You can make a buttermilk alternative with ingredients you probably already have on hand.

By Corey Williams
Updated April 03, 2020

Buttermilk is one of the most versatile kitchen ingredients around. But what if your recipe calls for a cup and you’re fresh out? No worries—here’s what to do:

What Is Buttermilk?

Buttermilk has always been a fermented dairy drink, but the way it’s produced has changed over the years.

Today’s buttermilk has nothing to do with butter. The cartons you buy in the store were likely made using an industrial process that involved adding bacteria cultures to low-fat or skim milk. In the old days, though, buttermilk was actually a byproduct of churning butter. The buttermilk your ancestors used was made from the thin, rich-tasting liquid that was left at the bottom of the barrel.

Because of the bacteria cultures, room temperature buttermilk remained fresh longer than raw milk—this was especially useful before refrigeration was common in most households.

Why Is It Used In Baking?

Credit: S847/Getty Images

S847/Getty Images

Buttermilk is useful in baking for a number of reasons:

  • Its acidity helps break down the gluten in breads and other baked goods. This results in a softer finished product.
  • This acidity also acts as a catalyst for baking soda, which helps breads rise faster and better.
  • The subtle tanginess buttermilk adds to recipes can deepen your flavor experience.

How to Make Buttermilk Substitute

Credit: Suparat Malipoom/EyeEm/Getty, fotomill/Getty, Jonathan Kantor/Getty

Suparat Malipoom/EyeEm/Getty, fotomill/Getty, Jonathan Kantor/Getty

No buttermilk? No problem. You can actually whip up a perfectly capable buttermilk substitute with ingredients you probably already have on hand. All you’ll need is one cup of milk and one tablespoon of acid (white vinegar or lemon juice) to balance it out.

For one cup of milk, stir in one tablespoon of white vinegar OR one tablespoon of lemon juice. Let sit for 5 minutes.

If you don’t have the milk and acid you need, you can also use yogurt as a substitute. Since yogurt is typically much thicker than buttermilk, you may need to thin it with water before adding it to your recipe.

How to Make a Vegan Buttermilk Substitute

Follow the instructions above, but use an alternative milk (such as almond or soy) instead of regular milk.