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How Do You Make Buttermilk? Best Buttermilk Substitute for 2022

Combine a milk product and an acid to make a perfect buttermilk substitute in just 10 minutes. Many 2 ingredient buttermilk recipes exist, so we tested them to see which ones work the best in recipes. Here’s what we discovered.

pouring buttermilk into a bowl

What do you do for a buttermilk substitute if you don’t have buttermilk but need it for a recipe? How do you make buttermilk? Are buttermilk alternatives just as good as the real thing in recipes?

Buttermilk is not one of those grocery items you buy every week, like eggs or bread. So, if midweek you pull out a recipe requiring buttermilk, it may not be in your refrigerator. 

Fortunately, making a substitute is quick and easy. How do you make buttermilk if you are out of the real thing? 

A basic buttermilk recipe combines a milk product with an acid.

You can use several milk products to make buttermilk, including regular milk (any percentage), half and half, cream, or even non-dairy milk.

Many types of acids combined with milk can make a buttermilk substitute. The best acids are fresh lemon juice, white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, cream of tartar, yogurt, or sour cream.

An acid + any kind of milk makes a cup of buttermilk substitute. But how effective are these substitutions? 

What is the role of buttermilk in a recipe? Do substitutes work in every recipe? Do they taste the same? 

These were some of the questions I explored in my epic buttermilk substitute experiment. But first, I had to figure out the right combination of acid and milk to make the best substitute.

What is Buttermilk?

Although the name buttermilk may conjure the image of rich, fatty, creamy milk, this is not the case. In the olden days, traditional buttermilk was the thin liquid leftover when cream was churned into butter.

Today, most buttermilk available in the grocery store is cultured. Cultured buttermilk is milk (usually low-fat or skim) with lactic acid bacteria added. It is a fermented dairy drink.

You can make your own cultured buttermilk. But that is not what this article is about. 

This post is about making a 10-minute quick buttermilk substitute to avoid emergency trips to the grocery store. Making your own substitute can also prevent waste.

If you don’t need much buttermilk, don’t buy an entire carton of buttermilk. It is better to make your own so you don’t have leftover buttermilk you may not use before the expiration date.

What is the Role of Buttermilk?

There are different ways to use buttermilk in your favorite recipes. In each recipe, buttermilk has a different role.

In Baking: Buttermilk adds a rich buttery, slightly tangy flavor to baked goods. The acid in the buttermilk can tenderize and whiten the crumb. When this acid reacts with the base in the recipe, it gives rise and leavens the bakery items.

With Meat: The buttermilk adds flavor, and the acid ingredient in it can tenderize the surface of the meat.

In Taste: What does buttermilk taste like? The taste is slightly tangy but bright and light.  

Now that we know buttermilk’s role, let’s explore how to make the best buttermilk substitute. Then we will test the best substitutes in delicious recipes.

Experiment #1: Acid Quantity

jars of milk with different quantitites of vinegar added

QUESTION: How much acid should you add to milk to get the closest substitute to buttermilk?

Since the acidity level of white vinegar is a consistent 5% acidity, I used it for the experiment. 

I conducted three trials with different quantities of vinegar. I noted the appearance and taste after 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes, and 1 hour.

You need a scant cup of milk to make buttermilk, not a full cup. The combination of milk and acid equal 1 cup.

The easiest way to get 1 cup is to add the vinegar to the liquid measuring cup first. Then pour in enough milk to get 1 cup. The result is 1 cup of buttermilk.

ACID AMOUNT VARIABLES

  • 1 tablespoon of vinegar + milk to make 1 cup (15 tablespoons milk)
  • 2 tablespoons of vinegar + milk to make 1 cup (14 tablespoons milk)
  • 3 tablespoons of vinegar + milk to make 1 cup (13 tablespoons milk)

Results

APPEARANCE AFTER 5 MINUTES

Each milk curdled but did not have the texture of buttermilk. The more vinegar added to the milk, the more the milk curdled.  

APPEARANCE AFTER 10 MINUTES

The samples showed more curdling, though still not as thick or smooth as buttermilk. After a quick whisk, they more closely resembled buttermilk.

TASTE AFTER 10 MINUTES

  • 1 tablespoon vinegar + milk: Tasted like watered-down vinegar.
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar + milk: More mellow and tasted the closest to buttermilk.
  • 3 tablespoons vinegar + milk: Tasted sharper than buttermilk.

