Everything you need to know about cooking and baking with buttermilk including how to make your own buttermilk substitute at home.

Buttermilk substitute in a glass measuring cup.

Creamy, tangy, and thicker than regular milk, buttermilk can be found in a variety of favorite recipes. It’s a staple ingredient in Southern biscuits or fried chicken and provides that signature tang to diner pancakes and red velvet cake. Unfortunately, it’s not an ingredient many people keep on hand, and it can be hard to use up the whole carton. Not to worry! You’ll find plenty of buttermilk substitutes below (including dairy free options!) no matter what you plan on making. 

What is buttermilk?

Traditionally, buttermilk is the liquid leftover after churning butter. What is sold in most grocery stores is cultured buttermilk, which is made by adding lactic acid bacteria to regular milk. Buttermilk has a sour taste and can be drunk straight or used in cooking and baking.

Where To Buy Buttermilk:

Buttermilk is usually sold in small cartons or bottles. Find it in the refrigerated section of your grocery store, near other milk products like sour cream and heavy cream.

Powdered buttermilk, or buttermilk powder, is a shelf stable powder that makes liquid buttermilk when combined with water or milk. The general ratio used is 1 part buttermilk powder to 1 part liquid.

How To Make Homemade Buttermilk:

You can also make traditional buttermilk by making your own butter at home! To make your own butter, you will need heavy cream, a mason jar, and some upper body strength. For a quick and easy option, use a stand mixer instead. Process until the cream solidifies and butter forms. The remaining liquid is buttermilk. To thicken, you’ll need to culture your buttermilk.

Can I Substitute Milk for Buttermilk?

Buttermilk reacts with rising agents, like baking soda and baking powder, to form carbon dioxide and act as a leavening agent. If you have a recipe that calls for both buttermilk and a rising agent, you shouldn’t substitute regular milk. Either purchase a carton or make your own substitution for buttermilk at home.

Easy Buttermilk Substitutes

If buttermilk isn’t available, or you don’t want to make a special trip to the store, you can create a homemade substitution for buttermilk with ingredients you already have on hand! Find exact measurements and instructions in the recipe card below.

  • Milk + Lemon Juice
  • Milk + Vinegar
  • Milk + Cream of Tartar
  • Milk + Sour Cream or Plain Greek Yogurt

You can also use plain American-style yogurt as a buttermilk replacement in many baking recipes. Since it has a nice, thin consistency, simply measure out the amount listed for the buttermilk.

Dairy Free Options

You can use any of the first three combinations listed above — lemon juice, distilled white vinegar, or cream of tartar — with your choice of dairy free milk. Oat milk or soy milk will provide the most similar texture and flavor to dairy milk, while almond milk may come out a bit thinner. Keep in mind that soy is naturally sweet, so we recommend one of the other options for savory recipes. 

Other varieties will also work in a pinch, but sometimes coconut milk and rice milk have a hard time curdling or thickening just right. You may need to experiment to find what works best for you!

Choosing A Buttermilk Replacement

Not all buttermilk substitutes are alike, so you may need to be more selective depending on the type of recipe you make. Milk with either lemon juice or vinegar will work in just about any recipe, especially breads and pastries. It’s also more likely that you will have what you need on hand.

Choose the cream of tartar option when you want that signature tangy flavor but need a looser batter or dough. It’s also a good choice for cream sauces so they don’t become too thick. For buttermilk pancakes, fried chicken, or meat marinades, use one of the sour cream or yogurt options.

Buttermilk substitute.

Storage and Reheating Instructions

It’s so quick and easy to make homemade buttermilk substitutes, so we suggest mixing just what you need as you need it. If you happen to use this ingredient frequently, you can store larger batches in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Keep the mixture in a tightly sealed jar or container and give it a good shake before each use.

You can also freeze your buttermilk replacement for future recipes. Add it to a freezer-safe container, leaving space at the top for the liquid to expand. For smaller amounts, divide the liquid into an ice cube tray and transfer the cubes to an airtight container once they are solid.

Store for up to 3 months and thaw in the refrigerator overnight once you’re ready to use!

If you like this recipe, you may be interested in these popular recipes that use buttermilk: