What Can You Substitute For Buttermilk?

This brief article answers the question, “What Can You Substitute For Buttermilk?” with an in-depth analysis of buttermilk, the adequate substitutes for buttermilk, how to use them, and important points to keep in mind while using them.

A Little about Buttermilk

While buttermilk was customarily produced as a result of the butter-making process, nowadays buttermilk is made by adding lactic acid bacteria in milk as a result fermentation takes place and buttermilk is produced.

It tastes really tart and has a thicker consistency than milk and is ordinarily used to make muffins, waffles, biscuits, and cakes.

In 2017, more than 29% of milk processed in the European Union was used for butter production and 2.4 million tonnes of this product were obtained. The yield of butter production amounts to about 50% thus, butter production and buttermilk production are more or less equal (1).

Use Of Buttermilk In Baking

Buttermilk gives a light, soft and delicate texture to baked items. It reacts with baking soda to produce a rising effect which gives a fluffy appearance to baked goods. In any case, many individuals don’t keep it available, and others don’t utilize it because of dietary limitations. But can make buttermilk substitutes by either using dairy-based or non-dairy ingredients that you likely have available. Baking soda is used in addition to double-acting baking powder when muffins contain acidic ingredients such as sour cream, yogurt, buttermilk, light sour cream, molasses, and some fruits and fruit juices (2).

Buttermilk is often used in baking because of its special properties (for instance, sourness, enzymes, and microflora present in this by-product). It can enhance the flavor of various preparations, that is, dips and cakes (3).

How Is Buttermilk Made?

The name buttermilk is to some degree deluding, as it doesn’t contain any butter. Conventional buttermilk is the fluid that remains after the entire milk has been agitated to make butter. Natural buttermilk is a leftover liquid by-product made during the churning of butter. Churning of cream results in the separation of butter and an aqueous phase called sweet cream buttermilk. Cultured buttermilk is probably the easiest fermented milk product to produce but still the exact quantity of production of buttermilk is not assessed (3).

Buttermilk contains for the most part water, sugar lactose, and the milk protein casein. Additionally, the phospholipids content of buttermilk comprises cephalin, lecithin, and sphingomyelin in same amounts along with small quantities of cerebrosides. It is a pasteurized and homogenized product to which lactic acid bacteria such as Lactococcus lactis and Lactobacillus bulgaricus are added. Additionally, non-lactic starters can also be used as a co-inoculant with LAB for the production of buttermilk (3).

These contribute to the specific tangy flavor of buttermilk and enhance the shelf life. 

Buttermilk Substitutes

Buttermilk substitutes are of two types:

· Dairy-based 

· Non-dairy vegan substitutes


Dairy-based substitutes most commonly consist of milk. Following are some homemade dairy-based substitutes of buttermilk.

 Add Vinegar to Milk 

The major role of starter cultures during the fermentation of milk are the production of lactic acid and a few other organic acids, for example, formic acid and acetic acid, changes in body and texture in final products followed by coagulation of milk (3). 

Adding vinegar to milk gives it a tanginess like that of buttermilk. You can utilize different sorts of vinegar, like apple cider or refined white vinegar, however, the white vinegar has a rather neutral flavor.

Coagulation of milk is achieved by means of enzyme rennet or substances like lemon juice or vinegar. The basic factors for formation are lactic acid bacteria into milk and subsequent acid production will also result in gel formation of milk. The increased acidity causes the milk proteins (casein) to convert into solid masses, or curds. Milk that has been left to sour (raw milk alone or pasteurized milk with added lactic acid bacteria) will also naturally produce curds (4).

You can utilize any sort of milk too, yet if your formula requires a particular kind of buttermilk like low-fat, it might very well be ideal to utilize low-fat milk to make a substitute. 

Preparation of the substitute

To make 1 cup of buttermilk substitute, add 1 tablespoon of vinegar to a fluid estimating cup. Then add milk to the 1-cup line and mix.  

However many sources suggest allowing the combination to sit for 5–10 minutes before adding it to the recipe. But this might not be necessary.

 Add Lemon Juice To Milk

Lemon juice is an acidic component that you can use rather than vinegar to make buttermilk. To make 1 cup of buttermilk substitute, add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to a fluid estimating cup. Then add milk to the 1-cup line and mix. The effect of lemon juice to coagulate milk is similar to the effect of vinegar, as mentioned above.


You can either utilize fresh lemon or packaged lemon juice. Packaged lemon juice normally contains additives, for example, sodium benzoate and sodium sulfite. Sulfites may have side effects like asthma in certain individuals.

Cream of tartar

Another acidic substance that can be added to milk to make a buttermilk substitute is a cream of tartar. It is also known as potassium bitartrate. This fine white powder is a result of making wine and tastes neutral. In chemical terms, it is potassium hydrogen tartrate which is basically partially neutralized tartaric acid. It is ideal for the generation of carbon dioxide from baking soda and can be used to coagulate protein (5).


To make a buttermilk substitute, utilize 5 grams of cream of tartar per 1 cup of milk. Cream of tartar will result in the formation of clumps when directly mixed into the milk. 

It’s smarter to blend the cream of tartar with the other dry items in your recipe and then add the milk. 

Sour cream

Sour cream is made by fermentation of cream by utilizing lactic corrosive bacteria. Thus, giving it an acidic flavor just like buttermilk. But sour cream is thicker than buttermilk. 

Sour cream has a sour but soft taste, with a tinge of sweet and savory flavors and is slightly viscous. One of the components of sour cream that exerts a strong influence on its flavor is diacetyl. Diacetyl is one of the major compounds that is generated when milk-based ingredients are subjected to lactic acid bacteria fermentation, and which produces a decisive effect on the quality of fermented products and their acceptance by consumers (6).

So it’s ideal to thin it with water or by adding milk when making a buttermilk substitute with sour cream.


For a recipe in which 1 cup of buttermilk is required, mix 3/4 cup of sour cream with 1/4 cup of water or milk and whisk it until smooth.

Non-dairy alternatives

There are a lot of plant-based alternatives that can be used to make buttermilk substitutes. 

Soy milk and lemon juice

Coagulation of soy milk could be achieved by increase in the acidity, extended heating or enzyme activity. Rennet has been the traditional coagulant. Acidic coagulation is often achieved by the addition of vinegar or vegetable extracts, such as lemon juice (7).

Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to an estimating cup. Add soy milk to the 1-cup line. Or you can utilize 1 3/4 teaspoons of cream of tartar as the acid instead of lemon juice. 

Tofu and acid

Utilize a blender to puree 1/4 cup (62 grams) of delicate, smooth tofu with 3/4 cup of water and 1 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice.

Was this helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!



Skryplonek, Katarzyna, Izabela Dmytrów, and Anna Mituniewicz‐Małek. The use of buttermilk as a raw material for cheese production. Int J Dairy Technol, 2019, 72, 610-616.


Cross, Nanna. Bakery: muffins. Food Processing: Principles and Applications. 2004, 163-181.


KUMAR, RAVINDER et al. Natural and cultured buttermilk. Fermented milk and dairy products, 2015. 


Urkude, Gaurishankar, Rita R. Nistane, and Vijay G. Patrikar. Critical review on various types of Dadhi with reference to its method of preparation. J Ayurv Integr Med Sci, 2021, 6, 121-124.  


Schwarcz, J. Cream of Tartar. 2017. McGill University.


Adepoju, P. A., et al. Investigation into the coagulating properties of acid and enzyme coagulated soy protein precipitate. Food Public Health, 2012, 2, 127-130.