3+ 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 flavour.

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.

An Easy 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 Favourite 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

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buttermilk in a glass beside slice of baking

Last Updated on May 7, 2019 by Jennifer Pallian BSc, RD

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10 months ago

Powdered buttermilk exists and is a convenient thing to have in the pantry.

A. Orien
A. Orien
3 years ago

I need buttermilk for a dressing. It won’t be baked. Is this still a good substitute (the one with vinegar?)

shannon skinner
shannon skinner
3 years ago

With buttermilk that is available in glass, there is no fermentation and no acidic taste. It is only the reaction to the buttermilk being put into hygenic containers that has made it more sour than it was originally intended. Some have suggested using kefir, but I have found that I use 1/8th more fat in the recipe that requires buttermilk and use a high fat milk. This has worked time after time. The older recipes that ask for buttermilk such as biscuits have the extra fat to ensure that the baking soda does its job, not necessarily because of the acid in the modern buttermilk to make it rise.

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