Learn How to Make Buttermilk at Home

Welcome to the world of buttermilk! In this article, we will explore the process of making buttermilk from scratch. Whether you’re a cooking enthusiast or simply curious about this tangy and versatile ingredient, you’ve come to the right place. So, let’s dive in and learn how to make buttermilk at home!

Buttermilk has a rich history and is a staple in many culinary traditions around the world. It has been used for centuries in various recipes, from fluffy pancakes and tender biscuits to creamy dressings and marinades. Its tangy flavor adds a delightful zing to both sweet and savory dishes, making it a beloved ingredient in the culinary world.

While buttermilk is readily available in stores, there’s something special about creating it in your own kitchen. By making buttermilk at home, you have control over the ingredients, ensuring a fresh and natural product. Plus, it’s a fun and rewarding process that allows you to connect with food in a more hands-on way.

Not only is homemade buttermilk delicious, but it also offers a range of health benefits. It is a good source of calcium, potassium, and vitamin B12, making it a nutritious addition to your diet. Additionally, buttermilk contains beneficial probiotics that can support a healthy gut and digestion.

In this article, we will guide you through different methods of making buttermilk at home, using simple ingredients that are likely already in your pantry. You’ll discover the art of transforming regular milk into this tangy delight, and we’ll provide you with tips and variations along the way.

What is Buttermilk?

Before we delve into the details of making buttermilk, let’s understand what it actually is. Buttermilk is a fermented dairy product that has a tangy flavor and a creamy consistency. It is commonly used in baking, cooking, and even enjoyed on its own. Buttermilk has been a culinary staple for centuries, with its origins dating back to the days when butter was churned by hand.

Traditional buttermilk is the liquid that remains after churning butter from cream. In the olden days, cream was left to naturally ferment, allowing the bacteria present in the environment and the cream itself to acidify it. The resulting liquid had a tangy taste and was prized for its versatility in cooking and baking.

In modern times, buttermilk is often made using a different method called cultured buttermilk. Cultured buttermilk is made by introducing specific strains of lactic acid bacteria to milk. These bacteria ferment the milk’s sugars, resulting in the tangy flavor and thickened consistency characteristic of buttermilk.

The fermentation process of buttermilk not only contributes to its unique flavor but also brings several health benefits. Buttermilk is rich in probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria that support a healthy gut. It is also a good source of calcium, potassium, and vitamin B12.

The Science Behind Buttermilk

Behind the tangy and creamy goodness of buttermilk lies an interesting scientific process. Understanding the science behind buttermilk can deepen our appreciation for this versatile dairy product. So, let’s take a closer look at the science that makes buttermilk what it is.

Buttermilk owes its unique properties to the process of fermentation. When milk undergoes fermentation, various chemical reactions occur, transforming the milk into buttermilk. The key player in this transformation is lactic acid bacteria, which convert the lactose (milk sugar) in the milk into lactic acid.

During fermentation, lactic acid bacteria consume the lactose in the milk as their energy source. As a result, the pH level of the milk decreases, becoming more acidic. This change in acidity gives buttermilk its characteristic tangy flavor.

The presence of lactic acid bacteria also contributes to the thickened consistency of buttermilk. These bacteria produce polysaccharides, which are long-chain carbohydrates that help create a thicker texture. This is why buttermilk has a slightly thicker and creamier consistency compared to regular milk.

Another fascinating aspect of buttermilk’s fermentation process is its role in enhancing the texture and flavor of baked goods. The lactic acid produced during fermentation interacts with the proteins in the flour, leading to improved gluten development. This results in tender, moist, and well-risen baked goods.

It’s worth noting that the flavor and texture of buttermilk can vary depending on the fermentation method. Traditional buttermilk, produced through natural fermentation, may have a more complex and pronounced tanginess due to a wider range of bacteria involved. Cultured buttermilk, on the other hand, is made by intentionally introducing specific strains of lactic acid bacteria, resulting in a milder and more consistent flavor profile.

Traditional Buttermilk vs. Cultured Buttermilk

When it comes to buttermilk, there are two main types: traditional buttermilk and cultured buttermilk. While both types share similarities, they differ in terms of production methods, flavor profiles, and culinary applications. Let’s explore the characteristics of each to better understand their unique qualities.

