Using Buttermilk Instead of Milk

A bowl of cereal with a glass of buttermilk next to it

When it comes to baking and cooking, buttermilk can be an excellent alternative to milk. While it has a slightly thicker consistency and tangier taste, using buttermilk can offer a range of benefits over regular milk. In this article, we’ll explore the many advantages of using buttermilk in recipes, how to substitute it for milk, and offer some expert tips for cooking with buttermilk.

The Benefits of Using Buttermilk Instead of Milk

One of the most significant benefits of using buttermilk is its acidity, which can help tenderize and add flavor to baked goods. It also helps activate baking soda, which is why many recipes that call for buttermilk also include this leavening agent. Additionally, buttermilk can provide some health benefits, such as more protein and lower fat content when compared to whole milk.

Another benefit of buttermilk lies in its versatility. Not only can it be used in baking, but it can also be added to marinades and dressings to add a tangy, acidic flavor. Its thick consistency can also help create thicker sauces, such as those you might find in Southern-style dishes like chicken and dumplings.

Buttermilk can also be a great substitute for sour cream or yogurt in recipes. It has a similar tangy flavor and creamy texture, making it a suitable replacement in dips, sauces, and even smoothies. Additionally, buttermilk can be used as a base for homemade ice cream, adding a unique flavor and texture to the frozen treat.

Another benefit of using buttermilk is its longer shelf life compared to regular milk. Due to its acidic nature, buttermilk can last up to two weeks in the refrigerator, making it a convenient ingredient to have on hand for impromptu baking or cooking. It can also be frozen for up to three months, allowing you to stock up and use it as needed.

How to Substitute Buttermilk for Milk in Recipes

Substituting buttermilk for milk in recipes is quite easy. To do so, simply add one tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to a measuring cup, then fill the rest of the cup with buttermilk until you reach the desired amount. Alternatively, you can use plain Greek yogurt or sour cream in place of buttermilk for a similar effect.

It’s important to keep in mind that buttermilk is slightly thicker than milk, so you may need to adjust the amount of liquid in your recipe to compensate. Additionally, since buttermilk’s acidity can affect the flavor of your dish, you may need to play around with seasonings and other ingredients to find the right balance.

Another thing to consider when substituting buttermilk for milk is the texture of your final product. Buttermilk has a tangy flavor and can add a slight tanginess to your recipe. This can be a great addition to certain dishes, such as pancakes or biscuits, but may not be desirable in others.

Finally, if you don’t have buttermilk or a suitable substitute on hand, you can make your own by adding one tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to a measuring cup, then filling the rest of the cup with regular milk. Let the mixture sit for a few minutes until it curdles, then use it as you would buttermilk in your recipe.

Buttermilk vs. Regular Milk: Which is Healthier?

When it comes to comparing buttermilk to regular milk, there are a few things to consider. While buttermilk can be lower in fat content, it may also have higher levels of sodium due to the fermentation process. Additionally, buttermilk can offer more protein and calcium than regular milk, making it a better choice for some diets.

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Overall, the choice between buttermilk and regular milk largely depends on your dietary preferences and needs. If you’re looking for a tangy, acidic flavor and lower fat content, buttermilk is an excellent choice. However, if you prefer a milder taste and a more straightforward ingredient, regular milk may be a better fit.

Another factor to consider when choosing between buttermilk and regular milk is their respective uses in cooking and baking. Buttermilk is often used in recipes for baked goods, such as biscuits and pancakes, because its acidity helps to activate baking soda and create a lighter texture. Regular milk, on the other hand, is a more versatile ingredient that can be used in a wider range of recipes, from savory sauces to sweet desserts.

It’s also worth noting that buttermilk is a cultured dairy product, meaning it contains beneficial bacteria that can aid in digestion and support a healthy gut microbiome. Regular milk, on the other hand, does not contain these probiotic properties. So, if you’re looking to boost your gut health, buttermilk may be the better choice.

