How to Make Buttermilk at Home

It's almost too easy.

glass measuring cup of buttermilk
Photo: Sara Haas

It's bound to happen — you're knee-deep in that buttermilk pancake recipe when all of a sudden fear and dread stop you in your tracks. In your excitement for that fluffy stack, you somehow forgot that you don't have buttermilk (even though the word is right there in the recipe title). Is all hope lost? Of course not! You can absolutely make a "home" version that is a suitable solution for moments just like these. Here's what you need to know.

What Is Buttermilk?

Perhaps you've purchased buttermilk for a recipe, but never gave much thought to exactly what it is. Interestingly, the way today's store-bought varieties are made isn't that different from how buttermilk was traditionally created.

Historically, people churned their own butter (a fun task which you should try sometime if you're bored). The byproduct of that process was a liquid that was high in protein and low in fat. The liquid was left out, oftentimes overnight, to ferment. This gave the naturally present lactic acid enough time to work on the milk sugars to transform them into that delightful tangy flavor we associate with buttermilk.

buttermilk ingredients on plate
Sara Haas

Thanks to modern technology and food safety regulations, buttermilk is now made by the manual introduction of live, active cultures to pasteurized milk. This creates a similar environment, but is safer than the traditional method of leaving your butter by-product out on the counter and hoping for the best.

Why Use Buttermilk versus Regular Milk?

Unlike milk, which has a relatively sweet, nondescript flavor profile, buttermilk is bold and bursting with acidity. That feature makes it a fantastic way to add pop and tang to recipes. For baking, it helps soften and leaven cakes and biscuits. For marinades, it adds flavor and tenderizes meats. For dressings and sauces, it's add the perfect pop of bright flavor! Because nothing compares to that tart vibe you get when using buttermilk to make classic buttermilk ranch dressing.

Can You Actually Make Buttermilk at Home?

Of course you can! Will it be the same as the store-bought version? Not exactly, because you won't be using any live, active cultures. But if you're in a pinch, our simple method below, can be a great solution. For our (uncultured) buttermilk, you'll need any variety of plain dairy milk and an acid. We like the neutral flavor of white or distilled vinegar, but any light-colored vinegar will work and so will citrus such as lemon juice or lime juice.

From there it's simple, add 1 tablespoon acid to a 1-cup measuring cup, then add milk until it reaches the "1-cup" line on the cup. Give it a stir and let it sit for at least 5 minutes and up to 10 minutes.

How to Make Buttermilk

Step 1:

Measure out 1 tablespoon acid of your choice (lemon juice or distilled vinegar work well) and grab the dairy-based milk of your choice.

vinegar and milk assembled on plate to make buttermilk
Sara Haas

Step 2:

Pour the acid into a measuring cup and add the milk until it reaches the "1-cup" mark.

milk poured into measuring cup
Sara Haas

Step 3:

Give everything a stir and let the mixture sit for 5 to 10 minutes.

buttermilk in measuring cup
Sara Haas

Step 4:

Use in your favorite recipes that call for buttermilk.

one cup of measured buttermilk
Sara Haas

How to Use Buttermilk

Now that you're an expert in buttermilk, it's time to put it to use in your recipes. As we mentioned, buttermilk acts as both a way to soften and leaven baked goods. That's why it's a favorite for fluffy pancakes, biscuits, and pound cake.

low angle looking at a stack of buttermilk pancakes topped with melty butter and syrup
dotdash meredith food studios

If you're looking for a salad dressing, try this Homemade Ranch Dressing or Blue Cheese Dressing. And don't forget the chicken! Buttermilk is the perfect tenderizer and flavor booster for recipes like Air Fryer Fried Chicken and Instant Pot Chicken and Dumplings. And if you have any extra, pour into ice cube trays and freeze for later use!

More Inspiration

Was this page helpful?
You’ll Also Love