The Ultimate Guide to Buttermilk Substitutes

Buttermilk Substitutes

Buttermilk Substitutes , Buttermilk is a beloved ingredient in many recipes. Its tangy flavor and thick texture make it perfect for pancakes, biscuits, fried chicken, and more. However, when a recipe calls for buttermilk and you don’t have any on hand, there’s no need to make an emergency grocery store run. With a few simple kitchen staples, you can whip up easy buttermilk substitutes to save the day!

What is Buttermilk?

Buttermilk is a cultured milk product with a rich history. Originally, it was the tangy liquid left over after churning cream into butter. Today, commercial buttermilk is made by adding certain lactic acid bacteria to pasteurized milk, which sours and thickens it.

True buttermilk has a tangy taste and acidic properties that work well in baked goods. The acid reacts with baking soda, acting as a leavening agent to help batters and doughs rise. Meanwhile, the thickness comes from milk proteins and fat. This lends moisture, richness, and texture to recipes.

Buttermilk is more than just a baking staple though. Its bright tanginess shines in creamy salad dressings, cool ranch dips, spicy marinades, and the secret coating for ultra-crispy fried chicken. However, despite its versatility, many home cooks don’t keep buttermilk stocked in the fridge.

When suddenly a recipe calls for that golden liquid but there’s none to be found, buttermilk substitutes provide the perfect workaround. With a few handy ingredients, you can mimic the magic of buttermilk in both taste and function. Keep reading to unlock the secrets!

What is Buttermilk
What is Buttermilk

Why Substitute For Buttermilk?

There are a few reasons why cooks and bakers seek out buttermilk substitutes:

  • Buttermilk tends to be used in small amounts. A recipe may call for a 1⁄4 or 1⁄2 cup. Many don’t want to buy a whole quart or half-gallon of buttermilk when they’ll just use a bit.
  • Buttermilk also has a relatively short shelf life. An opened container only lasts about 2 weeks in the fridge before going bad. Substitutes made from pantry items can often be made-to-order instead.
  • Some people have dietary restrictions. Vegan or lactose-intolerant home cooks can’t use traditional dairy buttermilk, so substitutes open up recipe options.
  • Finally, buttermilk might simply be missing from the fridge when baking inspiration strikes! Nobody wants to halt a pancake session or impromptu fried chicken dinner to run out for just one ingredient.

Luckily, with a simple swap or two, you can replicate that quintessential buttermilk tang and thickness in no time. Get ready to learn some nifty kitchen tricks!

Key Takeaway: Buttermilk substitutes come in handy when you don’t have buttermilk on hand, want to avoid waste, or need a non-dairy option.

Best Buttermilk Substitutes

From everyday essentials like milk and yogurt to secret stand-ins like kefir and lemon juice, there are many ingenious ingredients that can mimic buttermilk beautifully. Here, we break down 11 of the best options for substituting buttermilk in any recipe.

1. Milk Mixed with an Acid

The easiest and most straightforward buttermilk substitute combines plain cow’s milk with an acidic ingredient like vinegar, lemon juice, or cream of tartar. The acid causes the milk proteins to curdle slightly, taking on that distinctive tangy, thick texture reminiscent of cultured buttermilk.

To make one cup of buttermilk substitute with this method, you’ll need:

  • 1 cup milk (whole, low-fat, or skim work fine)
  • 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or fresh lemon juice


  1. Measure out 1 cup of milk into a liquid measuring cup or small bowl.
  2. Stir in the vinegar, lemon juice, or other acid. Milk will instantly begin to curdle and thicken.
  3. Let the mixture sit at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes, then stir again before using in place of buttermilk.

The resulting buttermilk substitute works wonderfully in pancakes, waffles, biscuits, fried chicken batter, quick breads, and more!

2. Plain Yogurt

Thick, creamy plain yogurt makes an exceptional stand-in for buttermilk in baked goods. For the simplest substitution, use plain low-fat or whole milk yogurt. Non-fat may be too thin.

  • Use an equal amount of yogurt to replace buttermilk.
  • Greek yogurt is very thick, so thin it out with milk, water, or lemon juice to reach buttermilk consistency before swapping into recipes.
  • Plain soy yogurt can also work for non-dairy and vegan diets.

Thanks to live active cultures that sour and ferment yogurt during processing, it mimics qualities of cultured buttermilk beautifully. Expect tang, thickness, moisture, rise, and tenderness in your scones, muffins, quick breads, pancakes and more.

