Simple Buttermilk Substitutions

I have a zillion recipes that call for buttermilk (see below for a partial list of favorites). I love the stuff. It adds a delicious flavor to food and because of the acidity, when it is combined with baking soda, little bubbles are released during baking that give a wonderful lightness to baked goods. I almost always have the real deal on hand but it’s been known to happen that I have run out. The horror! What’s a girl to do when she’s longing to make her favorite Buttermilk Banana Bread and there’s no buttermilk? Well, never fear because buttermilk substitutions are some of the easiest to whip together and chances are you have all the needed ingredients (count: two) to make a great substitution.

Let’s break it down, shall we? You basically have four options:
Simple Buttermilk Substitutions

For the first three, you need a cup of milk. Choose ONE of the following to stir into the cup of milk: 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 tablespoon white vinegar or 1/2 tablespoon cream of tartar. Let the mixture sit for 5 minutes before using.
Simple Buttermilk Substitutions

For the fourth option, whisk together 3/4 cup plain yogurt with 1/4 cup milk. Easy peasy!
Simple Buttermilk Substitutions

For the printable:
Click HERE to access a .jpg image – simply right click and select “copy image” and then paste it into a Word document (or other similar document type) and resize it larger or smaller depending on how big you want it to be when printed. For a simpler option, click HERE for a .pdf version (there are two printables on the page so find a friend and give one away or keep the extra in your scrapbook or something heartwarming like that).

Leftover homemade buttermilk can be stored in the refrigerator for a week or so, or better yet, freeze it in small 1/4 or 1/2 cup increments (storebought buttermilk freezes great, too). Now what are you waiting for? Go make some buttermilk…

Here is a list of my favorite recipes that call for buttermilk:
Buttermilk Lime Shortbread Bars
Buttermilk Banana Bread
Buttermilk Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Glaze
Gourmet Buttermilk Cookies
Classic Buttermilk Waffles
Vanilla Buttermilk Cupcakes
The Best Drop Biscuits
Refrigerator Bran Muffins
Sweet Orange Rolls
Whole Wheat Blender Pancakes
Red Velvet Sheet Cake
Whole Wheat Dinner Muffins
Chocolate Orange Swirl Muffins
Cheddar Herb Biscuits
Healthy Banana Bran Muffins
Rhubarb Streusel Cake
Oatmeal Pancake Mix
Heath Bar Cake
The Best Blueberry Muffins

53 Responses to Buttermilk Substitutions {with free printable}

  1. Kim in MD says:

    I love these tips! Thanks, Mel!

  2. I love you for posting these! I always end up buying a too large container of buttermilk and then the rest of it goes bad. Love these other options! Quick question — does the lemon juice have to be fresh?

  3. bluebaker says:

    Hi Mel- I had never heard of the plain yogurt/milk tip. Its good to know there are a couple of alternatives . I usually try to have the real thing- it gives things such a great zing and soft texture. My family is in love with the buttermilk cinnamon rolls, btw.
    In the Amish store I go to, they have a dry buttermilk powder that you add to a liquid,
    we tried it and it doesn’t give as good a result. So I’m glad to know of your alternatives.
    It seems like they would give a more natural taste than that powder.
    Have a great day with you and the kiddo’s. I really use and appreciate your website,
    and have shared it with some of my friends. Thanks for all the great meal ideas.

  4. Rachel says:

    Love it! Thanks – I am always running to the computer to find a substitute for buttermilk. Now I’ve printed this and am putting it in my recipe binder.

  5. kandi v says:

    I have solved my buttermilk dilema (having too much or not enough), by purchasing buttermilk powder. King Arthur Flour has a great one. Thanks for these tips though-a girl can never have too many! :)

  6. Craig says:

    I’ve also used the SACO brand (found in my local supermarket), and explained here > http://sacofoods.com/products/view/cultured-buttermilk

    Just do yourself a favor though and find it in the small tub, as they are also now selling it in pkgs of 4 envelopes/box. the tub is 100x easier (IMHO).

    Also, looks like Bob’s Red Mill also sells it too…http://www.bobsredmill.com/sweet-cream-buttermilk.html

  7. I don’t buy buttermilk anymore. I culture kefir grains every day and it is a GREAT substitute for all things buttermilk. :-)

  8. Mel says:

    Liz – you can use fresh lemon juice or bottled.

  9. Buttermilk is non-existent here, so I´ve been using the lemon juice/milk version for years now. Sometimes the thinned yogurt or vinegar in savory recipes. I didn´t know about the cream of tartar though, nice to know!

  10. StephenC says:

    You’ve earned your Michelin stars today.

