Kitchen Confidence

How to Make Makeshift Buttermilk

By • January 28, 2014 • 24 Comments

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Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: You may not have buttermilk in your fridge, but you probably have milk and vinegar. And sometimes, that's enough.

Here’s a not-so-hypothetical scenario: You’re well on your way to making biscuits, or salad dressing, or, if you’re lucky, fried chicken, when suddenly, you glance at the recipe and find yourself face to face with the dreaded ingredient: buttermilk. 

Since you obviously don't have buttermilk, you are now faced with two options. The first: Give up your pursuits. Throw in the towel. Admit defeat to the buttermilk gods. The second: Persevere. Lift your head up. Walk -- no, run -- to the refrigerator.

Do you have milk? Yes. Do you have lemon juice or white vinegar? Yes.

You have everything you need to make your own buttermilk in 10 minutes (or less). Here’s how:

For however much buttermilk you need, pour a scant amount (just below the line of the liquid measuring cup) of milk or cream.

Add a spoonful of white vinegar or lemon juice to the milk until you reach the desired volume, then mix well. Aim for about 1 tablespoon of acid for 1 cup of milk.

Let stand the mixture stand at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes. You will see the curds when it is ready. Add more vinegar or lemon juice if nothing seems to have changed. Your makeshift buttermilk won't be as thick as the storebought variety, but it will do the trick!

Photos by James Ransom

Tags: kitchen confidence, how-to & DIY, buttermilk, substitute, milk, lemon juice, vinegar, tips, advice, baking

Comments (24)

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2 months ago Rosalind Rogoff

That's not buttermilk. That's just sour milk. Real buttermilk is the liquid left after churning cream into butter. It should be fat free because all of the fat is in the butter. When I was growing up in the 1950s, farmers would sell a dipper of buttermilk at their vegetable stands. It's easy to make real buttermilk. Just buy a pint of heavy cream, put it in the blender, and churn it until it forms into butter and whey. The whey is the buttermilk.

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2 months ago Robin

If you read the information given above you can see the point of the article was not to reproduce real buttermilk, but rather to approximate a taste similar to it. Lebanese and Syrian markets often have yogurt drinks that do just that, which is why I wondered if they or diluted yogurt could work in a recipe. But thank you for reminding me of my former career teaching at a culinary college where the tone in the faculty lounge was (very) occasionally didactic. Whenever I hear that brand of pontification it takes me down memory lane.

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2 months ago Rosalind Rogoff

Robin,
Thank you for putting me in my place. I shall take it as a compliment. If the only purpose of the artificial "buttermilk" is to reproduce its effect in cooking, than the only difference in the ingredients is the vinegar or lemon juice. Instead of making a bottle of ersatz buttermilk, simply add a small amount of lemon juice to the batter. That will give the pancakes or muffins the tangy taste of "buttermilk" and the acidity to increase the fluffiness. Why waste good milk when it isn't necessary?

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2 months ago Robin

If a recipe calls for a cup of buttermilk then the ingredient is providing a cup of liquid as well as a sour taste. Any batter requires a certain amount of liquid. If you replace all the liquid in a recipe for biscuits or pancake batter with vinegar or lemon juice then you are making something quite different from the author's original intention.

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2 months ago Rosalind Rogoff

I wasn't suggesting using lemon juice instead of milk but in addition to the milk or water already required for the recipe. So if the recipe calls for 1 cup of milk or water, toss an additional teaspoon of lemon juice or vinegar into the dry ingredients with the required liquid. Your idea of using thinned liquid yogurt would probably work too.

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2 months ago Rosalind Rogoff

Correction, the instructions above say 1 tablespoon of acid per cup of milk; so add one tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice directly to the dry mix per cup of liquid used.

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3 months ago Robin

Has anyone ever sued yogurt thinned down with milk to replace buttermilk? I've toyed with the idea, but the store is so close I never had to.

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3 months ago Douglas

Have used 'dried buttermilk' with success ... and buttermilk keeps almost forever (ignore the BBD) as long as the carton is sealed.

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3 months ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Citric acid, which many cooks keep on hand for cheese making, works well, too. Use 1/4 teaspoon per cup of milk. I've used cider vinegar, too. My white vinegar remains banished in the garage with the cleaning products, where it belongs. It's too harsh for use in any cooking, including pickles. Trust me. (My kosher dills improved immeasurably when I started using white wine vinegar + cider vinegar instead of distilled white.) ;o)

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3 months ago sarah jampel

Thanks for the tip, AntoniaJames! I've never had a problem using white vinegar but I'm going to try making my buttermilk with cider vinegar and see if I get more palatable results.

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3 months ago Karen Terry

SO, if I use buttermilk added to whole milk to make ricotta, would this work?

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3 months ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Do you use a recipe for the ricotta? I'd be concerned about doing a conversion here, given that you're asking the buttermilk in turn to curdle the other milk and cream. I'd look for a recipe that does not use buttermilk as the acid, but uses lemon or lime juice instead, in the first instance. ;o)

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3 months ago Karen Terry

Thank you!

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3 months ago Douglas

A ricotta recipe that I use which works wonderfully - 1 ga whole milk, 1 pt heavy cream, 1 pt natural yogurt, 1 TBL salt and fresh ground nutmeg ... simmer/stir until raft of ricotta gets a hole in the middle.

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3 months ago Carol

Does this presume whole milk? Could it be done with 1%?

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3 months ago Sarah Smith

I do it with fat free and it always works for me.

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3 months ago Catherine Lamb

This is perfect! I always crave pancakes but never have buttermilk. Problem solved!

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3 months ago Sarah Smith

I've been using this method for years. I hate buying a whole thing of buttermilk when I usually only need less than a cup.

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3 months ago Marlene Hembree

I don't worry about buying a pint of buttermilk! it lasts for weeks??even opened

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3 months ago alex

re cream of tartar: how much to a cup of milk?

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3 months ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

1 teaspoon cream of tartar per 1 cup of milk. ;o)

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3 months ago Josh Plourde

Cooks Illustrated had a short piece about this in last month's issue. They said that, while lemon juice or vinegar works, it often adds a taste that can't be avoided. They suggested using cream of tartar - an acid that will perform the same task as lemon or vinegar without any noticeable flavor change.

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3 months ago sarah jampel

That's a great tip. Thank you for sharing, Josh! Perhaps it's best to steer clear of lemon juice and vinegar and just go with cream of tartar when making dressings or other such recipes where the buttermilk flavor is highly noticeable.

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3 months ago Marian Bull

Marian is an editor at Food52.

I have also used apple cider vinegar, and it works quite nicely. Buttermilk for everyone!