Buttermilk Substitutions

We had a caller last week requesting a substitute for buttermilk. She was getting ready to bake muffins and because the recipe called for so little buttermilk and she didn’t have any on hand was wondering what she could use in place of it.

We get quite a number of callers asking about substitutions. We have several good resources available with suggestions so please call or e-mail us if you ever have a question about what to substitute for an ingredient you do not have on hand at home.

Today I’m going to focus on buttermilk since that was my most recent question. Nothing can match the pure taste of buttermilk exactly. It adds a tangy flavor and increases the leavening power when interacting with baking soda. “Clabbered” milk is the most widely used substitute for buttermilk. “Clabbered” means soured and thickened. The most common way to clabber milk is to add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to one cup of milk. The lemon juice acidifies the milk allowing the leavening in the batter to do its job. If you don’t have lemon juice on hand, many people substitute vinegar which accomplishes the same thing. You would use 1 tablespoon of vinegar to one cup of milk.

Some people do not like the hint of lemon that is in products with that substitute used. If that is you, you may want to experiment with cream of tartar or watered-down sour cream or yogurt. When using cream of tartar, whisk 1 and 1/2 to 1 and 3/4 teaspoon into your dry ingredients. If you add the cream of tartar directly to the milk it will clump.

When using watered-down sour cream, use equal parts sour cream and water. If using regular plain, unsweetened yogurt use approximately 1/4 cup liquid to 1 and 3/4 cup yogurt to make two cups. If using Greek yogurt mix one small container with 1 and 1/3 cups skim or 1% milk to make 2 cups of substitute for buttermilk.

If your baked goods recipe does not call for much buttermilk any of these substitutions will work. If you are making something like salad dressing and buttermilk is the main ingredient you will want to make sure you use actual buttermilk. If you do buy buttermilk and only use a small amount of it you can successfully freeze it. After thawing in the refrigerator it may have separated a little bit but just give it a stir and it will be fine to use.

We don’t always get responses after we give out information from our office but in the case of this caller she did let us know that she used a substitute and thought the flavor was not affected but the batter seemed a little thinner which caused the finished product to be a little flatter and that made them more difficult to remove from the pan. She will make a note on the recipe that buttermilk is preferred.

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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4 thoughts on “Buttermilk Substitutions

  1. I was just reminiscing telling my Son about growing up on a farm in N.C. and how we made do without refrigeration and drinking clabber and making butter by shaking the sour milk and cream in a half gallon jar. We never did own a churn. Do they still make half gallon jars? Anyway l love your helpful ideas and if there’s a cookbook available l would love to buy one from you. Thank you kindly.

  2. Carol, you are so sweet to write to us about your experiences. Isn’t amazing what we were able to do with so little and survive it all, too! Yes, Ball still makes 1/2 gallon jars. AnswerLine does not have a cookbook; it would be fun to have a book that included all the advice given over the years and how that advice has changed as science advances. One things about it, we never stop learning!! Have a wonderful summer.

  3. As Carol tactfully told you, clabbered milk in not made by adding lemon juice to pasteurised milk. It’s made by leaving fresh unpasteurised milk at room temperature to curdle naturally using it’s own bacteria. It’s a process that takes 1 to 5 days, so it’s not a quick option for no buttermilk either.

  4. You are correct that true clabbered milk is not made by adding lemon juice. However, ‘clabbered milk’ is a culinary term based on ‘clabber,’ a verb meaning to curdle or cause curdling which is the means by which it is used when lemon juice or vinegar is added to milk to create a substitute for buttermilk in a baking recipe. When lemon juice is added to milk, the citric acid changes the electrical charge on the dairy’s casein proteins, causing them to coagulate into clumps or curdle. Adding lemon juice to milk simply acidifies it, allowing the leavening in the batter to do its job—the same role played by buttermilk. Any other ‘dairy’ properties of buttermilk–sugars, proteins, fats–will be supplied sufficiently by the milk to support the batter in nearly the same way as buttermilk.

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