The Science Behind Using Buttermilk Instead of Milk

As mentioned earlier, buttermilk’s acidity can play an important role in baking and cooking. When combined with baking soda, buttermilk helps create carbon dioxide gas bubbles, which can make baked goods rise and create a softer texture. Additionally, its acidity can help break down proteins and tenderize meat, making it a great ingredient for marinades and sauces.

The fermentation process that creates buttermilk also has some health benefits. As the bacteria in buttermilk consume the lactose, they produce lactic acid, which can help improve digestion and boost the immune system. Additionally, this fermentation process can help produce more bioavailable nutrients, making buttermilk a nutrient-dense ingredient.

Buttermilk can also be a great substitute for milk in recipes for those who are lactose intolerant. Since the lactose in buttermilk is already broken down by the bacteria during the fermentation process, it can be easier to digest for those who have trouble with lactose.

Another benefit of using buttermilk in recipes is that it can add a tangy flavor to dishes. This can be especially useful in recipes that call for a bit of acidity, such as in salad dressings or dips.

Cooking Tips for Baking with Buttermilk

When baking with buttermilk, there are a few tips to keep in mind. Firstly, it’s essential to make sure your baking soda is still active, as buttermilk’s acidity can activate it quickly. You may also need to increase the baking soda slightly to compensate for the extra acid.

Another tip is to make sure your buttermilk and other ingredients are at room temperature before mixing. This can help ensure a more evenly-consistent batter and prevent curdling. Additionally, you may want to use a slightly lower oven temperature to prevent your baked goods from browning too quickly.

Buttermilk can also be used as a substitute for other dairy products in baking recipes. For example, you can replace milk or yogurt with buttermilk to add a tangy flavor to your baked goods. Buttermilk can also be used as a marinade for meats, as its acidity can help tenderize the meat and add flavor.

When storing buttermilk, it’s important to keep it refrigerated and use it within its expiration date. If you have leftover buttermilk, you can freeze it in an airtight container for up to three months. However, keep in mind that the texture may change slightly after freezing, so it’s best to use frozen buttermilk in recipes that require it to be mixed with other ingredients.

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5 Delicious Recipes That Use Buttermilk Instead of Milk

Now that we’ve explored the many benefits of using buttermilk, let’s look at a few recipes that showcase this versatile ingredient.

  1. Buttermilk Pancakes: Swap out regular milk for buttermilk in your favorite pancake recipe for a tangy and fluffy breakfast treat.
  2. Buttermilk Biscuits: Buttermilk can be the perfect ingredient for flaky and tender biscuits, whether you’re serving them for breakfast or dinner.
  3. Buttermilk Fried Chicken: The acidity in buttermilk can help tenderize the chicken and add a tangy flavor to the breading.
  4. Buttermilk Ranch Dressing: Combine buttermilk, sour cream, and herbs for a tangy and delicious salad dressing or dip.
  5. Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes: Use buttermilk instead of cream or milk to create a tangy and flavorful mashed potato side dish.

Buttermilk can also be used in baking to create moist and flavorful cakes, muffins, and bread. The acidity in buttermilk reacts with baking soda to create a light and fluffy texture. Try using buttermilk in your next baking project for a delicious twist on a classic recipe.

How to Make Your Own Buttermilk at Home

If you don’t have buttermilk on hand, or want to make your own, it’s quite simple. To make one cup of buttermilk, combine one tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice with enough milk to equal one cup. Let the mixture sit for five minutes, and you’ll have your own homemade buttermilk.

Buttermilk is a versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of recipes, from pancakes and waffles to biscuits and fried chicken. It adds a tangy flavor and helps to tenderize baked goods and meats.

If you don’t have white vinegar or lemon juice, you can also use plain yogurt or sour cream to make buttermilk. Simply mix one cup of yogurt or sour cream with enough milk to equal one cup, and let it sit for five minutes.

Can You Use Buttermilk Powder Instead of Liquid Buttermilk?

