By Vanessa Greaves
November 09, 2014

Buttermilk is the secret ingredient that makes pancakes light, biscuits fluffy, and adds a subtle tang to everything it touches. Here's how to use it in everyday recipes.

Buttermilk Bottle and Measuring Cup
Photo by Meredith

Buttermilk FAQs

Q: What is buttermilk?
A: Don't let the name fool you; there's no butter in buttermilk. It used to be that traditional or old-fashioned buttermilk was the liquid left behind after cream was churned into butter. But these days, you're more likely to find cultured buttermilk, which is made by adding a special bacteria culture to pasturized nonfat or low-fat milk, causing it to ferment and become thicker than regular milk, with a tart flavor like yogurt. It also comes in shelf-stable powdered form.

Q: How is it used in cooking and baking?
A: Buttermilk makes almost everything better. In baked goods like pancakes, waffles, cakes, and biscuits, its natural acidity works with other leavenings to produce a light and tender finish without adding extra fat. Its thickness and tart taste add body and flavor to salad dressings and dips. And when used as a marinade, buttermilk's enzymes break down and tenderize proteins like chicken, beef, pork, and fish, along with adding that signature tangy flavor.

Q: I'm fresh out of buttermilk. Is there something else I can use?
A: Yes! Check out these 5 easy ways to replicate buttermilk's effect. They use ingredients you probably have on hand.

Watch: All About Buttermilk

Favorite Recipes

All of these top-rated recipes owe their tangy, tender goodness to buttermilk.

Baked Goods

"These maple-glazed beauties took first place in the Allrecipes 'Holy Doughnuts!' contest at the 2015 Iowa State Fair," says Anita. "They're baked, not fried, and totally delicious."

Photo by Allrecipes Magazine

Dressing and Dips

"This delicious recipe turns out slaw just like the famous coleslaw at a popular fried chicken restaurant chain," says STEPHB1.

Restaurant-Style Coleslaw II
Photo by CookinBug


"Fried catfish is a Southern tradition, along with buttermilk hush puppies and buttermilk coleslaw," says Mama Smith. "Try these traditional foods together."

Southern Fried Catfish
Photo by Soup Loving Nicole