Traditional Buttermilk:

Traditional buttermilk is the liquid left behind after churning butter from cream. In the past, when butter was made by hand through the churning process, the leftover liquid naturally fermented, resulting in buttermilk. Traditional buttermilk has a rich history and was valued for its tangy flavor and versatility in cooking and baking.

Flavor and Texture: Traditional buttermilk has a distinct tangy flavor and a slightly thicker consistency compared to regular milk. The fermentation process gives it a unique taste profile that adds depth and complexity to recipes.

Production Method: Traditional buttermilk is a byproduct of butter-making. Cream is churned until the fat globules join together to form butter. The liquid that separates from the butter is the traditional buttermilk.

Culinary Applications: Traditional buttermilk is well-suited for baking. Its acidity reacts with leavening agents like baking soda and baking powder, resulting in tender and fluffy baked goods. It is commonly used in recipes for biscuits, pancakes, waffles, and cakes, where its tanginess enhances the flavor and texture.

Cultured Buttermilk:

Cultured buttermilk, also known as commercial buttermilk, is the type of buttermilk commonly found in stores today. Unlike traditional buttermilk, which is a byproduct of churning butter, cultured buttermilk is intentionally made by adding specific strains of lactic acid bacteria to milk.

Flavor and Texture: Cultured buttermilk has a milder and more consistent tangy flavor compared to traditional buttermilk. It has a thinner consistency, similar to regular milk, but still retains a subtle creaminess.

Production Method: Cultured buttermilk is produced by introducing lactic acid bacteria, such as Lactococcus lactis and Leuconostoc citreum, to pasteurized milk. The bacteria consume the lactose in the milk, producing lactic acid and causing fermentation. This process gives cultured buttermilk its distinct flavor and texture.

Culinary Applications: Cultured buttermilk is a versatile ingredient used in both sweet and savory recipes. It is an excellent choice for marinades, salad dressings, creamy dips, and soups. Cultured buttermilk also works well in baking, providing moisture, tenderness, and a subtle tang to various baked goods.

Why Make Buttermilk at Home?

While it may be convenient to purchase buttermilk from the store, there are several compelling reasons why making buttermilk at home can be a rewarding and flavorful experience. Let’s explore the benefits of creating your own homemade buttermilk:

  1. Freshness and Control over Ingredients: By making buttermilk at home, you have full control over the ingredients used. You can choose high-quality milk and customize the flavor to your liking. This allows you to create a fresher and more natural product, free from any additives or preservatives commonly found in store-bought options.
  2. Cost-Effective: Making buttermilk at home is a cost-effective alternative to purchasing it from the store. The ingredients required, such as milk and an acidic agent, are often readily available in your kitchen. This allows you to save money while still enjoying the tangy goodness of buttermilk.
  3. Tailored Flavor Profiles: When making buttermilk at home, you can experiment with different acidic agents, such as vinegar, lemon juice, or yogurt, to achieve your desired flavor profile. Each option will lend its own subtle nuances to the buttermilk, allowing you to personalize it according to your taste preferences and specific recipes.
  4. Culinary Versatility: Homemade buttermilk opens up a world of culinary possibilities. Its tangy flavor and creamy consistency make it a versatile ingredient in both sweet and savory dishes. Whether you’re making tender pancakes, flaky biscuits, tangy dressings, or marinated meats, buttermilk adds a delightful depth of flavor and moistness to your creations.
  5. Learning and Kitchen Skills: Making buttermilk from scratch provides an opportunity to develop your cooking skills and expand your culinary knowledge. You can learn about the science behind fermentation, the role of acidic agents, and how to manipulate flavors and textures. It’s a chance to connect with your food, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation for the cooking process.
  6. Sense of Satisfaction: There’s a unique sense of satisfaction that comes with creating something homemade. Making buttermilk at home allows you to take part in the traditional culinary practices that have been passed down through generations. The process of transforming simple ingredients into a tangy and versatile ingredient can be immensely gratifying.

By making buttermilk at home, you not only have the opportunity to elevate your cooking and baking endeavors but also gain a deeper connection to the food you prepare. So, grab your ingredients, embark on a flavorful journey, and experience the joys of crafting your own homemade buttermilk.