3. Sour Cream

Sour cream makes a stellar last-minute buttermilk substitute thanks to its rich, silky texture and tangy flavor. You likely have a container in the fridge too.

  • For every 1 cup buttermilk, use 3⁄4 cup sour cream plus 1⁄4 cup milk or water.
  • Whisk together thoroughly before using in place of buttermilk.
  • Works very well in recipes for pancakes, waffles, coffee cakes, and biscuits by lending structure, moisture and lift.

Sour cream contains less milk sugar (lactose) than other dairy products, so it may also be easier to digest for those with lactose intolerance. Try it in your next batch of blueberry muffins or banana bread too!

4. Buttermilk Powder

Commercially produced buttermilk powder provides all the tangy buttermilk flavor you crave with incredible convenience. Keep a package stashed away, and you can whip up the perfect amount whenever inspiration strikes!

  • Use about 1⁄4 cup powder whisked with 3⁄4 cup cool water to equal 1 cup buttermilk. Adjust amounts based on package instructions.
  • Will keep up to 1 year stored airtight in the pantry.
  • Also called instant or cultured buttermilk powder. Saco and Hoosier Hill Farm make excellent ones!

Thanks to live cultures mixed into the powder, reconstituted buttermilk made from powder truly mimics the taste and leavening power of the real thing. Your homemade pancakes won’t know the difference!

5. Kefir

Kefir is a tart, thick cultured milk drink that shares many attributes with buttermilk. With a mix of health-promoting probiotics and a creamy texture reminiscent of thin yogurt, it activates baking soda for excellent rise in baked goods.

  • Use a 1:1 ratio, substituting equal amounts of kefir for buttermilk called for.
  • Works wonderfully in yeast breads, quick breads, pancakes and in marinades too.
  • For a vegan option, try coconut milk kefir.

Kefir makes muffins, scones and biscuits exceptionally moist and fluffy. And adding a bit to pancake batter creates incredible fluff! The possibilities are endless with this healthy shortcut.

6. Buttermilk Blend

Specialized buttermilk blends offer another convenient option for whipping up buttermilk fast. Products like Organic Valley’s Creamy Buttermilk Blend contain a mix of milk, cream and live active cultures that mimics the real thing.

  • Use it as a 1:1 ratio substitute in any recipes calling for buttermilk.
  • Will keep up to 2 weeks refrigerated after opening.
  • Shake or whisk before using as the solids may separate a bit.

These commercial blends provide the characteristic tanginess of buttermilk along with signature thickness. Pancakes, waffles, biscuits, corn muffins, scones and more all benefit!

7. Lemon Juice or Lime Juice

Bright citrus juices pack plenty of acidity for reactions similar to vinegar or traditional buttermilk. A version using lemon juice also brings a fun, summery twist!

To make one cup of buttermilk substitute with lemon or lime juice, use:

  • 1 cup non-dairy milk (almond, soy, coconut, cashew milk, etc.)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice or lime juice

Mix together the non-dairy milk and citrus juice, then let curdle for 5 to 10 minutes before using in baking recipes. The plant-based combo makes an exceptional vegan buttermilk substitute in recipes like:

  • Vegan pancakes
  • Vegan banana muffins
  • Vegan cornbread
  • Vegan biscuits

Lemon or lime juice mixed with non-dairy milk allows vegans and dairy-free folks to enjoy their favorite baked goods too!

8. Plain Non-Dairy Yogurt

Just like traditional yogurt shines as a stellar buttermilk swap, dairy-free yogurts work superbly as well. Try plain almond milk, soy, coconut or cashew yogurt.

  • Use a 1:1 ratio, replacing buttermilk with equal amounts of plain non-dairy yogurt.
  • May be thicker than buttermilk, so thin out with non-dairy milk if necessary.
  • Tangy taste and probiotic cultures give excellent lift and texture.

Thanks to live active cultures, non-dairy yogurts like soy or almond yogurt mimic the tang and thickness of buttermilk beautifully. Your vegan baked goods will taste delicious and satisfy even non-vegans!

9. Nutritional Yeast

Nutty, savory nutritional yeast is a vegan secret weapon that mimics subtle dairy notes. Whisked into non-dairy milk, it provides vitamins, cheesy umami flavor, and leavening lift.

  • To replace 1 cup buttermilk, whisk 1⁄4 cup nutritional yeast into 3⁄4 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk.
  • Let sit 5 minutes before using.
  • Adds a tasty savory, cheesy tone to baked goods!

