• May 7, 2019

    4 Foolproof Buttermilk Substitutes That Actually Work Perfectly


    If you’ve run out of buttermilk, forgot to grab a carton during your last grocery haul, or only need a splash for a certain recipe, I have good news: it’s easy to substitute buttermilk with some staples that are already in your kitchen. Read on to learn four simple swaps and discover why buttermilk can be a baker’s best friend.


    Do you love kicking off your weekend mornings with a plate of crisp waffles or a pan of fresh muffins still hot from the oven? If so, buttermilk might already be a staple in your kitchen (it is in mine!). For many, however, buttermilk only gets added to the grocery list when it pops up in a specific recipe—so it might feel like you never have buttermilk on hand when the Strawberry Buttermilk Cake craving strikes.

    What Does Buttermilk Do in Baking?

    Before we dive into substitutes, you might be wondering why so many baking recipes call for buttermilk—and what it really is, anyway. Put simply, buttermilk is slightly sour milk. Traditionally, buttermilk referred to the lightly fermented liquid left behind after butter was churned. Today, most buttermilk is “cultured,” or made by combining standard skim milk with lactic acid. The acid curdles and sours the milk, giving buttermilk its distinctive, tangy flavor.

    That extra lactic acid one key to how buttermilk functions in baking. When acidic buttermilk combines with baking soda, the chemical reaction makes baked goods rise light and fluffy. Its acidity also reduces the strength of gluten in a batter. Too much gluten is what makes baked goods tough, so reducing its stronghold is a really good thing in things like cakes and muffins.  

    The very high concentration of natural phospholipid emulsifiers buttermilk contains gives baked goods a smoother crumb, and delivers a special rich tenderness—buttermilk’s truly unique effect as a baking ingredient. (Any of the dairy swaps below will contribute the acidity and still have some dairy emulsifiers, but not nearly as much as actual buttermilk.)

    How to Substitute Buttermilk in Baking

    After learning that buttermilk is the secret to lighter, more tender, and tastier baked goods, you might be ready to rush to the supermarket and pick up a carton or two. In a pinch, however, you can achieve great results with these four buttermilk substitutes. One is a surprisingly simple option for vegan and dairy-free baking! Read on.

    Easiest Buttermilk Substitute Recipe

    The easiest substitute for buttermilk mimics its acidity with one of two common kitchen staples.

    To quickly and easy buttermilk substitute recipe, add a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice or white vinegar to a 1-cup measuring cup. Fill the cup the rest of the way with milk. Let the mixture stand for five minutes, and then use it in place of buttermilk in any recipe.

    Sour Cream as a Buttermilk Substitute

    Have some sour cream in your fridge? You have everything you need to make a buttermilk substitute! You can swap out buttermilk for a mixture of equal parts sour cream and water, whisked together until smooth. Sour cream is an especially great substitute in pancakes or coffee cake.

    Yogurt as a Buttermilk Substitute

    Like sour cream, you can sub watered-down yogurt for buttermilk. Simply whisk a bit of water or regular milk into plain, unsweetened yogurt until it reaches a buttermilk-like consistency. (It should be slightly thicker than normal milk.) The exact ratio will depend on how thick your yogurt is. Generally, you’ll need a mixture that’s around ¼ water or milk and ¾ yogurt.

    Dairy-Free Buttermilk Substitute

    Last but not least, here’s a buttermilk substitute for those avoiding dairy. Stir together ¼ cup of almond milk with ¾ cup of almond milk yogurt, and then add ½ teaspoon of white vinegar to the mixture and stir until thoroughly combined. You can also use soy milk and yogurt, if you prefer. This vegan buttermilk substitute replaces the acidity of regular buttermilk, but lacks the phospholipid emulsifiers present in dairy. You’ll get the leavening action, but not same tender-making action.

    My Favorite Recipes with Buttermilk

    Heavenly Ham & Cheese Buttermilk Waffles

    The Perfect Basic Buttermilk Waffles

    Strawberry Shortcakes with Easy Buttermilk Drop Biscuits 

    Toffee-Dimpled Peach Buttermilk Cake

    Sticky & Sweet Apple Cinnamon Rolls

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    buttermilk in a glass beside slice of baking


    Hi, I'm Jenn! I'm in the Foodess kitchen making a spectacular mess + something delicious, in roughly equal parts. Join me for seasonal baking punctuated by globally-inspired comfort recipes and (healthy-ish) dinspiration, plus with lots of tips and resources. So happy that you're here!

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