) is required.
In India, buttermilk is served as a cold drink, often served with roasted maize. In Arabic cultures, it is served ice cold and sometimes sweetened with vanilla or dates. During Ramadan, it is drunk to break the fast. Simply put, real buttermilk is an important ingredient!
In North American cultures, it is famous for its use in fried chicken and salad dressings, and it is also a signature ingredient in buttermilk biscuits and other quick breads.
Aside from being a fermented dairy beverage, buttermilk is also used in many recipes including pancakes, soda bread, muffins and more. Its acidic quality acts with baking powder or soda to produce air, making baked goods light, fluffy or airy. It is also a popular ingredient for marinating and tenderizing meats. Its natural acidity helps tenderize chicken, pork and seafood while imparting a distinct tangy taste.
Nowadays, buttermilk typically isn’t a bi-product of making butter, but rather as an intentionally soured dairy product that is sometimes aged at room temperature.
You’ll find buttermilk in many recipes but if you don’t have any on hand, fear not! You can quickly whip up your own using any of the buttermilk substitutes below, or use one of the alternatives on this list.
1. Yogurt (or Vegan Yogurt)
Yogurt is an excellent alternative for buttermilk because aside from its tang, yogurt is often bland and shares the same consistency as a thick buttermilk.
You may need to thin out the yogurt before using it for baking – use ¼ cup of water for every 1 cup of yogurt. Yogurt also goes great with breakfast foods and is highly nutritious!
Make sure you choose a plain, high-fat yogurt like a Greek style as they will have the most buttermilk-like flavor.
Labneh (or Lebnah) is a specialty dairy product that is very similar to yogurt. It is especially popular in the Middle East and also easy to make at home. Basically, you take a full-fat plain yogurt and strain it overnight in cheesecloth, and the result will be very thick buttercream.
2. Sour Cream (or Vegan Sour Cream)
Sour cream is a cultured dairy product that is an excellent alternative because it is pure white, super creamy and contains little to no salt.
Sour cream, however, might be tangier and thicker than you are looking for, so keep this in mind when using it as a direct replacement for buttermilk.
You will want to thin out the sour cream before using – add ¼ cup of cold water for every 1 cup of sour cream or vegan sour cream to make a rich buttermilk.
3. Créme Fraiche
Similar to sour cream or yogurt, this is a good substitute for buttermilk because of its color, smooth texture, and thickness.
Créme fraiche is also quite tangy as it is made in the same way as modern buttermilk, but is made from pure cream that is fermented for a short amount of time, rather than with whole milk.
Creme fraiche is often hung to strain through cheesecloth making it a very thick buttercream, so if this is not a flavor you’re going for, try one of the other substitutes listed here instead.
4. Soft Tofu or Non-Dairy Milk
By placing soft tofu in a blender and adding a very small amount of lemon juice, you are basically left with an awesome vegan buttermilk replacement! You can use this interchangeably with buttermilk recipes, but keep in mind, it will have that certain flavor the soy products often have.
Soft tofu will work as a replacement if you’re making baked dishes but may be too flavorful if you’re marinating. You can also add 1 tbsp of lemon juice or vinegar to 1 cup of any type of non-dairy milk such as almond, soy, cashew, oat or coconut.
Keep in mind that these milks will need to sit out at room temperature for at least one hour before they sour properly, but once they do, they will make a perfect vegan buttermilk substitute!
Another fermented dairy beverage, kefir is especially popular in Indian, Middle Eastern and European households, where a glass of kefir is drunk during celebrations, and sometimes at every meal!
You can find kefir in the fridge of your local health food store, where it is sold for its health benefits and high concentration of probiotics.
Kefir is fermented, rather than soured, using kefir grains which contain live yeast and bacteria. Because kefir is fermented naturally, it is actually much healthier than buttermilk. It also has a pungent, distinct flavor and some say it has a ‘carbonated’ mouth-feel. The name kefir comes from the Turkish word “keyif” which means, good feeling.
Kefir has a reputation of increasing blood flow, libido and energy… no wonder how it got its name! You can use kefir just like buttermilk, as a 1:1 ratio. It is worth noting that any of the health benefits you would find in kefir will be killed by high-heat cooking.
6. Buttermilk Powder
This is a worthwhile ingredient for your pantry if you are someone who likes to bake but doesn’t bake very often. Many recipes call for just a few tablespoons of buttermilk, so purchasing a carton or making your own is sometimes out of the question.
Dehydrated buttermilk powder, however, allows you to make a very small (or very large) amount, based on what you need. It also allows you to control the thickness of your milk, which is great for certain applications.
The downside of this product is that any of the health benefits of real buttermilk will be lost during the dehydration/rehydration process.
7. Homemade Buttermilk Recipe
Probably the easiest buttermilk substitute is going homemade because if you don’t have buttermilk, you likely have some kind of milk! Whether it’s whole, skim, almond, soy or coconut, all you have to do is add 1 tbsp lemon juice or white vinegar to 1 cup of milk and let sit for one hour… and you will be left with basic “buttermilk!”
This will work well in any baking or marinating recipe but it might not be the best milk to drink plain… but we’ll leave that up to you!
Buttermilk is a culturally significant drink that cannot be replaced, but there are some good alternatives out there. Kefir is definitely the closest substitute, with a 1:1 patio and similar way of making. Creme fraiche will also get the job done!
By thinning out yogurt or sour cream, you can produce an excellent and comparable buttermilk. Or you can make your own by souring your own milk or by adding some water to powdered buttermilk. Feel free to play around with any of these substitutions and let us know which one works best for you!