The next time a recipe calls for buttermilk but you need a vegan version, try this nutritional yeast swap. It gives cakes, muffins, biscuits, pancakes and waffles a delightfully nutty, cheesy flavor that’s sure to wow!

*Top Vegan Buttermilk Substitutes:

  1. Non-dairy milk + lemon juice
  2. Plain non-dairy yogurt
  3. Nutritional yeast + non-dairy milk
  4. Kefir

10. Cashew Cream

Blending vitamin-rich raw cashews with water generates a creamy, dairy-like liquid that excels as a buttermilk substitute in vegan recipes. Amp up the tanginess by adding a touch of lemon or apple cider vinegar too!

  • In a high-speed blender, blend 1 cup raw cashews with 1 1⁄3 cups water until very smooth and creamy.
  • For a tangy buttermilk substitute, add 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar and blend again to incorporate.
  • Works wonderfully as buttermilk in vegan baked goods, pancakes, etc.

Give your next batch of vegan blueberry muffins or banana walnut bread a try with this creamy, nutty cashew buttermilk! The mild sweet nuttiness pairs perfectly with all sorts of batters and doughs.

11. Coconut Milk

Canned unsweetened coconut milk offers a dairy-free nutty flavor twist on buttermilk too. Whisk in some lemon juice or vinegar to activate baking soda for plenty of lift.

  • To replace 1 cup buttermilk, whisk 1 tablespoon lemon juice or white vinegar into 1 cup canned full-fat coconut milk.
  • For thicker coconut buttermilk, refrigerate mixture overnight in an airtight container to let flavors meld. The solids will separate and solidify on top – just stir back together before using.
  • Ideal for virgin piña colada cupcakes, tropical pancakes or coconut-flavored baked goods!

The next time you bake up a batch of cupcakes or quick bread, try coconut milk buttermilk blended with a bright hit of citrus. Your kitchen will smell like an island paradise!

Key Takeaway: Milk + acid, yogurt, sour cream, kefir and lemon juice offer easy buttermilk swaps with items you likely have on hand. For vegan and non-dairy options, try lemon juice + non-dairy milk, cashew cream, nutritional yeast or coconut milk.

How to Choose The Best Buttermilk Substitute

With such a wide variety of potential buttermilk substitutes to pick from, how do you select the right one? Here are a few key factors to consider:

Flavor – Think about the flavor profile you want in the finished dish. Substitutes like plain yogurt, sour cream, or coconut milk will influence taste. Vinegar and lemon juice offer more neutral backdrops for other ingredients to shine.

You can also get creative with flavors. Try coconut buttermilk for tropical recipes, cashew cream for nutty depth, or kefir to add a tangy kick.

Texture – Consider the thickness needed for your specific recipe. Greek yogurt or sour cream offer full body, while diluting yogurt with milk yields a thinner liquid. Nutritional yeast and lemon juice won’t affect texture much on their own.

Leavening Power – Acidity is key for buttermilk’s signature tang as well as activating baking soda/powder for lift in baked goods. Substitutes need plenty of acidity, so yogurt, kefir, citrus juice and vinegar all work beautifully.

Dietary Needs – Vegans and dairy-free bakers will want to avoid milk, yogurt, sour cream, and buttermilk powder. Instead, use non-dairy milks blended with lemon juice, lime juice, or vinegar. Cashew cream, coconut milk, and nutritional yeast also shine.

Convenience – Finally, consider your time crunch. Do you need a 5-minute swap from common ingredients? Then milk + lemon juice does the trick. Buttermilk powder and commercial blends offer the speed of premade convenience too.

Key Takeaway: Consider flavor, texture, leavening power, dietary restrictions, and needed prep time when deciding on the best buttermilk substitute for your recipe.

How to Store Homemade Buttermilk Substitutes

Part of the appeal of whipping up easy DIY buttermilk substitutes is skipping multiple trips to the grocery store. But that leads to the question – how long do homemade substitutions keep?

General storage guidelines:

  • Fridge Storage – Most buttermilk swaps made of fresh dairy ingredients like milk, yogurt, and sour cream will keep about 1-2 weeks refrigerated in an airtight container.
  • Freezer Storage – For longer storage, homemade butter milk substitutes freeze exceptionally well. Pour measured amounts into ice cube trays or muffin tins, then transfer frozen cubes to an airtight freezer bag once solid. Thaw what you need as you bake!
  • Shelf Storage – Powdered buttermilk is the one exception that allows storage at room temperature in a sealed container up to 1 year. Just mix with cool water when ready to use.

