How to Substitute Buttermilk in Your Favorite Recipes

Pouring homemade kefir, buttermilk or yogurt


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Buttermilk is a tangy, rich addition to many baked goods and sauces, but it is not always something you have on hand. Meanwhile, some people might need a dairy-free alternative to buttermilk when whipping up pancakes or coffee cake, for instance. 

Luckily, there are several workable alternatives to buttermilk that you can try. Depending on your diet, what you have on hand, and your personal tastes, here are some options for substituting buttermilk in your favorite dishes. 

Health Benefits of Buttermilk

Buttermilk is a cultured product but does not contain live probiotics like yogurt or kefir. However, it still has several nutritional elements. Based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet, 1 cup of whole buttermilk (245g) contains 22% of your daily calcium, 16% of recommended daily vitamin D intake, and 47% of your daily intake of B12, among other vitamins and minerals.

Whole buttermilk contains 152 calories per cup. There’s also a good amount of protein in buttermilk, with about 8 grams per cup for the whole milk variety. Whether you choose low-fat or whole will determine the fat content. