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What Is Buttermilk?
Buttermilk is a fermented dairy drink. Traditional buttermilk was the liquid leftover after churning butter out of cream. Modern buttermilk is cultured and has been pasteurized and homogenized. It’s commonly drunk in warm climates instead of fresh milk, which can sour more quickly when left unrefrigerated.
Buttermilk can be drunk straight or used in cooking and baking recipes. It’s a popular marinade for chicken and pork, as its lactic acid helps tenderize meat. When the acidity is combined with baking soda or baking powder, it releases tiny bubbles that add a lightness to biscuits, breads, and baked goods.
What’s the Difference Between Buttermilk and Milk?
Though they look similar, buttermilk and regular milk are not the same. If a recipe calls for buttermilk, you cannot substitute regular milk 1:1 because they have a few key differences, including:
- Acidity: Unlike regular milk, buttermilk is naturally acidic. It reacts with leavening agents in recipes such as baking soda and baking powder to produce lighter, fluffier textures and consistencies.
- Thickness: Buttermilk is thicker than regular milk. The bacteria in buttermilk produces lactic acid, which decreases the pH and causes curdling.
- Nutrition: Buttermilk is traditionally made low fat. One cup of buttermilk contains 99 calories and 2.2 grams of fat, while one cup of whole milk contains 157 calories and 8.9 grams of fat.
6 Ways Substitute Buttermilk
If you don’t have buttermilk in the refrigerator, you can make a buttermilk substitute with 2% milk or whole milk (or almond milk or soy milk for a non-dairy buttermilk substitute) and just a few simple, inexpensive ingredients. Try these substitutions in all of your favorite recipes, from buttermilk biscuits to chocolate cake:
- Mix 1 scant cup milk with 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Let it sit until it curdles, about five minutes.
- Mix 1 scant cup milk with 1 tablespoon white vinegar. Let it sit until it curdles, about five minutes.
- Mix 1 scant cup milk with ½ tablespoon cream of tartar. Let it sit until it curdles, about five minutes.
- Whisk ¾ cup plain yogurt with ¼ cup milk. Let it sit until it curdles, about five minutes.
- Mix ⅔ cup milk with ⅓ cup sour cream. Let it sit until it curdles, about five minutes.
- Mix buttermilk powder, which you can buy at the grocery store, with water or milk according to the ratio recommended on the packaging.
All of these homemade buttermilk substitutes will last for up to a week in a sealed container, refrigerated. However, the convenience of buttermilk substitute is that you can make exactly the amount you need for a certain recipe. Some home chefs and bakers prefer to make their own substitute buttermilk instead of buying buttermilk at the grocery store because you can make it as needed without any excess.
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