Proper storage lets you DIY buttermilk when you need it without worrying about waste!

Key Takeaway: Store homemade buttermilk substitutes made with dairy up to 2 weeks refrigerated or frozen for longer duration. Buttermilk powder keeps on the shelf.

Ideal Uses for Buttermilk Substitutes

Cultured buttermilk brings its special brand of tasty magic to all kinds of recipes beyond baking. Don’t limit your homemade substitutions to just pancakes and muffins! Try these creative ways to use DIY buttermilk too:

  • Mix with herbs, salt, pepper and olive oil for a zesty salad dressing base
  • Blend with peppers, onions and spices for a marinade that tenderizes meats
  • Fold in mashed fruit for sweet or savory smoothies
  • Combine with chips or pretzels for a cool, creamy dip
  • Swirl into frozen yogurt, sorbet or nice cream for a tangy twist
  • Use in place of milk when making macaroni and cheese from scratch
  • Replace some or all milk when making creamy homemade soups
  • Whisk together with eggs, spices and pork panko breadcrumbs for next-level fried chicken
  • Brush on meat before grilling for extra moisture and flavor

However you put your homemade buttermilk substitute to use, get ready to fall in love with recipes both new and familiar all over again!

The Science Behind Buttermilk Substitutes

What makes DIY buttermilk substitutes so effective in recipes? It all comes down to science! Here’s a breakdown of the key chemical reactions at play:

Acidity – Adding an acidic ingredient like lemon juice, vinegar, or cream of tartar to regular milk causes the milk proteins (mainly casein) to denature and unravel from their tightly coiled structures. This allows the proteins to cross-link with each other in new formations. The curdled texture formed mimics cultured buttermilk.

Leavening – The increased acidity also kickstarts baking soda or baking powder in batters

  • Leavening (continued) – The increased acidity also kickstarts baking soda or baking powder in batters and doughs when used in baked goods. These chemical leaveners produce carbon dioxide bubbles that cause batters to rise rapidly from the heat of the oven. Tangy acidic ingredients like lemon juice, yogurt, and buttermilk all help activate these reactions.

Flavor – Ingredients like yogurt, sour cream, lemon juice, vinegar, and cultured dairy products contribute extra flavors like tangy, tart, and savory which enrich many recipes. Adding an acid to regular milk generates new acidic compounds via chemical reactions too.

Smooth Texture – Fats and proteins in dairy ingredients like milk, yogurt, and sour cream help coat flour particles in batters and doughs, allowing them to hydrate more thoroughly for a smoother, silkier texture. This moisture creates lighter, fluffier pancakes, scones, biscuits and cakes.

So next time you whip up an improvised batch of buttermilk for baking, remember it’s not magic – it’s science! Those substitutes lend chemical abilities similar to the real stuff for delicious, foolproof results.

Key Takeaway: The acidity, leavening power, flavor, and fat/protein content of buttermilk substitutes mimic the chemical reactions that real buttermilk provides in recipes.

How Do Buttermilk Substitutes Compare?

With so many potential DIY buttermilk options to choose from, how do they stack up against each other? Here’s a helpful comparison chart highlighting the pros and cons of 5 top substitutes:

Substitute Pros Cons Good For
Milk + Vinegar or Lemon Juice – Easy, fast
– Tangy flavor
– Activates leavening
– Slight vinegar taste
– Needs rest time
: pancakes, waffles, biscuits
Plain Yogurt – Tangy, creamy
– Adds moisture
– Easy substitution
– Can make baked goods dense
– Might need thinning
: muffins, breads, pancakes
Sour Cream + Milk – Rich, thick texture
– Enhances flavor
– Adds tenderness
– High fat content
– Less tangy
: biscuits, pancakes, dips
Buttermilk Powder – True buttermilk flavor
– Non-perishable
– Easy to use
– Needs purchase/specialty item
– Can get pricey
: baking, marinades, dressings
Nutritional Yeast + Non-Dairy Milk – Vegan
– Nutty, savory flavor
– Leavening lift
– Imparts color, flavor
– Needs combo of items
: vegan baked goods, waffles

As you can see, each has unique advantages making them ideal for different situations. But combined, these substitutes can mimic real buttermilk beautifully in practically any recipe you desire!

Key Takeaway: Compare flavor, texture, convenience, and intended use between common buttermilk substitutes like yogurt, sour cream, vinegar, and more to select the best option.

