Food & Drink

9 Best Buttermilk Substitutes

Published on March 14, 2023 | 0 Comments
buttermilk biscuits

If you’re looking for a buttermilk substitute for a recipe, you’re in luck. There are some awesome replacements that can mimic the iconic creaminess and the rich flavor. Some might already be in your kitchen and others might be readily available in your grocery stores aisles.

Are you baking flaky biscuits or mixing up your own homemade ranch? These buttermilk substitutes have got you covered. Whether you are looking for a vegan version, are avoiding allergens or simply want to mix it up, these replacements allow you to keep that deep texture and flavor that buttermilk brings.


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What Is Buttermilk?

Back in the day, buttermilk was the liquid that was leftover after a fresh batch of butter was made. It would be left out and allowed to curdle and thicken into a slightly sour milky liquid. Not only did this allow these early bakers to take advantage of all of the cream that they sourced, but it made for some pretty delightful baked goods too.

Today, buttermilk is made in a safer way without leaving it to sit out overnight. Meticulously measured cultures are used to ferment normal cow’s milk into the tangy substance. It’s then bottled and sent to store shelves. Many of the buttermilk products you find in stores are pasteurized, giving them a longer shelf life. 

glass of buttermilk on a coaster
via Canva

Purpose of Buttermilk in Cooking and Baking

In baking, the acidity of buttermilk aids in perfectly leavened pastries, biscuits and bread. It works much faster than yeast in developing that light and fluffy texture. Plus, the tangy undertones caused by the fermentation play well off the sugar and sweet spices in baked goods.

However, buttermilk isn’t just reserved for baking. Buttermilk ranch is a quintessential pairing for everything from a wedge salad to hot wings. When paired with crisp veggies and spicy marinades, the creamy and refreshing topping contrasts ideally. Plus, thanks to its acidic pH, buttermilk can tenderize meat while adding welcome moisture and just a hint of flavor.

man whisking buttermilk into flour
via Canva

9 Buttermilk Substitutes

Maybe you’ve come across a new recipe to try for dinner and the only ingredient you’re missing is buttermilk. Or, perhaps a friend shared a recipe you’d like to try but you’re dairy-free.

Maybe you're simply trying to further expand your kitchen skills with online cooking classes or in-person cooking classes near you. There are cooking classes in Chicagocooking classes in the Bay Area and cooking classes in many states in between. These fun culinary events can teach you to use classic ingredients like buttermilk in new and innovative ways.

Luckily, these buttermilk substitutes give you great options to still enjoy a deep and flavorful meal.

1. Dairy Milk and Vinegar

This buttermilk substitute might hold the most similarities to actual buttermilk. But, instead of waiting for the time-consuming fermenting process, distilled vinegar emulates it in just minutes. Plus, it adds that subtle hint of acidity that buttermilk brings. 

How to make it: To make a cup of buttermilk alternative, add a tablespoon of vinegar to your measuring cup. Then, fill it with regular milk up to the one-cup line. Swirl it gently and let it sit for a few minutes until it thickens slightly. 

dairy milk and vinegar are a good buttermilk substitute
via Canva

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2.  Thinned Out Sour Cream

Sour cream is exactly what it sounds like — soured cream. This means that it’s another form of fermented dairy. It also has the same acidic notes, so making it a buttermilk substitute with sour cream is ideal where the flavor is concerned. However, thinning it with water is the best method to make it the ideal consistency.

How to make it: Mix about three parts sour cream with one part water and thoroughly whisk them together. It’s best to add the water slowly, checking the consistency along the way to make sure you don’t add too much.

thinned out sour cream in a square dish
via Canva

3. Unflavored Kefir

Kefir has become a health food staple in recent years and has made its way to mainstream store shelves. Being a fermented form of milk itself, it’s a fantastic buttermilk substitute. Keep in mind, it comes in everything from berry-flavored to chocolate. So, make sure you’re using an unflavored version to avoid any surprises.

How to make it: The beauty of using kefir as a buttermilk replacement is there’s to mixing or additional ingredients. Simply use it in your recipe cup for cup.

kefir is a good buttermilk substitute
via Canva

4. Non-Dairy Milk and Vinegar

If you’re looking for a vegan buttermilk substitute, you’re in luck. Thanks to the wide range of non-dairy milks on the market, you have lots of options. To make this buttermilk replacement, you can choose from oat, almond, soy, or any other plant-based milk. This is also another way you can make a buttermilk substitute with vinegar or lemon juice. 

How to make it: To make a cup of buttermilk substitute, add a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to a measuring cup. Then, fill it with your favorite unsweetened non-dairy milk up to the one-cup line. Swirl it together and let the mixture sit for a few minutes until it thickens. 

bowls of various non-dairy milks
via Canva

5. Buttermilk Powder

While buttermilk tends to have a longer shelf life than other dairy products, it still might expire before you use it up. As an alternative to liquid buttermilk, you can purchase buttermilk powder. This dried form allows you to keep it in your pantry. Then, you can add water and make as much as you need at the moment. Plus, if you’re using this buttermilk substitute for baking, you can add the powder to the rest of your dry ingredients like flour and sugar.

How to make it: To make a cup of buttermilk alternative, add a ¼ cup of powder to a cup of water and whisk it together thoroughly. 

buttermilk powder on a wooden spoon
via Canva

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6. Silken Tofu Blend

Using silken tofu is another vegan buttermilk substitute that you can easily whip up. This is a softer version of tofu that’s ideal for sauces, desserts and smoothies. When puréed, it makes a smooth and rich texture. With a little water and lemon juice, it can easily mimic the feel of buttermilk.

How to make: Put a ¼ cup of silken tofu, ¾ cup of water and a tablespoon of lemon juice into a blender. You can also add a dash of salt for additional flavor. Purée it until smooth and use the mix as a replacement for one cup of buttermilk.

silken tofu in a bowl
via Canva

7. Dairy Milk and Lemon Juice

If you’re out of vinegar, you can also make a buttermilk substitute with lemon juice. Using either bottled or fresh-squeezed, the acidic properties cause the same reaction in normal milk as vinegar. You also follow the same super quick and easy process.

How to make: Pour or squeeze a tablespoon of lemon juice into the bottom of a measuring cup. Then, fill it with milk up to the one-cup mark. Gently stir the liquids together and give them a few minutes for the thickening reaction to occur.

lemon juice and dairy milk make a good buttermilk substitute
via Canva

8. Thinned Yogurt

You can make a simple buttermilk substitute with yogurt that you have on hand. Make sure you’re using plain, unsweetened yogurt for the best results. Depending on the recipe you’re using, you can either mix the yogurt with a thinner or swap it for buttermilk as is.

How to make: If you’re replacing buttermilk in dressing our sauces, you can replace the buttermilk with yogurt cup for cup. However, if you’re looking for a buttermilk substitute for baking, unthinned yogurt may weigh down the batter. For baked goods, thin the yogurt a little by whisking in a little water or milk to make it a lighter consistency.

thinned yogurt is a great substitute for buttermilk
via Canva

9. Milk and Cream of Tarter

Cream of tartar is a common cabinet staple that can be used to thicken frostings and baked items. To create a buttermilk substitute, you can mix it with milk for a variety of uses. The powder tends to clump up when it hits cold liquids. So, it’s easier to whisk into milk that’s been gently warmed on the stove or in the microwave.

How to make: For each cup of buttermilk needed, heat up a cup of dairy milk. Then, stir in a teaspoon and a half of cream of tartar. Allow it to sit until it thickens to the consistency of buttermilk.

cream of tartar in a bowl
via Canva

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