Tools and Ingredients Needed

Before we begin the process of making buttermilk, let’s gather the necessary tools and ingredients. Here’s what you’ll need:


  1. Measuring cups and spoons
  2. A clean glass or bowl for mixing


  1. Fresh milk (whole milk or 2% milk) – 1 cup
  2. Acidic ingredient options:
    • White vinegar – 1 tablespoon
    • Lemon juice – 1 tablespoon
    • Plain yogurt – 1 tablespoon

Important Note:

When selecting the acidic ingredient, choose one that you prefer or have readily available. Each option will yield slightly different flavor profiles, but all will effectively transform the milk into buttermilk.

Ensure that the milk is fresh and has not expired. Using fresh ingredients will result in a better-tasting buttermilk. You can choose between whole milk or 2% milk, depending on your preference for richness.

Method 1: Homemade Buttermilk using Milk and Vinegar

Now that we have everything ready, let’s proceed with the first method of making homemade buttermilk using milk and vinegar. Follow these steps:

  1. Pour the fresh milk into a clean glass or bowl.
  2. Add the vinegar to the milk and stir gently.
  3. Allow the mixture to sit undisturbed for about 10 minutes. You will notice the milk thickening slightly and curdling, which is exactly what we want.
  4. After 10 minutes, your homemade buttermilk is ready to be used in various recipes or enjoyed as a refreshing drink.

Important Note:

The acid in the vinegar will react with the proteins in the milk, causing it to curdle and thicken. This mimics the tangy and creamy properties of traditional buttermilk. The ratio of 1 tablespoon of vinegar to 1 cup of milk is a commonly used measurement, but you can adjust it slightly based on your desired level of tanginess.

You may also use other acidic ingredients such as lemon juice or plain yogurt instead of vinegar, following the same proportions. Each acidic ingredient will contribute its own subtle flavor notes to the buttermilk.

It’s important to note that the buttermilk you make using this method may not have the exact same flavor profile as traditional buttermilk or cultured buttermilk. However, it will still serve as a suitable substitute in recipes and provide the desired tanginess and creaminess.

Method 2: Homemade Buttermilk using Yogurt

In this method, we will create homemade buttermilk using yogurt as the acidic ingredient. Follow these simple steps:

  1. Take a clean glass or bowl.
  2. Measure 1 cup of fresh milk and pour it into the glass or bowl.
  3. Add 1 tablespoon of plain yogurt to the milk.
  4. Stir the mixture gently until the yogurt is well incorporated into the milk.
  5. Let the mixture sit undisturbed for about 5 to 10 minutes at room temperature. This allows the acid from the yogurt to ferment the milk, transforming it into buttermilk.
  6. After the designated time, your homemade buttermilk is ready to be used in your favorite recipes.

Important Note:

Using yogurt as the acidic ingredient in this method provides a similar tanginess to traditional buttermilk. The live cultures present in the yogurt work to ferment the milk, resulting in a thickened and tangy buttermilk substitute.

Make sure to use plain yogurt without any added flavors or sweeteners. The live cultures in plain yogurt are what contribute to the fermentation process.

You can adjust the amount of yogurt based on your desired level of tanginess. Adding a little more yogurt may intensify the tangy flavor, while using slightly less yogurt will result in a milder taste.

Troubleshooting Tips for Making Buttermilk

While making buttermilk at home is a relatively straightforward process, occasionally, you may encounter some challenges along the way. Don’t worry! Here are some troubleshooting tips to help you overcome common issues and ensure a successful batch of homemade buttermilk:

