Don’t worry if you’re short on buttermilk – it’s super-simple to make your own version at home, and we’ve shared some of the best substitutes that you can use too, from lemon juice and milk, to plain yogurt or even kefir. Find out more below, along with how to use it in baking.
Browse our collection of buttermilk recipes to use your homemade mixture, from fluffy scones to fried chicken. Plus, discover more tips on how to improvise when cooking by using our guide to common ingredient substitutions.
What is buttermilk?
Buttermilk is the liquid that’s drained off during the churning of cream to make butter (as the fat splits from the water). The golden fat that remains is pressed into butter, and the white liquid that remains is buttermilk. It’s typically used in baking to add richness, moist texture and mildly tangy flavour. You can buy buttermilk in pots or cartons, but it’s becoming harder to find.
It is, however, easy and simple to make a substitute at home. The easiest and most well known method is probably lemon juice and milk, which you can try in our homemade buttermilk recipe. Read the below list for more information on this, as well as other great substitutes.
6 best buttermilk substitutes
1. Milk and lemon juice
It won’t thicken as much as traditional buttermilk, but milk and lemon juice are a great substitute when making scones, soda bread or pancakes, as lemon juice recreates that similar tangy flavour. Don’t worry if the mixture looks curdled or has small white lumps in it, it will be fine once cooked.
- 250ml whole or semi-skimmed milk (skimmed milk won’t thicken sufficiently, so avoid using this)
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
Mix the milk and lemon juice in a jug or bowl and leave at room temperature for 5-10 mins until the milk has thickened slightly.
2. Milk and vinegar
Similar to the milk and lemon juice combination, milk and vinegar can also be used to mimic the acidic properties of buttermilk.
- 250ml whole or semi-skimmed milk
- 1 tbsp white or apple cider vinegar
Again, mix the milk and vinegar in a jug or bowl and leave at room temperature for 5-10 mins until the milk has thickened slightly.
3. Plain yogurt and milk
Plain yogurt is a versatile and easily accessible alternative to buttermilk due to its tangy, acidic flavour and thick texture. Although plain yogurt can be replaced directly for buttermilk, some recipes which require a slightly runnier texture (like cake batter) will work better if it is mixed with a little milk or water.
- 200ml plain yogurt
- 50ml milk or water (if needed)
Mix the yogurt and milk (or water) together until smooth and use directly in recipe as required. If you only have Greek yogurt, then equal quantities of Greek yogurt and milk should be used in the mix.
More like this
4. Soured cream
Soured cream is another rich and tangy ingredient which is made using lactic acid bacteria to ferment cream. It works well in recipes that call for a thicker consistency, though you can thin it down with water or milk to achieve the desired texture.
- 180ml soured cream
- 50ml milk or water
Whisk together the sour cream and milk (or water) then use as needed.
5. Cultured buttermilk powder
If you often find yourself without buttermilk, keeping a jar of cultured buttermilk powder in your pantry can be a game-changer. This powdered, dehydrated form of buttermilk can be returned to a liquid state by adding water following the instructions on the pack.
- 4 tbsps cultured buttermilk powder
- 250ml water
Mix the ingredients together briskly so that the powder combines properly, then allow enough time for it to rehydrate following pack instructions.
Plain, unflavoured kefir is produced by the lactic fermentation of milk, to create a similar tangy taste to buttermilk. You can use plain kefir to replace buttermilk cup for cup as it has a similar runny consistency.
- 250ml kefir (for every 250ml buttermilk required)
This can be used directly in a recipe.
What recipes can buttermilk be used in?
Buttermilk is a versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of sweet and savoury recipes. Five of its common uses include
- Buttermilk scones – the acidity of buttermilk reacts with baking powder or baking soda, allowing the mixture to rise. Try our easy buttermilk scones
- Buttermilk pancakes – buttermilk creates a light and fluffy texture in these American-style pancakes. Enjoy this recipe with pecans, apples and maple syrup.
- Belgian waffles – these are given a fluffy, soft texture from the use of buttermilk. When toasted, this soft interior is maintained whilst the outside crisps up nicely.
- Cakes and muffins – try our luscious lemon & buttermilk pound cake or banana muffins. Buttermilk contributes to the moistness of these bakes and helps to create a delicate crumb.
- Fried chicken: Buttermilk is often used for fried chicken as the acid helps tenderise the meat plus add flavour. It also helps the coating to stick better, resulting in crispy texture.
You can also find plenty more ideas for using buttermilk, from biscuits and salad dressings and mashed potatoes, in our collection of buttermilk recipes.
Like these ideas? See more useful tips…
Which ingredients do you often need to substitute? Leave a comment below…