a photo of three chocolate cupcakes made with different buttermilk substitutes sliced crosswise

The Best Buttermilk Substitutes In Baking

This post summarizes all the best buttermilk substitutes you can use in baking recipes!

Buttermilk is an essential ingredient in baking. Why? It can provide lots of flavor to baked goods like biscuits, cakes, scones, and more, giving these pastries a delicious, tangy flavor.

Unfortunately, many home bakers don’t stock buttermilk regularly. Why? Outside of baking, you don’t really use it for much else! And because it is easily perishable, stocking it regularly can mean that it often goes to waste.

So instead, many savvy home bakers turn to buttermilk substitutes made from more readily available pantry and fridge items:

A Summary Of The Best Fresh Buttermilk Substitutions

  1. Dried Buttermilk Powder (like SACO Cultured Buttermilk Blend, King Arthur Baking Company Dried Buttermilk Powder, or Bob’s Red Mill Buttermilk Sweet Cream Powder)

  2. Milk + Lemon Juice OR Vinegar

  3. Sour Cream OR Plain Yogurt + Water

I’ll discuss the exact ratios for these substitutions, along with their various pros and cons, below. But first, let’s rewind:

What Is Buttermilk?

Traditionally, buttermilk is made from the sour liquid left over after cream has been churned into butter. As a result, it is naturally low-fat dairy product.

However, these days, buttermilk is made by dairy processing plants injecting cultured enzymes into low-fat milk.

The final product of both methods is more acidic than regular milk, giving baked goods a wonderful, tangy flavor.

Why You Need Buttermilk In Some Baking Recipes

In addition to giving your baked goods and desserts a tangy flavor, buttermilk is sometimes essential in some baking recipes. Specifically, baking recipes that exclusively use baking soda as its primary leavener.

Why? Baking soda is a base. That means that it needs to be combined with an acidic ingredient—like buttermilk!—to work as a leavener. Combining baking soda with an acidic ingredient will create bubbles in your batter or dough that then allows it to rise and set during the baking process. Cool, right?

So don’t just replace buttermilk with regular milk. Otherwise, the recipe might not work as intended. Instead, use one of the buttermilk substitutes in this blog post!

Do Buttermilk Substitutes Really Work?

Yes!

I recently did a taste test where I took my favorite chocolate buttermilk cake recipe and made three versions of it: one with real buttermilk, another with a buttermilk substitute made of milk and lemon, and another made with a buttermilk substitute of yogurt and water.

I was surprised to find that neither myself or any of my taste testers could tell the difference between the three cupcakes. All baked the same way, with the same appearances, flavors, and texures!

@hummingbirdhigh in honor of the new season of #gbbo!!! #baking #bakingtiktok #bakingtips ♬ The Great British Bake Off – Tom Howe

How To Make Buttermilk Substitutes

Here’s how to make buttermilk with some more shelf-stable or readily available ingredients in your fridge and pantry:

1. Make buttermilk from powdered buttermilk.

Many companies sell powdered buttermilk, which is similar to powdered milk. In the United States, the most readily available brand is SACO Cultured Buttermilk Blend. You can usually find it in mainstream groceries stores like Safeway, Walmart, and more.

To make buttermilk from powdered buttermilk, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to do so. Usually you need to mix around 4 Tablespoons of powdered buttermilk with 1 cup (8 ounces or 227 grams) water to make 1 cup of buttermilk.

2. Make buttermilk by mixing milk with lemon juice or distilled white vinegar.

To make 1 cup buttermilk with milk and lemon juice OR distilled white vinegar, do the following:

Combine 1 cup (8 ounces or 227 grams) milk—preferably 2%—with 1 Tablespoon lemon juice (preferably freshly squeezed and strained) OR distilled white vinegar. Whisk to combine and let sit for 5 minutes to thicken before using.

Why does this substitute work?

Adding lemon juice or vinegar to milk gives it the same acidity and pH level as buttermilk. Letting it sit for 5 minutes before using in a recipe also allows the milk to thicken to be the same texture as buttermilk.

Can you use whole milk instead of 2% milk?

