Transform Milk Into Buttermilk With One Ingredient

Buttermilk is that thick and tangy dairy product that perfects pancakes and makes ranch dressing endlessly dippable. In baking, buttermilk produces a light batter and a tender texture. In uncooked applications, it offers a creamy and slightly tart flavor. But what do you do when you're all out and need some in a pinch?

When considering alternatives for buttermilk, you require something creamy and something sour. Interestingly, you likely already have the single ingredient needed to transform regular milk into buttermilk in your fridge or pantry. You just need some acid, which can take the form of lemon juice or a mild vinegar like distilled white or apple cider. Simply stir about a tablespoon of either into a cup of milk and let the mixture sit for a few minutes. The milk will begin to curdle very slightly. Usually, that's a bad sign, but in this case, it's precisely what you want, because it means your milk has been acidified.

Why can't you just use regular milk?

Milk on its own cannot replace buttermilk because it lacks the same level of acidity. When the acid in buttermilk interacts with baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, it triggers a chemical reaction that generates carbon dioxide bubbles. These bubbles serve as a leavening agent, causing your baked goods to rise.

Baking powder functions as a leavener in a similar way to baking soda, mainly because it contains a significant amount of baking soda. The distinction between the two lies in the fact that baking powder also includes a powdered acid like cream of tartar, eliminating the need for an additional acidic ingredient like buttermilk to activate the leavening process.

If you happen to be following a baking recipe that calls for buttermilk and only includes baking powder (but not baking soda), you might be able to substitute regular milk. The same applies to a recipe that doesn't require rising, such as for a roasted garlic buttermilk dressing. However, if you have some lemon juice or vinegar on hand, it's a good idea to give this hack a try — even if you aren't primarily concerned about the chemical reaction, the tangy flavor is still a desirable addition.

What else can you use to make a substitute for buttermilk?

Using whole milk or cream will provide you with the richest buttermilk substitute, but lower-fat milks, lactose-free milk, or even non-dairy alternatives like soy, oat, almond, or coconut milk will also work. If you don't have lemons or vinegar, you can even use lime juice or that small container of cream of tartar you have lying around.

While you can use this substitute, curds and all, in a one-to-one ratio when baking, the drawback of the acid-plus-milk substitute is that it doesn't have the same viscosity. This means it may not perform as well in terms of texture for salad dressings and wet dredges. However, you do have a few more options to consider in a pinch.

Other cultured dairy products like yogurt, sour cream, or kefir can serve as substitutes for buttermilk when texture is also a consideration. Thin yogurt or sour cream with a bit of water or milk, but kefir's texture may already be similar enough to buttermilk, depending on the brand. You have plenty of alternatives, so there's no reason to leave your pancake cravings unsatisfied ever again.