  11. Jeanette G says:

    You know.. they also make powdered buttermilk. I never buy buttermilk so I use the powdered instead. :)

  12. Teresa R. says:

    I keep the powder just in case I don’t have buttermilk or lemon juice on hand. It lasts a long time in the fridge. Thanks for this info. I almost always have yogurt but have never used it as a buttermilk substitute.

  13. I’ve used all of these substitutions and they’ve worked perfectly. It’s great when you don’t have buttermilk on hand because chances are you have a combination of any of those ingredients. I’ve also used milk, but of course that changes the flavor slightly. Thanks for providing a print out! Very helpful.

  14. danielle says:

    Does anyone know if you can use non-dairy milk in place of buttermilk? I rarely have regular milk on hand, but usually have almond milk.

    I’ve used the powdered buttermilk in the past, but where I am it’s ridiculous expensive….

    • Mel says:

      Danielle – I just googled really quickly and it looks like you can make buttermilk out of any kind of milk – anything from rice milk to almond milk.

      Also, about the powdered buttermilk – I’ve used it on occasion but it is really expensive where I live now (if I can even find it) so I stick with store bought buttermilk or one of these homemade substitutes. It really boils down to what you prefer to keep on hand. This post is simply meant to help with some quick homemade substitutes. Between store bought buttermilk, powdered buttermilk and homemade versions, we should all be set!

      • Mel says:

        P.S. One quick note about powdered buttermilk – because it is dried, it doesn’t contain live cultures like store bought buttermilk. This isn’t an issue in baking but it is if you are going to make Creme Fraiche (which is amazing and divine) or use it as a starter for cheese or yogurt, which I’ve never done. Just something to keep in mind.

  15. iMomnicks says:

    I love all your recipes and since a lot do call for buttermilk, I put measured amounts in freezer ziplock baggies and freeze them for future use. This way I can use all the buttermilk instead of throwing away outdated milk. My neighbor/friend knows I do this too and has been known to raid my stash in the freezer on a Sunday afternoon. :-)

  16. Krissy says:

    very helpful! thanks!

  17. I didn’t know you could freeze buttermilk and have it still be OK – thanks for the tips!!

  18. Cammee says:

    I had no idea about the cream of tartar one. I’m curious if you have a favorite. I have tried a couple of these and they have worked in a pinch. The only thing I didn’t like the substitution in was Buttermilk Syrup. It affected the taste and richness of the syrup.

  19. Steph says:

    My favorite recipe on your blog that uses buttermilk isn’t on this list :-) I LOVE LOVE LOVE your Zephyr Pancakes. My kids devour them every time I make them. Guess I need to check out some of your other buttermilk recipes :-)

  20. Hananananah says:

    I always thought that buttermilk tasted like liquid sour cream (also known as heaven…especially paired with anything my eastern european mother in law makes….yummmm). So I usually just thin out some sour cream with milk until it’s a consistency I like. K, I’m going to go make about a dozen of those recipes you listed above now. Thanks!

  21. Kelli says:

    Thanks for all the great posts Mel! One buttermilk recipe you didn’t list in your favorite is by far my absolute favorite recipe- Buttermilk Cloverleaf Rolls! I have made these more times than I remember and have everyone in love with them (I’ve made them in cloverleaf style, croissant style, and regular roll style- all delicious and so easy!). I made them last night and my husband said “Please never make another roll recipe. This one is perfect!” Plus my whole Relief Society is in love with them- I was even asked if I could make them for the missionaries in the area for a conference- they devoured over 100 of your divine buttermilk rolls! Thank heavens for your recipes! And for buttermilk!!

  22. Kelley says:

    You are awesome! I have been trying to freeze buttermilk when I have some leftover, but these substitutions are fabulous! My favorite is the yogurt milk one. I have used it often in a pinch and think it works great.

  23. Ashley says:

    I love tips like this about things you can substitute. I always seem to get the random ideas to make things and am missing one of the ingredients. The you have to decide if you want to run out to the store or not make it. Even if you do go out and get what you need if it’s something you don’t use often you’ll end up with a lot of product that gets thrown away because you only needed a little bit. I think doing more posts like these so we can all have substitutes on hand would be great!

  24. I always make a buttermilk substitution since I never have any in my fridge. I either do the milk with acid one or just use yogurt. Next time I will try mixing in some milk with the yogurt..thx for sharing!

  25. I had no idea about adding cream of tartar to milk, or adding yogurt to milk! Such great ideas, thanks Mel!

  26. Danielle says:

    Thanks..! I guess it makes sense to use yogurt/milk as a substitute. I am experimenting when buttermilk and whey can be interchanged. I am on my second batch of homemade yogurt, and after doing some online research I have been using the leftover whey rather than discarding it. I am still learning…. I don’t think I would use whey in a a sweet bread or a recipe that really banks on the buttermilk. But for pancakes and muffins I have had great success using whey instead of buttermilk or milk (especially when it is combined with whole wheat flour). Kind of nice to be able to use all of the milk that originally went into the batch of yogurt since there is so much leftover liquid.

