How to Make Buttermilk – What is Buttermilk & Recipe Substitutions

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Learn how to make buttermilk for your pancakes, cakes, and so much more! This easy substitution will save you a trip to the grocery store and ensure that you have the most delicious results. Measuring cup of homemade buttermilk

If you’ve ever wanted to make fluffy pancakes, a super moist red velvet cake, or tender muffins – then you’ve likely seen buttermilk in the ingredient list. Buttermilk has a tangy flavor and an exceptional ability to make baked goods moist and tender. It’s a key ingredient for cakes with an extra soft cake crumb, tender scones, sky-high pancakes and so much more.

What is Buttermilk?

Traditionally, buttermilk was the leftover milk after making butter. It was full of cultures and therefore had a tangy flavor. The buttermilk that was left in the urn after churning the butter was low in fat because the fat would end up in the butter.

Today, buttermilk is still cultured milk (just like yogurt or kefir), but it’s commercially prepared instead of the byproduct of churning butter. It’s still tangy, acidic, and typically low in fat – although the fat content can vary.

Why Bake with Buttermilk?

Buttermilk is a key ingredient in many recipes. It has a tangy flavor that it lends to baked goods, such as buttermilk pancakes. Because it is acidic, it’s often paired with baking soda (a base) to help cakes and cupcakes rise beautifully.

Can You Substitute Buttermilk with Milk?

Unless otherwise stated, typically buttermilk should not be substituted with regular milk because it is much more acidic. Regular milk won’t give the same slight tanginess to the flavor as buttermilk. Recipes designed with buttermilk will typically use baking soda to balance out the acidity, so if you substitute milk for buttermilk, the amount of baking soda typically will be too much.

How to Make Buttermilk

Of course, in any recipe, using the stated ingredients will always provided the best results. However, when you’re in a pinch – you can easily make your own either vinegar and milk or freshly squeezed lemon juice and milk.

To make 1 cup buttermilk:

  1. Add 1 tablespoon of distilled vinegar, white vinegar, or freshly squeezed lemon juice to a liquid measuring cup.
  2. Then pour milk (1% or 2% works best) to the 1 cup line.
  3. Whisk together, then let it sit for 5 minutes for the milk to sour.

I have used lactose free milk for this substitute before, and I have heard from readers that dairy free milk can work too.

This homemade substitute works because lemon juice and vinegar are both acidic, and therefore make will make the milk more acidic and behave more similarly to buttermilk.

Homemade buttermilk, made with lemon juice and milk

Here are some of my favorite recipes using buttermilk:

Measuring cup of homemade buttermilk
5 from 1 vote

How To Make Buttermilk

Learn how to make buttermilk for your pancakes, cakes, and so much more! This easy substitution will save you a trip to the grocery store and ensure that you have the most delicious results. 
Prep: 5 minutes
Total: 5 minutes
Servings: 1 cup
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Equipment

  • liquid measuring cup

Ingredients 

  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice (15 ml) , or white vinegar or distilled vinegar
  • 1 cup milk (240 ml), I typically use 1% or 2%

Instructions 

  • Add the lemon juice (or vinegar) to a liquid measuring cup.
  • Pour the milk to the 1 cup line.
  • Whisk together.
  • Let the milk sit for 5 minutes before using in your recipe.

Notes

  1. Lemon Juice: I always use freshly squeezed, as the lemon juice from a bottle can be too sour. 
  2. Milk: I typically use 1% or 2% (AKA low fat milk as opposed to full-cream milk/ whole milk). Lactose-free milk works too. I've had readers tell me that they've used dairy-free milks with good success.
  3. Different Amounts:
    • For a half cup: use 1/2 tablespoon (equivalent to 1 and 1/2 teaspoons) vinegar and 1/2 cup milk
    • For 1/3 cup: use 1 teaspoon vinegar and 1/3 cup milk.
  4. Nutrition: Details provided are an estimate only and based on 1 cup. 

Nutrition

Calories: 152kcal, Carbohydrates: 13g, Protein: 8g, Fat: 8g, Saturated Fat: 5g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g, Monounsaturated Fat: 2g, Cholesterol: 24mg, Sodium: 105mg, Potassium: 338mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 13g, Vitamin A: 396IU, Vitamin C: 6mg, Calcium: 277mg, Iron: 1mg
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