Buttermilk isn’t an ingredient everyone tends to have in their kitchen cupboard at home - however, it’s easy enough to find in most larger supermarkets, and is used to make a variety of sweet and savoury recipes.
It’s also easy to replicate at home in case you’ve run out, and a recipe calls for buttermilk. So whether you’re vegan, have a milk allergy, or simply don’t have time to go to the shop, here are our best dairy and non-dairy buttermilk alternatives for baking below.
What is buttermilk?
Buttermilk is the thin, slightly-cloudy white liquid that remains when cream is churned to make butter. Traditionally it was a drink, but as it's so useful for baking, it’s now also made commercially by adding lactic acid to milk. It has a tangier taste and a thicker consistency than milk; it’s similar in texture to a thin yoghurt.
What are the benefits of using buttermilk for baking?
Buttermilk is often used when baking biscuits, pancakes, muffins, cakes and waffles. It’s a great ingredient for baking as it gives bakes a light texture and adds moisture. Due to the acidity of buttermilk, it also activates the baking soda in recipes to work as a raising agent.
Dairy buttermilk alternatives
There are plenty of dairy alternatives of buttermilk for you to try. These buttermilk alternatives often involve mixing regular full-fat milk with something acidic.
Lemon juice and milk
A simple way to recreate buttermilk in your kitchen is to mix lemon juice with milk. This mixture won’t be as thick as traditional buttermilk, but the acidity of the lemon recreates the tanginess. If you notice a few small lumps in the mixture or if it looks curdled, there’s no need to worry as these should disappear during the cooking process.
Mixing milk and lemon juice to replace buttermilk is great for baking pancakes, soda bread and scones. To use this replacement, mix one tablespoon of lemon juice with 250ml of milk and leave to stand at room temperature for 5-10 minutes until it thickens. You should use whole (or semi-skimmed milk in a pinch), as skimmed will be too thin.
Vinegar and milk
Mixing vinegar and milk is another simple replacement for buttermilk, as vinegar’s acidity mimics the raising properties of buttermilk. All you need to do is mix 1 tablespoon of white vinegar or apple cider vinegar with 250ml of whole or semi-skimmed milk, then leave the mixture to sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes.
As well as its tangy, acidic flavour, plain yoghurt also has a similar, thick texture to buttermilk. Depending on what you’re making, you could use plain yoghurt as a replacement for buttermilk on its own. If you’re baking something that requires a runnier buttermilk texture, like cake batter, then you can mix the yoghurt with water or milk.
Simply mix 200ml of plain yoghurt with 50ml of milk or water until the mixture becomes smooth and consistent. You can also use Greek yoghurt, however, you should use the same amount of milk to mix when measuring.
Sour cream with milk
Sour cream is made using lactic acid, just like buttermilk. This gives it a similar flavour. It also has a thick consistency, similar to buttermilk. If your recipe needs a thinner buttermilk texture, you can use milk or water to thin it down.
To swap buttermilk with sour cream, mix 180ml of sour cream with 50ml of whole milk or water then whisk the mixture together.
Kefir is a fermented milk that has a similar consistency to thin yoghurt. Made by the lactic fermentation of milk, plain kefir has a similar taste profile to buttermilk. Due to the similar consistency, you can replace kefir with buttermilk in equal measurements.
Buttermilk powder and water
Buttermilk is also available in powder form, as well as liquid. It’s handy to have some buttermilk powder in the cupboard if you ever run out of the liquid, or if it expires. To recreate traditional buttermilk, all you need to do is mix 4 tablespoons of buttermilk powder with 250ml of water. Mix this well, then leave it for a few minutes to stand at room temperature and allow the powder to absorb the water.
Dairy-free buttermilk substitutes
Dairy-free buttermilk substitutes are similar to the above replacements, however, they’re made using dairy-free alternative products.
Dairy-free milk with lemon or vinegar
You can use soy, almond, oat or coconut milk for this dairy-free buttermilk alternative. Coconut milk’s consistency is most similar to buttermilk’s. We’d also recommend using unsweetened dairy-free milk products, as these won’t affect the flavour of your final bake.
To make this substitute, simply add 1 tablespoon of lemon or vinegar to 1 cup (240ml) of dairy-free milk and mix.
Vegan sour cream
Vegan sour cream is acidic, much like dairy sour cream and buttermilk. This helps it to mimic dairy products’ raising properties in your recipes, as well as their flavour. You can use vegan sour cream on its own, or mix it with water to get a thinner consistency.
You can add half a cup (120ml) of water to the same measurement of vegan sour cream. Stir together and allow to stand for 5-10 minutes before adding to your recipe.
Silken tofu, water and acid
Silken tofu is a watery type of tofu that can be used in baking. Once blended, it can have a similar texture to buttermilk. You can also add water to make it thinner if necessary. The final step is adding something acidic, such as lemon juice or vinegar, and this dairy-free mix will be just as good as buttermilk.
To make this dairy-free alternative, simply blend ¼ cup (64g) of tofu with roughly ¾ cup (160ml) of water and a tablespoon (15ml) of lemon juice or vinegar.