APPEARANCE AND TASTE AFTER 30 MINUTES

The milk samples began separating from their curdled state. The more vinegar in the milk, the more separation occurred.

However, whisking the milk brought everything back to the texture I wanted.

All were more acidic, and none of them tasted like buttermilk anymore.

APPEARANCE AND TASTE AFTER 1 HOUR

No noticeable changes in appearance from 30 minutes.

Each was extremely acidic tasting.

CONCLUSION

  1. Use 2 tablespoons of vinegar + enough milk to make 1 cup (14 tablespoons). This ratio produced a substitute closest in appearance and taste to buttermilk.

  2. Rest for 10 minutes. The substitute was ready in 10 minutes. The longer it sat after 10 minutes, the more it separated began to taste too acidic.

Experiment #2: Best Milk to Use

jars or different kinds of milk

QUESTION: What milk or milk product produces the best buttermilk substitute?

Each dairy product was tested with 2 tablespoons of white vinegar. Each was evaluated after 10 minutes.

MILK PRODUCT VARIABLES

  • 1% milk
  • 2% milk
  • Whole milk
  • Half and half
  • Cream
  • Almond milk (for a vegan buttermilk substitution)

Results

Half and half had a consistency, thickness, appearance, and taste closest to real buttermilk. Whole milk was a close second.

Milk ProductAppearance
1% milkThin texture.
2% milkThinner texture than real buttermilk.
Whole milkTexture getting close to real buttermilk.
Half and halfTexture closest to real buttermilk.
CreamThicker texture than buttermilk.
Almond milkThinnest and runniest texture. Strong vinegary taste.
Milk plus 2 tablespoons of vinegar were combined and allowed to rest for 10 minutes.

Other noteworthy results:

  • The more fat in the milk, the thicker it became after adding vinegar. Whole milk was thicker than 2% or 1% milk.
  • The 1% milk with white vinegar was the thinnest dairy milk, and the cream with white vinegar was the thickest.
  • Half and half, whole milk, and 2% milk with 2 tablespoons of white vinegar produced substitutes most closely resembling buttermilk.
  • Almond milk was the thinnest and runniest. It had a strong vinegar taste. The curdling dissipated over time.

All the milk products produced a buttermilk substitute. However, you may not like almond milk and 1% milk because they are both very thin. And cream may be too thick for you.

If you want a dairy-free version, consider soy milk or coconut milk.  

CONCLUSION

Half and half makes the best homemade buttermilk substitute, with whole milk as an excellent second choice. But any plain milk substitutes will work in a bind.

Experiment #3 Best Acid to Use

jars of milk with different acids added

QUESTION: What acid added to milk produces the substitute closest to buttermilk?

ACID VARIABLES

  • White vinegar + whole milk
  • Apple cider vinegar + whole milk
  • Lemon juice + whole milk
  • Cream of tartar + whole milk
  • Plain yogurt + whole milk
  • Sour cream + whole milk

Note: I prefer half and half to whole milk. But I don’t buy it every week, and you may not either.

You probably have milk in your refrigerator more often than half and half. Because of this, I used whole milk in this experiment.

Results

AcidTasteAppearance
Lemon juiceFresh and citrusyThicker than using vinegar
VinegarTart and vinegary tasteModerately thick
Cream of tartarSmooth & neutral with grainy aftertasteThinner and smoother
Plain yogurtSourClosest texture to real buttermilk
Sour creamClosest taste to real buttermilkThicker than buttermilk
What acid added to whole milk produces a substitute closest to buttermilk?

APPEARANCE

  • Apple cider vinegar + milk produced a thicker substitute than white vinegar.  
  • Lemon juice + milk made a thicker substitute than either kind of vinegar.
  • Cream of tartar + milk delivered a thinner and smoother replacement. It did not curdle.
  • Plain yogurt + milk was the closest in texture to buttermilk.
  • Sour cream + milk was a little thicker than buttermilk. Using a higher ratio of milk to sour cream would fix this problem.

TASTE

  • Apple cider vinegar + milk tasted strongly of apple cider vinegar. This gave it an unexpected tart flavor.
  • Lemon juice + milk tasted slightly citrusy. You may prefer the taste and texture of fresh lemon juice over vinegar.
  • Cream of tartar was smooth but gritty. It tasted neutral with a slight after-taste. It was not runny.
  • Plain yogurt was very similar in texture, but it had a sour taste, unlike buttermilk.
  • Sour cream was slightly thicker, but its taste was the closest to buttermilk. It was a more neutral taste.