Yes, absolutely! I recommended 2% milk because real buttermilk is naturally low in fat. But in a pinch, whole milk will work.

Can you use plant-based milk (like almond, coconut, oat, soy, and more) instead?

Yes, vegan buttermilks are typically made with these products. Just note that using a plant-based milk with a strong flavor (like coconut or oat) will leave those flavors in your baked goods, too.

Can you use another kind of vinegar?

Yes, but I don’t recommend it. Other vinegars have flavors that will make your baked goods taste like them, too.

3. Make buttermilk by mixing sour cream or plain yogurt with water.

To make 1 cup buttermilk with sour cream OR plain yogurt with water, do the following:

Combine ½ cup (4 ounces or 113 grams) sour cream OR thick, strained plain yogurt (like Greek yogurt or Skyr) with ½ cup (4 ounces or 113 grams) water and whisk to combine.

If using a thinner, unstrained yogurt, use ⅔ cup (5.35 ounces or 152 grams) yogurt and ⅓ cup (2.65 ounces or 75 grams) water.

Why does this substitute work?

Sour cream and yogurt already have the same acidity and pH levels as buttermilk. However, both ingredients are typically higher in fat with a thicker texture. Diluting these ingredients with water will make them more similar to the lower fat content and thinner texture of buttermilk.

Can you use low or no fat sour cream or yogurt?

Yes, though I recommend using low fat sour cream/yogurt over the no fat versions.

Can you use flavored yogurt?

No, please don’t. Flavored yogurts typically have a lot more added sugar and artificial flavors. These additional sugars and flavors will affect the final texture and taste of your baked good!

photo of buttermilk biscuits on a tray made with different buttermilk substitutes

Can You Make Biscuits Without Buttermilk?

When I posted my video about the best buttermilk substitutes on Instagram and TikTok, several commenters were skeptical. They argued that buttermilk substitutes would be more noticeable in baked goods where it was the prominent ingredient—like biscuits or pancakes. They told me that it would affect both appearance and flavor of those goods.

So I decided to put that to the test. I made three batches of my favorite buttermilk biscuit recipe. The first batch used real buttermilk, the second batch used the milk and lemon substitute, and the last batch used yogurt and water.

@hummingbirdhigh since some of you were not convinced by my chocolate buttermilk cupcakes taste test #baking #bakingtiktok #bakingtips #biscuit ♬ The Great British Bake Off – Tom Howe

When I pulled the batches out of the oven, I was shook. At first glance, I couldn’t tell the difference between the biscuits made with real buttermilk versus the substitutes. All three rose to incredible heights, and baked into a beautiful golden yellow color.

But when I sampled them, the differences started to show. The biscuits made with real buttermilk tasted the best, with a tangy flavor and the most craggy, flaky texture. The biscuits made with yogurt and water were second best. However, they were not quite as tangy and flavorful as the ones made with real buttermilk. They were more tender than the ones with real buttermilk, but less flaky.

Finally, the biscuits made with milk and lemon were the blandest. They missed the tangy flavor of the other two. Their texture, however, was pretty good—these biscuits had slightly more height than others. I think it’s because whole milk is lighter than buttermilk and sour cream.

So do you really need buttermilk for biscuits?

If we’re being honest with ourselves, because the biscuits all look the same, you likely wouldn’t know the difference between the ones made with real buttermilk and the substitutes (unless you had tasted them side by side like I did).

So yes—if you are planning to make biscuits and you happen to have real buttermilk on hand, use it! But otherwise, there’s no need to make an extra trip to the grocery store. The substitutes will do just fine in a pinch.

photo of buttermilk biscuits sliced on a tray made with different buttermilk substitutes

Best Buttermilk Baking Recipes on Hummingbird High

Michelle holding Weeknight Baking cookbook covering her face.

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Weeknight Baking:
Recipes to Fit your Schedule

Over the past several years of running Hummingbird High, I kept a crucial aspect of my life hidden from my readers: I had a full-time, extremely demanding job in the tech world. In my debut cookbook, Weeknight Baking, I finally reveal the secrets to baking delicious desserts on a tight schedule.