  1. Milk not thickening: If your milk doesn’t thicken after adding the acidic ingredient, let it sit for a bit longer. The curdling process may take slightly more time, especially in cooler environments. Give it an extra 5-10 minutes and check for any signs of thickening.
  2. Unpleasant odor: If you notice an unpleasant or off-putting odor in your homemade buttermilk, it’s likely that the milk used was not fresh or had already started to spoil. Ensure that you use fresh, high-quality milk that is within its expiration date.
  3. Undesired flavor: If the flavor of your homemade buttermilk is not to your liking, consider adjusting the amount of acidic ingredient used. Adding more or less vinegar, lemon juice, or yogurt can affect the tanginess and taste. Experiment with different proportions until you achieve the desired flavor.
  4. Consistency too thin or too thick: If your homemade buttermilk is too thin, you can try adding a bit more acidic ingredient and allowing it to sit for a little longer. On the other hand, if it becomes too thick, you can dilute it with a small amount of fresh milk until you reach the desired consistency.
  5. Unpleasant texture: Sometimes, homemade buttermilk may develop a slightly grainy or curdled texture. This can occur due to variations in the milk or the specific acidic ingredient used. To improve the texture, you can strain the buttermilk through a fine-mesh sieve or cheesecloth to remove any solids before using it in recipes.

Remember, slight variations may occur when making homemade buttermilk, but these troubleshooting tips should help you overcome any issues you may encounter. With practice, you will develop a better understanding of the process and be able to fine-tune your homemade buttermilk to suit your preferences.

Buttermilk Substitutes in Recipes

If you find yourself in a situation where you don’t have buttermilk on hand for a recipe, don’t worry! There are several easy and effective substitutes you can use to achieve similar results. Here are some common buttermilk substitutes:

  1. Milk and Lemon Juice/Vinegar: For each cup of buttermilk required, you can mix 1 cup of milk with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar. Let the mixture sit for about 5-10 minutes to allow the acid to sour the milk. The resulting mixture will have a similar tanginess and can be used as a suitable substitute in most recipes.
  2. Yogurt: Plain yogurt can be used as a direct substitute for buttermilk in a 1:1 ratio. Simply use 1 cup of yogurt for every cup of buttermilk called for in the recipe. The yogurt adds tanginess and moisture, making it an excellent alternative.
  3. Sour Cream: If you have sour cream on hand, you can use it as a substitute for buttermilk. Mix 3/4 cup of sour cream with 1/4 cup of water to achieve a buttermilk-like consistency. This substitute works well in recipes that benefit from a slightly thicker texture and a rich tangy flavor.
  4. Milk and Cream of Tartar: To replace buttermilk with milk and cream of tartar, mix 1 cup of milk with 1 3/4 teaspoons of cream of tartar. Stir until the cream of tartar dissolves completely. This mixture will mimic the acidity of buttermilk and can be used in recipes with favorable results.
  5. Kefir: Kefir, a fermented dairy product similar to yogurt, can also serve as a buttermilk substitute. It has a tangy flavor and a consistency comparable to buttermilk. Use an equal amount of kefir as the amount of buttermilk required in the recipe.

When using these substitutes, keep in mind that the taste and texture may vary slightly from using actual buttermilk. However, they will still provide a similar tanginess and moisture content, resulting in delicious culinary creations.

Delicious Recipes Using Buttermilk

Buttermilk is a versatile ingredient that adds a tangy flavor and moistness to a wide range of dishes. Let’s explore some delicious recipes where buttermilk shines as a star ingredient:

1. Fluffy Buttermilk Pancakes:

Start your day with a stack of fluffy and tender buttermilk pancakes. The buttermilk adds a tangy note and creates a light and airy texture. Serve them with your favorite toppings such as fresh berries, maple syrup, or whipped cream.

2. Classic Buttermilk Fried Chicken:

Buttermilk is a secret ingredient for the juiciest and most flavorful fried chicken. Soak the chicken pieces in a mixture of buttermilk, herbs, and spices before coating them in a crispy breading. The result is irresistibly crispy and tender fried chicken with a hint of tanginess.

3. Buttermilk Biscuits:

Enjoy warm and flaky buttermilk biscuits straight from the oven. The tangy buttermilk helps create a tender and light texture in the biscuits. Serve them with butter, jam, or use them as a base for savory breakfast sandwiches.

4. Creamy Buttermilk Ranch Dressing:

Whip up a homemade buttermilk ranch dressing to elevate your salads, sandwiches, and vegetable dips. The creamy buttermilk combined with herbs, garlic, and spices creates a flavorful dressing with a tangy kick. Drizzle it over fresh greens or use it as a dip for crispy vegetables.

5. Moist Red Velvet Cupcakes:

Indulge in decadent red velvet cupcakes with a moist and velvety crumb. Buttermilk plays a crucial role in adding moisture and enhancing the flavor of these vibrant treats. Top them off with cream cheese frosting for the perfect sweet indulgence.

