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You have buttermilk questions and we have answers, from storage tips (why does it only seem to come in a quart???), substitutions and hacks, and, of course, recipes. But first, let’s get down to basics. 

What Is Buttermilk?

Buttermilk’s origins are, in fact, rooted in butter. To make butter, heavy cream and a bacterial culture are fermented together to create cultured cream. The cultured cream is then churned. After the churning process generates solid butter, there’s liquid leftover. Voilà, buttermilk.

As it’s a fermented product, buttermilk’s flavor is tangy and sour. You can drink it straight, and historically, people did quite often (many cultures still do), but… let’s just say it’s an acquired taste.

Related Reading: The 7 Best Baking Ingredients You Can Buy from the Grocery Store

These days, it’s prized for its lactic acidity which is especially beneficial in the baking process to yield fluffy, airy results. It’s also used in meat marinades where it can act as a gentle tenderizer in contrast to other marinades that feature higher acidity ingredients such as citrus or vinegar.

best buttermilk fried chicken

Chowhound’s Buttermilk Fried Chicken

How to Store Buttermilk

Buttermilk has a slightly longer refrigerator life than standard milk. It should last between 1-2 weeks. You can also freeze it, though it will suffer from some textural degradation. Just be sure to leave room at the top of the container you use as the liquid will expand when it’s frozen.

Stasher Silicone Storage Bags, $7.99-$15.99 at The Container Store

These reusable silicone bags come in several sizes, but you can also freeze small amounts of buttermilk in an ice cube tray, then pop the frozen cubes into a bag.
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DIY Buttermilk and When to Use It

Baked goods will always taste better with real buttermilk, but if you have regular milk that’s starting to go south, you can sub it in to great effect. (If the milk is already in the chunky stage, DO throw it out.)

You can also easily “sour” fresh, unspoiled milk you have on hand as a homemade buttermilk replacement in baking recipes. For every cup of milk, add about a tablespoon of either white vinegar or lemon juice. If you prefer it less acidic, use 1 teaspoon cream of tartar instead. Then wait about 5 minutes. Doing this will raise the lactic acid levels and replicate the flavor profile in buttermilk. Fresh lemon juice and soy milk or almond milk can be combined for a vegan buttermilk.

Note: We do not recommend using sour milk or “sour” milk in recipes that don’t involve baking. Here, you’ll notice a difference and you probably won’t like it.

red velvet bundt cake recipe

Chowhound’s Red Velvet Bundt Cake

Buttermilk Substitutes

In addition to the milk hack, plain yogurt or sour cream work as a substitute for buttermilk in many recipes. Like buttermilk, both are fermented dairy products and contain lactic acid.

Yogurt can be substituted in a 1:1 ratio for buttermilk. Since it’s a bit thicker, we recommend whisking ¾ cup of sour cream with a ¼ cup of milk for every desired cup of buttermilk.

It’s also not the worst idea to have powdered buttermilk in the pantry. It’s not the same, of course, but some days, it’s hard to deny the appeal of “just add water” and getting the exact amount of what you need at that moment. (We also use it dry in seasoning blends, as in our Tangy Ranch Cashew recipe.)

Saco Powdered Buttermilk, $4.48 at Walmart

Add this to your pantry staples.
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Buttermilk Recipes

Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes

blueberry buttermilk pancake recipe


Pancakes are arguably the best way to use up souring milk or leftover buttermilk. The chemical interaction between lactic acid and baking soda result in the puffiest, fluffiest flapjacks ever. Of course, blueberries are always a welcome addition to the party. Get our Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes recipe.

Buttermilk and Brown Butter Waffles

buttermilk brown butter waffles


Waffle fans can get in on the buttermilk action too with this extra special recipe that includes brown butter for extra depth of flavor. Serve for breakfast with a scoop of yogurt, or dessert with a scoop of ice cream. Get our Buttermilk and Brown Butter recipe.

Oven-Fried Buttermilk Chicken


Who needs a deep fryer? With the tag team of buttermilk and corn flakes, chicken can go in the oven and still come out crispy and juicy. Be sure to marinade overnight for optimal results. Get our Oven-Fried Buttermilk Chicken recipe. (Or try our traditional Buttermilk Fried Chicken recipe if you’re not afraid of frying.)

Buttermilk Biscuits

You want your buttermilk and butter icy cold to get these biscuits nice and flaky. Try temporarily moving them from the fridge to the freezer while you measure the dry ingredients. If you don’t have a biscuit cutter, a narrow drinking glass should work fine. Get our Buttermilk Biscuits recipe. (And if you’re GF, we have a Gluten-Free Buttermilk Biscuit recipe too.)

Easy Ranch Dressing


If you haven’t eaten ranch prepared from scratch, you haven’t eaten ranch. Buttermilk, sour cream, mayo, and your acid of choice join forces with a potent combo of herbs and spices to create a rich, creamy, tangy dressing that will put the store bought bottle in your rear view mirror. Get our Easy Ranch Dressing recipe.

Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes

buttermilk mashed potatoes recipe


What’s that extra special depth of flavor you get when you order mashed potatoes at a restaurant? It’s likely due to the  inclusion of our good friend buttermilk. Be sure to incorporate it at room temperature and then gently reheat so as to avoid curdling. Get our Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes recipe.

Easy Buffalo Wings

Easy Grilled Buffalo Wings


With buttermilk by your side, it couldn’t be easier to whip up spicy and slightly creamy buffalo wings at home. Give the wings plenty of time (2 hours at least, and overnight is preferred) to acclimate in the marinade, pop them in the oven, then drench them as desired in your hot sauce of choice. Get our Easy Buffalo Wings recipe.

Milk and Honey Cake


This exceptionally buttery cake will take your taste buds on a trip to the promised land. Whether you opt for one layer or two, it’s a simple, easy recipe that’s sure to satisfy any sweet tooth. Get our Milk and Honey Cake recipe.

Buttermilk Onion Rings


In addition to buttermilk, you’re going to need a LOT of oil to recreate your favorite happy hour bar bite at home. But sometimes you just gotta treat yo’self. Pass the ranch (see above), and get our Buttermilk Onion Rings recipe.

Buttermilk Icing


From pumpkin cupcakes to banana bread to lemon pound cake, you can frost just about any baked treat with this easy buttermilk-based icing. Sugar and apple cider vinegar are there to add sweetness and tang. Get our Buttermilk Icing recipe.

See all of our buttermilk recipes for more ways to use whatever you have left.

David is a food and culture writer based in Los Angeles by way of New York City. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, CBS Local, Mashable, and Gawker.
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