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Here's How to Make Buttermilk in a Pinch

These substitutes will save the day for your fluffy pancakes.

a pile of buttermilk biscuits stacked on top of each other on a wooden cutting board
Mike Garten

While buttermilk is used in many baked goods, fried foods, salad dressings and the fluffiest pancake recipes, it’s one of those ingredients that’s tricky to always have on hand. If you buy it for one recipe, the rest often ends up going bad before you can use it again. Rather than staying stocked all the time, learn how to make buttermilk so you'll always have a handy buttermilk substitute at the ready.

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Yields: 1 cup
Total Time: 0 hours 10 mins
1 tbsp.

vinegar or lemon juice

Scant cup of milk or dairy-free milk alternative

  1. Add the vinegar or lemon juice to a liquid measuring cup and fill with milk to reach the 1 cup marker; stir to combine. Let the mixture sit for 5-10 minutes.
  2. Stir again just before using. 

How is buttermilk different from regular milk?

Buttermilk is a fermented dairy drink, traditionally the liquid left behind after churning butter out of cultured cream. These days, the buttermilk you find in the grocery store is cultured on its own by adding lactic acid bacteria to milk, heating it and letting it ferment. It’s much more acidic than regular milk, which gives it that tangy flavor. You’ll see it in recipes with baking soda, which requires acid to activate. In those cases, plain milk just won’t do the trick.

What can I use if I don’t have buttermilk?

The easiest one-to-one substitution for buttermilk is plain yogurt. While you can swap in the same amount of yogurt for buttermilk in your recipe, it may be necessary to thin the yogurt with water or milk first (especially if the batter you're making is relatively thin). Sour cream works in the same way. If you don't have either of those ingredients on hand, you can still make a substitute that's super similar to buttermilk. Here's how.

How to make buttermilk

The easiest way to make a buttermilk substitute is to combine your milk of choice with something acidic. If you're looking for a non-dairy, vegan buttermilk substitution, you can use one of the best milk alternatives instead. Here are three ways to make 1 cup of buttermilk substitute.

  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar mixed with enough milk to measure 1 cup
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice and enough milk to measure 1 cup
  • 1 3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar combined with 1 cup of milk

    Simply add your acid to a liquid measuring cup and fill with milk to reach the 1 cup marker, then stir to combine. Make sure to let the mixture sit for 5-10 minutes before using. You’ll see some light curdling, so it helps to stir the mixture again just before using. Even if you don’t see a significant texture change, the acid in the milk will still work its magic in the recipe.

    Recipes using buttermilk

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