Buttermilk powder can be a convenient alternative to liquid buttermilk, especially if you don’t use buttermilk frequently in your cooking. To substitute buttermilk powder for liquid buttermilk, follow the instructions on the packet to mix it with water. Keep in mind that buttermilk powder may not offer the same tangy flavor as liquid buttermilk, so you may want to add a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice for added acidity.

Another advantage of using buttermilk powder is that it has a longer shelf life than liquid buttermilk, which can spoil quickly. This makes it a great option for those who only need a small amount of buttermilk for a recipe and don’t want to waste the rest of the liquid buttermilk.

However, it’s important to note that buttermilk powder may not work as well in recipes that require the acidity of liquid buttermilk to activate baking soda or baking powder. In these cases, it’s best to use liquid buttermilk to ensure the recipe turns out correctly.

The History and Tradition of Using Buttermilk in Cooking and Baking

Buttermilk has a long history in cooking and baking, especially in traditional Southern and Eastern European cuisines. It was often a byproduct of churning butter, as the leftover liquid was slightly acidic and thick. Buttermilk was then used in baking, cooking, and even enjoyed as a refreshing drink.

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Today, buttermilk is still widely used in many kitchens, whether for its unique flavor or for its health benefits. As more people discover the versatility of buttermilk, its popularity is sure to grow even more.

How to Store and Keep Your Buttermilk Fresh for Longer

Buttermilk can typically last for around two weeks in the fridge, but there are a few things you can do to extend its shelf life. Firstly, make sure to store it in an airtight container in the fridge. You may also want to keep it towards the back of the fridge, as the temperature there is typically more consistent.

If you won’t be able to finish your buttermilk in time, you can also freeze it. Simply pour it into an ice cube tray and freeze until solid, then transfer the cubes to a freezer-safe container. When you’re ready to use the buttermilk, simply thaw the cubes and use as normal.

Using Buttermilk in Savory Dishes: Ideas and Recipes

While buttermilk is often associated with baking and sweets, it can also be a fantastic ingredient for savory dishes. Use it in marinades for tenderizing meat, or as a base for creamy dressings and sauces. You can also add it to soups and stews for added richness and tanginess.

One savory recipe that uses buttermilk is creamy tomato soup. Simply combine canned tomatoes, buttermilk, and a few spices in a blender, then blend until smooth. Heat the soup on the stovetop until heated through, and enjoy with a grilled cheese sandwich or crusty bread.

Vegan Alternatives to Using Buttermilk in Your Baking

If you’re following a vegan diet or don’t have any buttermilk on hand, there are a few substitutes you can use instead. Soy milk or almond milk combined with lemon juice or vinegar can provide a similar level of acidity to buttermilk. Alternatively, you can use silken tofu blended with non-dairy milk to create a creamy, vegan alternative to buttermilk.

How to Use Leftover Buttermilk in Other Recipes

If you find yourself with leftover buttermilk, there are plenty of ways to use it up. Try making buttermilk mashed potatoes, adding it to mac and cheese for added creaminess, or using it in place of regular milk in any of your favorite recipes to add a tangy twist.

Tips for Cooking with Low-Fat or Non-Fat Buttermilk Instead of Whole Milk

If you’re looking for a lower-fat option, low-fat or non-fat buttermilk can be a great choice. However, keep in mind that the taste and texture may be slightly different than using whole milk or full-fat buttermilk. To compensate for this, you may want to add extra flavorings, such as herbs or spices, to your recipe. Additionally, you may need to adjust the amount of liquid in the recipe, as low-fat or non-fat buttermilk can be slightly thinner than whole milk.


As we’ve seen, using buttermilk instead of milk in recipes can provide a range of benefits, from its tangy flavor to its health benefits. Whether you’re baking biscuits or marinading chicken, buttermilk can be a versatile and delicious ingredient to add to your cooking repertoire. So the next time you’re in the kitchen, consider reaching for the buttermilk instead of the milk for a unique and flavorful result.