  27. Thank you for telling us you can freeze store bought buttermilk. I buy it often, and the expiration date is usually far out, but sometimes I throw it out. I’m sure you can just thaw it in the microwave if you need it in a hurry. I love your blog! Used lots of your recipes. THank you for sharing!!

  28. I use one of these substitutes rather than the real thing 90% of the time, just because I don’t need it enough to keep any on hand in the fridge. But here’s my question for you that’s not exactly covered in your post – if there are these easy substitutions, why ever use actual buttermilk? I’m assuming the answer is because actual buttermilk has better results…?

    • Mel says:

      Good question, Stephanie – my rule of thumb is to only use the substitutions when a) I’m in a pinch and have run out of the real deal and b) if I only need less than 1 cup. Any recipe that requires more than that or where buttermilk plays a major role (for instance a recipe I have that marinates chicken in buttermilk) turns out better with the real stuff, in my opinion, better texture and flavor. While these substitutions provide the necessary acidity to compensate for buttermilk, they don’t have all of the same properties.

  29. karen says:

    Mel, I also use these substitutions in a pinch. But, we go through buttermilk so quickly here (big family of 6 who loves baked goods for breakfast) and I found it is actually cheaper and easier for me to make our own buttermilk. I researched it and this is what I have been doing for the last 6 months. Pour 1/2 to 1 cup of buttermilk into a quart jar. Fill remainder of jar with milk (I use skim). Put on lid. Shake. Let sit on counter overnight (about 16 hours) until the consistency has changed. Refrigerate. When you get low on your buttermilk you can use some of what you have left as a starter. Make sure you start with a brand of buttermilk that has active cultures (I think most do). Buttermilk is so acidic that there is not a problem with food safety in doing this. The only difference that I have noticed is that it is thicker than traditional buttermilk (almost as thick as yogurt) and I sometimes add a little regular milk during my cooking to thin it a little. I actually even make mine in a half gallon mason jar since we go through so much buttermilk. Also another advantage of this is one less item to think about buying in the store (big perk for me).

  30. danielle says:

    Thank you for finding out about the milk alternatives Mel! I appreciate it. :-)

  31. bjahlstrom says:

    I was wondering about the buttermilk thing as I was considering trying out the whole wheat blender pancake recipe. I am curious…if my blender isn’t very good, could I put in wheat pearls (hydrated wheat berries, like cracked wheat), but then just reduce the liquid in the pancake recipe? Thanks for all you do!

  32. Jessica says:

    The timing on this could not be more perfect – just discovered my son might have a buttermilk allergy after he ate some buttermilk ranch and developed a bad face rash. This will be great to have as a reference!

  33. tsmith says:

    I use buttermilk on a fairly regular basis. For the most part, I make my own. A lot cheaper this way! If I have an excess that I know I’m not going to use up, I will freeze in ice cube trays and then store in a freezer bag and use as needed. I know that each ‘cube’ is approximately 2 Tbsp, so two cubes will be about a 1/4 cup.

  34. Spendwisemom says:

    I love real buttermilk in recipes. Milk and vinegar just don’t match the texture and taste.

  35. Diogo says:

    Are this substitutes cultured or not? If yes, can I use them as a starter for cheeses?

  36. Kathy says:

    Thanks for the tip! I have used them several times already when I go to the refrigerator thinking I have buttermilk, and I don’t. It happened tonight when I was baking, so I just pulled up your helpful tips! Thanks so much!

  37. Gina says:

    Hi Mel. I am from the Republic of Panama. We NEVER EVER have buttermilk here, and half&half is almost as unheard (but we get it sometimes!). Of the 4 subs, which do you use the most? which one is your favorite?

  38. Lisa P says:

    In regards to freezing the buttermilk, what is the best way to “de-freeze” it? Let it naturally thaw? Defrost in the microwave? Another option? Thanks!

  39. Belle says:

    Hi, can I use UHT milk? will there be a difference?

  40. Debra Chiplin says:

    The link to the printable does not seem to be working :(

  41. Kristy Bodle says:

    Thanks for posting things. I want to make something that requires buttermilk and I get sick from regular milk. I am going to try one of the options you listed and see if works. Thanks!

  42. Kristy Bodle says:

    Thanks for posting this. I want to make something that requires buttermilk and I get sick from regular milk. I am going to try one of the options you listed and see if works. Thanks!

  43. Stacey says:

    Something I learned in RS a few years ago was how to make your own buttermilk. It has live cultures in it like yogurt and so all I do is buy some buttermilk, put it in a quart jar and use it. When there is just a little bit left I pour more milk in, let it set overnight in a warm spot and then its buttermilk in the morning!

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