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Everything you need to know about cooking and baking with buttermilk including how to make your own buttermilk substitute at home. 

Buttermilk substitute in a measuring cup

What is buttermilk?

Traditionally, buttermilk is the liquid leftover after churning butter. What is sold in most grocery stores is cultured buttermilk which is made by adding lactic acid bacteria to regular milk. Buttermilk has a sour taste and can be drank straight or used in cooking and baking.

Can I substitute milk for buttermilk?

Buttermilk reacts with rising agents, like baking soda and baking powder, to form carbon dioxide and act as a leavening agent. If you have a recipe that calls for both buttermilk and a rising agent, you shouldn’t substitute regular milk. You can either purchase buttermilk, or make your own buttermilk substitute at home.

Where to Buy Buttermilk

Buttermilk is usually sold in the refrigerated portion of your grocery store, near other milk products like sour cream and heavy cream. It is usually sold in small cartons or bottles.

How to Use Powdered Buttermilk

Powdered buttermilk or buttermilk powder is a shelf stable powder that makes buttermilk when combined with liquid. To use it in a recipe, simply combine the powder with either milk or water by stirring. The general ratio for buttermilk powders is 1 part buttermilk powder to 1 part liquid.

How to Make Buttermilk

You can make traditional buttermilk by making your own butter at home. To make your own butter you will need heavy cream. You can follow THESE instructions to make butter in a mason jar. If you need a quick and easy option, simply place heavy cream into food processor and process until the heavy cream turns into whipped cream. Continue processing until the cream solidifies and butter forms. The remaining liquid is buttermilk.

How to Make a Buttermilk Substitute

OPTION ONE: Buttermilk Substitute with Lemon Juice

Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to regular milk. Let stand 5 minutes.The milk will get thicker and clumpy and is ready to use in any recipe calling for buttermilk.

Rachel squeezes half a lemon into a measuring cup of milk

OPTION TWO: Buttermilk Substitute with White Vinegar

Add 1 tablespoon of white vinegar to regular milk. Let stand 5 minutes.The milk will get thicker and clumpy and is ready to use in any recipe calling for buttermilk. Other vinegar options are not a good replacement for white vinegar.

Rachel adds a tablespoon of white vinegar to a measuring cup of milk

OPTION THREE: Buttermilk Substitute with Cream of Tarter

Add 1 3/4 teaspoon of cream of tarter to regular milk. Stir. Let stand 5 minutes.The milk will get thicker and clumpy and is ready to use in any recipe calling for buttermilk.

Rachel stirs in a tablespoon of cream of tartar into a measuring cup of milk

Having trouble remembering all your options? Here is a great cheat sheet for making your own buttermilk substitute at home.

Buttermilk Substitute Cheat Sheet: Buttermilk Substitute = 1 cup milk + 1 tablespoon lemon juice OR 1 tablespoon white vinegar OR 1 3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Popular recipes on my site that use buttermilk: The Most Amazing Chocolate Cake, Buttermilk Corn Bread Muffins, Cajun Fried Chicken Strips, Easy Skillet Cornbread, Disneyland Style Hand Dipped Corn Dogs.

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February 9, 2019 7:24 pm

Buttermilk powder is a great option. It keeps in your pantry or fridge for a long time so you can always have buttermilk on hand. I think it makes a nicer crumb than milk soured with lemon or vinegar. According to the brand I buy (Saco), it’s 3-4 TBS powder plus one cup of water to make a cup of buttermilk. The directions also recommend not mixing the water and powder together — it comes out lumpy. Yes, I tried it. A better way to use powdered buttermilk in baking is to add the powder to the dry ingredients and… Read more »

May 29, 2019 8:49 pm
Reply to  Denise

5hanks so much Denise, This was very helpful. I also appreciate knowing that I can use Kefir as i always have it, i make my own. Could i use whole milk yogurt mixed with water? Thanks again!
Mary Lou

Andromeda LeTourneau
November 12, 2019 3:04 am
Reply to  Mary Lou Boone

How do you make your own kefir? Would you mind sharing detailed instructions?

December 28, 2020 3:36 am

You would need kefir grains, usually obtained from others making kefir (or store bought grains, but they are less effective, sometimes only usable once for some reason). The grains are lumps of different bacteria and spores that feed of the sugars in the milk, and a side effect is that the milk becomes thick and sour. You can get a lot of info online! The original grains comes from Siberia – other ones are babies from those. As far as I have understood. Good luck!

