Buttermilk Substitutions

There are a few options to give your recipe the acidity it needs


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Buttermilk is a type of fermented milk that used to be a household staple. Buttermilk isn't as widely used as it once was, but it's still called for in many recipes.

If you don't cook often you probably don't want to buy a whole quart of buttermilk just for one recipe, but luckily you can use one of these convenient substitutions to achieve similar results. While some of the substitutions might add a hint of flavor that you may not want in your dish, for the most part, you won't notice the difference.

Adding an Acidic Component

The most important thing to consider when preparing a substitute for buttermilk is the acid. The lactic acid in buttermilk is responsible for its characteristic flavor, texture and leavening power. Regardless of which substitute you use, it must contain an acid component.

The first three suggestions can be made vegan or dairy-free by substituting soymilk or other non-dairy milk alternatives.

4 quick buttermilk substitutions illustration
Illustration: © The Spruce, 2018

Milk or Soymilk and Lemon Juice

  • 1 cup milk or soymilk
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Mix the milk and lemon juice. Allow the mixture to stand for 5 minutes prior to use. The lemon juice provides the acid element. However, it does give a slight lemon flavor, which may or may not be desired. This one is probably best for sweet recipes like desserts, but not as great for savory recipes.

Milk or Soymilk and Vinegar

  • 1 cup milk or soymilk
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar (white, apple cider or rice vinegar)

Mix the milk with the vinegar.  Allow the mixture to stand for 5 minutes prior to use. The vinegar provides the acid element. In this case, you can choose from a variety of different types of vinegar, each with its own flavor. The vinegar aroma should be eliminated by heating in cooked dishes.

Milk or Soymilk and Cream of Tartar

  • 1 cup milk or soymilk
  • 1/2 tablespoon cream of tartar

Add the cream of tartar to the milk and mix it well to dissolve the cream of tartar. What is this powder? It is an odorless white crystalline powder, potassium bitartrate. It is one of the key ingredients of baking powder, where it supplies the acid that allows the baking soda in baking powder to produce carbon dioxide, the gas that then causes the dough or batter to rise. It is naturally produced in grape fermentation, so don't worry that you're adding some unnatural chemical.

Milk and Yogurt

  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup plain yogurt

Whisk together the milk and yogurt until no lumps remain. Yogurt, like buttermilk, has an active culture that produces acid and tartness. With this method, you are watering down yogurt. The flavor will be a bit different from buttermilk, but it will provide the acid that buttermilk does. There should be little difference in the flavor or texture of any cooked item made from it.

Milk and Sour Cream

  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup sour cream

Whisk together the milk and sour cream until no lumps remain. Sour cream is also made by adding lactic acid-producing probiotic bacteria to dairy products. In that way, it is very similar to buttermilk but is made from cream of at least 18 percent butterfat, while buttermilk is made from milk with less butterfat. In this substitution, you are watering down the sour cream with milk.

It should still have enough acid to produce the desired effects in your cooking that buttermilk would.