CONCLUSION

pouring lemon juice into milk

My favorite acid for a buttermilk substitute is fresh lemon juice. Or, if a thicker replacement fits with your recipe, sour cream + milk is a great choice. 

Best Buttermilk Substitute Recipes 

How do you make buttermilk with milk?

  1. MIX 2 tablespoons lemon juice + 14 tablespoons of milk (1%, 2%, or whole).
  2. REST for 10 minutes.
  3. WHISK, and it is ready to use.

How do you make buttermilk with vinegar?

  1. MIX 2 tablespoons white vinegar or apple cider vinegar + 14 tablespoons of milk (1%, 2%, whole, or soy milk)
  2. REST for 10 minutes.
  3. WHISK, and it is ready to use.

How do you make buttermilk with half and half?

  1. MIX 2 tablespoons lemon juice + 14 tablespoons of half and half.
  2. REST for 10 minutes.
  3. WHISK, and it is ready to use.

How do you make buttermilk with yogurt?

  1. MIX ¾ cup yogurt + ¼ cup milk. (Nut or soy yogurt will work also.)
  2. WHISK very well to remove all lumps, and it is ready to use.

How do you make buttermilk with sour cream?

  1. MIX ⅔ cup sour cream + ⅓ cup milk.
  2. WHISK very well to remove all lumps before using.

Using a Buttermilk Substitute

The good news is that there are several options for an easy buttermilk substitute. But what happens in recipes when we use one of the substitutes? 

Let’s try buttermilk substitutes with buttermilk pancakes, buttermilk chicken, and buttermilk ranch dressing.

Buttermilk Pancakes With a Buttermilk Substitute

After trying a variety of buttermilk substitutes in my buttermilk pancake recipe, I evaluated appearance and taste.

buttermilk pancakes with buttermilk substitutes

APPEARANCE

  • Substitutes using white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or lemon juice were lighter in color.
  • Pancakes made with cream of tartar + milk or with yogurt + milk were slightly darker.
  • Sour cream + milk was golden and the closest color to real buttermilk pancakes.

TASTE

  • Real buttermilk pancakes: Flavorful and sweet.
  • White vinegar + milk: Pancake tasted bland.  There was a slight tangy vinegar taste. 
  • Apple cider vinegar + milk: The pancake had a slight apple cider vinegar taste.  
  • Lemon juice + milk: Sweet with a taste resembling real buttermilk pancakes. The flavor lingers.
  • Cream of tartar + milk: Resembled the taste of buttermilk with a lingering flavor.
  • Yogurt + milk: Thicker and breadier. Not a bad taste, but not my favorite.
  • Sour cream + milk: Sweeter and breadier. Perhaps more milk is needed to thin out the batter. The taste was similar to the real thing.
  • Almond milk + lemon juice: The batter and pancake were thin with noticeable holes. It had a slightly nutty flavor.

CONCLUSION

My favorite two buttermilk substitutes to use in a buttermilk pancake recipe are lemon juice + whole milk and sour cream + whole milk.

In the future, if I were to use the sour cream alternative, I would add more milk when making the substitute so the end pancake would be a little less thick.

Buttermilk Substitute for Buttermilk Chicken

QUESTION: Does a substitute work in an easy recipe for buttermilk chicken?  

The following substitutes were tested.

  • Half and half + lemon juice
  • Whole milk + lemon juice
  • Whole milk + sour cream 

APPEARANCE

The only difference in appearance between the substitutes and real buttermilk chicken was how well the crumbs stuck to the chicken when it was coated.

The whole milk + lemon substitute held the crumbs less easily.

The sour cream + whole milk made the crumb coating much thicker.

TASTE

I did not notice any big difference in chicken taste between real buttermilk chicken and the substitutes.

CONCLUSION

Any homemade version makes a good substitute for buttermilk chicken.

Buttermilk Substitute in Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

QUESTION: How effective is a substitute in buttermilk ranch dressing when the buttermilk flavor will be prominent?

Since I was looking for a good taste, I only used substitutes that tasted great on their own.

In this test, I made buttermilk ranch dressing using these substitutes.

  • Half and half + lemon juice
  • Whole milk + lemon juice
  • Whole milk + sour cream 

After blending the ingredients together, I evaluated the texture and taste of the ranch dressing using buttermilk substitutes versus the real thing.

Results

APPEARANCE

All salad dressings were close in consistency to buttermilk ranch dressing. The salad dressing with milk was slightly thinner, and the dressing with sour cream was somewhat thicker.