Top Tips for Getting Great Results

While all of the buttermilk stand-ins above work wonderfully, you’ll get the very best results by keeping these handy tips in mind:

  • For purity of flavor, use whole or low-fat dairy milk and yogurt, not non-fat varieties. The extra fat content mimics the richness of cultured buttermilk best.
  • Let acidified milk mixtures like milk and lemon juice or milk and vinegar sit for at least 5 minutes, up to 10 minutes maximum for optimal thickening and curdling texture before adding to batters.
  • When using thicker substitutes like Greek yogurt or sour cream, thin out with extra milk or water until closer to buttermilk consistency before swapping into recipes.
  • For vegan recipes, stick to plain unsweetened non-dairy milks instead of creamy ones to allow tangy citrus flavors to shine.
  • Since swapped ingredients change liquid ratios, avoid directly substituting cup-for-cup. Instead, whisk together the buttermilk substitute first, then add other wet ingredients like oil, eggs, etc. slowly until you reach the ideal batter or dough consistency described in recipes.
  • Keep a container of buttermilk powder on hand for last minute baking needs, whipped smooth with water. The live cultures mimic real buttermilk beautifully!
  • Taste test! Sample pancake or waffle batters as you mix to check for optimal tanginess and flavor before cooking the finished batch.

Frequently Asked Buttermilk Substitute Questions (FAQs)

Still have questions about replacing buttermilk in recipes? Here we answer some of the most common buttermilk substitute FAQs:

What’s the best all-purpose buttermilk substitute?

For versatility across both savory and sweet recipes, the tangy combination of milk and lemon juice or vinegar offers a stellar stand-in. The simple ingredients give great lift to baked goods without adding other flavors.

Is it OK to use regular milk instead of buttermilk in recipes?

You can certainly try it, but plain milk lacks the acidic tang and thick texture provided by cultured buttermilk in recipes. Batter consistency, rise, moisture level, and flavor will all turn out differently.

Why do some buttermilk substitutes call for letting milk mixtures sit out at room temperature? Isn’t that unsafe?

Letting dairy-based acidic buttermilk substitutes sit out for 5-10 minutes allows milk proteins to unravel for that signature thick, curdled texture. The small amount of acid added helps prevent microbial growth during the short rest. But any longer than 10 minutes allows unsafe bacteria levels.

What’s the best buttermilk substitute for vegan and dairy-free recipes?

To keep recipes plant-based, omit dairy ingredients altogether. Instead, mix non-dairy milks like almond or soy with lemon juice for tangy lift. Other stellar options include plain dairy-free yogurt, cashew cream spiked with acidity, and nutritional yeast blended with non-dairy milk.

Why do some baked goods turn out dense when I substitute buttermilk with yogurt?

Greek yogurt in particular can be quite thick. If swapped straight across without thinning to a closer buttermilk consistency with milk or water first, excess density throws off the liquid-to-dry ingredient ratios in recipes.

Help! I don’t have buttermilk OR any ingredient to substitute it with. Can I still make this cake/bread/pancake recipe?

You have a couple options if you lack any buttermilk AND potential stand-ins too. For recipes like pancakes, you can likely omit it altogether and increase other liquids like milk slightly. In baked goods though, lacking that acidity and moisture may yield denser results with less rise.

My homemade buttermilk substitute smells funny even though it’s not expired. Is it safe to use?

Trust your nose! Even when homemade buttermilk stand-ins fall within recommended storage times, temperature fluctuations or accidental cross-contamination can lead to faster spoilage or fermentation. If a substitute smells or looks off in any way, play it safe and toss it.

The Takeaway: Don’t Fear the Buttermilk Sub!

With a variety of handy kitchen staples, from common dairy to surprising stand-ins like cashew cream and nutritional yeast, you can easily mimic real buttermilk in any recipe that calls for it.

So next time you’re whipping up pancakes, biscuits, or homemade ranch dressing and find yourself short on buttermilk, don’t despair! A quick DIY substitute keeps baking and cooking projects deliciously on track.

From familiar ingredients like yogurt and lemon juice to vegan secrets like coconut milk and nut-based creamers, unleash new flavors in the kitchen while still enjoying light and fluffy textures you’d expect from the real thing.

With science on your side and a little kitchen wisdom, master the magic of buttermilk substitutes and enjoy recipe success anytime! Baking victory will be that much sweeter knowing you creatively conquered a missing ingredient crisis once and for all.