Mary Lee
May 19, 2020 7:58 am
Reply to  Denise

THANK YOU DENISE!!! I have Bob’s Red Mill buttermilk powder and the only direction given is how to make a quart of buttermilk and I made the quart and it spoiled before I could use it all. It did mix with water with no problem but I like it the way you suggested. Again, Thank you. The powder has been just sitting in my cabinet unused.

Nancie Parraz
September 8, 2020 11:53 am
Reply to  Denise

Thanks for sharing this great info!!

September 12, 2018 7:20 am

I’ve used apple cider vinegar in regular milk as a substitute before. The recipe I followed actually called specifically for that if actual buttermilk wasn’t an option. I was skeptical because it has such a strong smell and flavour but it actually worked very well. And you couldn’t taste it at all.

Elaine Ness
July 17, 2019 6:49 pm

Thanks, Rachel. There is no buttermilk where I live in Ecuador. I knew about lemon juice and vinegar but not the third possibility as a substitute.
I have set the goal to narrow down my recipe collection by selecting just one recipe that is the winner in each category. This looks like the replacement for all chocolate cake recipes I have filed. It feels liberating to declutter in that way.
I appreciate your recipes and clear instructions. Always very generous of you.

January 18, 2020 3:09 pm
Reply to  Elaine Ness

Hi Elaine:
Probably you won’t find it by the name of Buttermilk, but look for Kumis. That is the translation for buttermilk in Spanish.

Justin McNamara
March 28, 2020 8:39 pm
Reply to  Elaine Ness

Use 50% low fat yoghurt and 50% skim milk. I am a chef this is what we use. Is has a similar acidity and consistency

Marla Hill
May 20, 2020 9:08 am
Reply to  Elaine Ness

I, too, live in Ecuador! Super happy to find this, thanks.

April 10, 2021 6:53 am
Reply to  Marla Hill

I also live in Ecuador! Going to try this out.

April 23, 2020 7:31 pm

I would just like to say thank you for including the setup time for substitute buttermilk combinations. There are many recipes with the exact same or similar substitutions but they don’t say how long to wait or if I should refrigerate the combo while I’m waiting or if it’s ok to leave it out in room temperature. Unfortunately, my substitution did not get thick or lumpy. I used whole milk and the lemon juice from the bottle not a fresh and my setup time was 10 minutes. I don’t know which of those failed. But I will be trying again… Read more »

April 28, 2020 1:43 pm
Reply to  2BMzC

You must use fresh lemon not the bottled juice

January 7, 2019 11:29 pm

Can i use cake flour for the chocolate cake?

Claudia Munn
February 27, 2019 9:29 pm

Can I use sour cream instead of the buttermilk?

April 24, 2020 1:03 pm

WHat is a good subtitute for someone who can’t have milk. Can I use coconut milk and lemon juice or vinegar

May 7, 2020 11:37 am
Reply to  kathy

You can use soy or almond milk.

February 28, 2019 4:48 am

Can I use half and half instead of milk for making buttermilk substitute? Thanks!

Mariuca Gaidau
January 30, 2019 12:25 am

hi! some yeas ago i discovered your site. great discover!
since then i have made a few times the amazing chocolate cake which is so great that we( me and hubby) love it more then the sacher torte! im romanian bt i live in north Italy and here they have the tradition with this sacher torte. i tell you tha your cake was much more appreciated in my family then the other one! more delicious!
thank you so much for your effort for this site!
be blessed!
Maria Gaidau

September 17, 2018 12:25 pm


July 9, 2018 7:13 am

Thank you! Love your buttermilk trick! Solved my problems too.

Janice maglente
March 22, 2018 6:04 pm

Is it good if i use fresh milk for buttermilk substitute?

July 3, 2018 12:03 pm

Does this mean fresh milk plus lemon to be a buttermilk substitute?

June 22, 2020 8:12 am

Beautiful, easy to follow instructions

June 4, 2020 11:22 am

This is SO useful thanks. In the UK it is often difficult to get buttermilk so to have all the options available for substitutes at hand is a great idea!

December 9, 2020 8:45 am
Reply to  Linda

Buttermilk is widely available in the majority of supermarkets in the UK; Sainsbury’s, Morrison’s, Tesco, Waitrose, Asda…..

Edna Galaroza
April 29, 2020 10:04 am

Thank you for sharing your ingredients particularly on any substitute ingredient. This is my first time to i bake a cake and I’m not familiar to those ingredients.

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