TASTE

  • Half and half plus lemon juice is the best substitute to use in buttermilk ranch dressing. The consistency and taste was the closest to the salad dressing with real buttermilk.
  • Sour cream and milk are a close second in taste. This was a thicker salad dressing, but potentially it could be thinned with additional milk.
  • Whole milk + lemon juice was the least favorite substitute. It was a thinner dressing and not as flavorful.

How to Store Your Homemade Buttermilk Recipe

The simplest way to store your freshly made jug of buttermilk is in an airtight container in the refrigerator. A sealed container will keep fridge odors out of the buttermilk.

The expiration date for homemade buttermilk is 5 to 7 days.

How do You Make the Best Tasting Buttermilk Substitute?

spoon with a buttermilk substitute

This article has shown you a few different options for making a small amount of buttermilk.

For all the recipe testing, I found sour cream + milk or half and half + lemon juice (rested 10 minutes) to be the closest substitutes for buttermilk. This was followed by whole milk + lemon juice (rested 10 minutes).

However, any combination of milk product + acid works in a pinch.

When a recipe calls for buttermilk, you have many choices for a buttermilk substitution.


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Yield: 1 cup

2 Ingredient Buttermilk Substitute

pouring buttermilk into a cup

Combine a milk product and an acid to make a perfect buttermilk substitute in just 10 minutes. Choose any milk product and any acid you have on hand.

Prep Time 5 minutes
Rest Time 10 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • Choose an acid: 2 tablespoons lemon juice, white vinegar or apple cider vinegar OR 1¾ teaspoons cream of tartar OR ¾ cup yogurt OR ⅔ cup sour cream
  • Choose a milk: 14 tablespoons 1%, 2%, whole milk, half and half, or a nut milk

Instructions

There are many ways to make a buttermilk substitute. Choose your acid + your milk product and follow the instructions for your combination.

Milk + Lemon Juice or Vinegar

  1. ADD 2 tablespoons lemon juice (or vinegar) to a measuring cup.
  2. MEASURE enough milk (any percentage of milk or half and half) into a liquid measuring cup to equal 1 cup (add 14 tablespoons).
  3. LET IT SIT for 10 minutes.
  4. WHISK to combine.
  5. USE as you would buttermilk.

Almond Milk + Lemon Juice

  1. ADD 2 tablespoons lemon juice (or vinegar) to a measuring cup.
  2. MEASURE enough milk (any percentage of milk or half and half) into a liquid measuring cup to equal 1 cup (add 14 tablespoons).
  3. LET IT SIT for 10 minutes.
  4. WHISK to combine.
  5. USE as you would buttermilk.

Half and Half + Lemon Juice

  1. ADD 2 tablespoons lemon juice to a measuring cup.
  2. MEASURE enough half and half into a liquid measuring cup to equal 1 cup (add 14 tablespoons).
  3. LET IT SIT for 10 minutes.
  4. WHISK to combine.
  5. USE as you would buttermilk.

Milk + Cream of Tartar

  1. ADD 1 cup of milk to a measuring cup.
  2. ADD 1¾ teaspoons cream of tartar.
  3. LET IT SIT for 10 minutes.
  4. WHISK to combine.
  5. USE as you would buttermilk.

Milk + Yogurt

  1. MIX ¼ cup milk + ¾ cup yogurt. (Nut yogurt will work also.)
  2. WHISK very well to remove all lumps.
  3. USE as you would buttermilk.

Milk + Sour Cream

  1. MIX ⅓ cup milk + ⅔ cup sour cream.
  2. WHISK very well to remove all lumps.
  3. USE as you would buttermilk.

Notes

Nutritional information varies based on the acid and milk product selected.

All images and content are © TheTastyTip.com. If you want to use this recipe and techniques, please take your own photos, write your own description, and link back to this page. Thank you.


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Fernanda

Wednesday 30th of December 2020

Thank you for this! Where I live I haven’t been able to find buttermilk so I don’t know how it looks or tastes. I normally substitute it with milk + vinegar. I’m looking forward to try these other options. I recently started getting kefir and I was wondering if this could be a substitute for it? To me it tastes sour kinda like fermented milk, not sure how to describe it. Have you tried it before? Thanks in advance

Tami Mack @ The Tasty Tip

Thursday 31st of December 2020

I have used kefir, but not as a buttermilk substitute. It could work in a similar way yogurt works in a recipe. Let me know if it works for you.

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