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Worth It or Not Worth It: Making Your Own Buttermilk

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On Christmas morning, I made buttermilk biscuits at my grandma's house. It is now the middle of February, and when I called her to ask about the leftover buttermilk, she confirmed that it is, indeed, still in her fridge.

Too often, this is buttermilk's fate: purchased for a single use, forgotten until it's too late. That's why I don't usually keep buttermilk around. Luckily, Sarah once told us about a quick makeshift version, and you all further enlightened us over on the Hotline with your DIY versions​.

How to Make Makeshift Buttermilk
How to Make Makeshift Buttermilk

Two easy substitutions are milk combined with vinegar (I use apple cider vinegar, but white vinegar or lemon juice work, too), and yogurt thinned with a bit of water. Both options have their devotees among Food52ers who rarely have buttermilk handy: Zelda and Your Guardian Chef always use yogurt, while amysarah is a fan of the vinegar trick.

Using buttermilk, milk and vinegar, and Greek yogurt, I made three batches of both The Kitchn's Lofty Buttermilk Pancakes (to test texture) and Smitten Kitchen's buttermilk dressing (to test flavor).

Heart-shaped Post-Its, for Valentine's Day.



The pancakes made with real buttermilk were the winners for sure—they were fluffy, crisp, and tangy, with a slightly bubbly batter. The milk and vinegar version turned out to be a close second. Not quite as fluffy, not quite as flavorful, but excellent pancakes, nonetheless. The yogurt batter was the most noticeably different: creamier, paler, and distinctly un-bubbly (technical term). The pancakes were very good, but a bit dense—almost on the verge of gummy.

Why the textural differences? This article from King Arthur Flour describes the way the acid in buttermilk interacts with leaveners to produce carbon dioxide. Yogurt may work better as a buttermilk substitute in other types of doughs and batters, but pancakes need a thinner batter, so I had to combine the yogurt with more water than I'd have otherwise liked to, which likely reduced the amount of acid in that batch of pancakes compared to the others.


Scientific reactions aside, how does makeshift buttermilk taste when used in place of the store-bought? I used Deb Perelman's buttermilk dressing recipe (calling for buttermilk, cider vinegar, shallots, a touch of mayonnaise, and chives) to see if buttermilk's flavor—not just its acidic properties—could be replicated. The answer? Sort of. True buttermilk once again produced our favorite version; it was the tangiest, slightly sweet, and had the best consistency. This time, though, yogurt won the silver, as the milk and vinegar version was too thin, with not quite enough acid. All were perfectly edible, however; I'll definitely be making this dressing with yogurt again.

The Kitchn's Lofty Buttermilk Pancakes
The Kitchn's Lofty Buttermilk Pancakes

So is it worth it to make do with a makeshift version of buttermilk? Or do you need to head to the store for the real deal?

Worth It:

  • You can come pretty darn close to buttermilk with ingredients you're bound to have on hand (milk, acid, yogurt, or even sour cream).
  • The process couldn't be simpler: combine a scant cup of milk with 1 tablespoon vinegar. (Or thin 3/4 cup yogurt with up to 1/4 cup water.)

Not Worth It:

  • The buttermilk versions were still our favorites; it's hard to reproduce that thickness and tang.

Final Verdict? Worth it! At least for straightforward recipes like pancakes and dressing, makeshift buttermilk was a fine substitute. While the real deal was better (making for fluffier pancakes and tangier dressing), the others were definitely worth making.

On the Hotline, ktr and cv described the homemade buttermilk they made from cultured buttermilk as well as from the liquid leftover from churning their own butter. I didn't test those out, but they seemed to think those were worth it too!

Now get cooking!

Buttermilk Biscuits with Sausage Gravy

Buttermilk Biscuits with Sausage Gravy by wssmom

Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Buttermilk Fried Chicken by Ashley Rodriguez

Basil Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

Basil Buttermilk Ranch Dressing by Tara O'Brady

Almond Scones

Almond Scones by Judith Rae

Have you had any DIY buttermilk experiences, good or bad? Tell us about them in the comments!

Tags: buttermilk, pancakes, dressing