6. Tender Buttermilk-Marinated Chicken:

Marinate chicken pieces in buttermilk along with herbs and spices to create juicy and tender chicken with a flavorful crust. Whether you’re grilling, baking, or pan-frying, the buttermilk marinade ensures a delicious and moist result every time.

These are just a few examples of the many delectable dishes that can be made with buttermilk. From breakfast classics to savory delights and sweet treats, buttermilk adds a delightful tang and moisture to elevate your recipes to new heights.


In conclusion, we’ve embarked on a flavorful journey to learn how to make buttermilk at home. We began by understanding what buttermilk is, both in its traditional form as the byproduct of churning butter and in its cultured form made by introducing specific bacteria to milk. We explored the science behind buttermilk, including fermentation and the role of lactic acid bacteria.

We discovered the benefits of making buttermilk at home, such as having control over the ingredients, saving costs, and tailoring the flavor to our preferences. We also explored two methods of making homemade buttermilk: one using milk and vinegar, and the other using yogurt. Both methods yielded tangy and creamy buttermilk substitutes that can be used in a variety of recipes.

We discussed troubleshooting tips to overcome common issues that may arise during the buttermilk-making process. Additionally, we explored alternative buttermilk substitutes, such as milk with lemon juice or vinegar, yogurt, sour cream, and more, ensuring that you can still achieve excellent results even without traditional buttermilk on hand.

Lastly, we delved into some mouthwatering recipes where buttermilk shines, including fluffy pancakes, crispy fried chicken, tender biscuits, creamy dressings, and indulgent desserts.

By making buttermilk at home, you not only gain a deeper understanding of the process but also open yourself up to a world of culinary possibilities. The tangy and creamy nature of buttermilk adds a delightful twist to a wide range of dishes, enhancing their flavor and moisture.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How can I make my own buttermilk?
A: You can make your own buttermilk by adding an acidic ingredient like vinegar or lemon juice to regular milk. For each cup of buttermilk needed, add 1 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup of milk. Let it sit for about 5-10 minutes until it thickens slightly and curdles.

Q: How do you make buttermilk if you don’t have any?
A: If you don’t have buttermilk on hand, you can make a substitute by mixing 1 cup of milk with 1 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice. Let it sit for a few minutes to curdle and thicken. This homemade buttermilk substitute can be used in recipes as a replacement.

Q: What is original buttermilk made of?
A: Traditional buttermilk is made from the liquid leftover after churning butter from cream. It is a byproduct of the butter-making process and has a tangy flavor due to natural fermentation.

Q: How is buttermilk different than milk?
A: Buttermilk differs from regular milk in terms of taste and texture. Buttermilk has a tangy flavor and a slightly thicker consistency compared to milk. It is also fermented, which gives it unique properties and makes it versatile in cooking and baking.

Q: Is it OK to substitute milk for buttermilk?
A: Yes, you can substitute milk for buttermilk in some recipes. However, keep in mind that buttermilk adds tanginess and moisture to dishes. To substitute, use an equal amount of milk and add 1 tablespoon of acidic ingredient (vinegar or lemon juice) per cup of milk. Let it sit for a few minutes to curdle before using.

Q: How do I substitute 1 cup of buttermilk?
A: To substitute 1 cup of buttermilk, you can mix 1 cup of milk with 1 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice. Let it sit for a few minutes to curdle and thicken. Alternatively, you can use 1 cup of plain yogurt or 1 cup of sour cream mixed with a little water to achieve a similar effect.

Q: What the heck is buttermilk?
A: Buttermilk is a tangy and creamy fermented dairy product. It can be made traditionally from the liquid left after churning butter or through the introduction of specific bacteria to milk. Buttermilk is used in various culinary applications and adds a unique flavor and texture to recipes.

Q: Is sour milk the same as buttermilk?
A: Sour milk is not the same as buttermilk, although they may share some similarities. Sour milk typically refers to milk that has gone bad or spoiled. On the other hand, buttermilk can be either traditional buttermilk or cultured buttermilk, both of which have undergone intentional fermentation processes.

Learn How to Make Buttermilk at Home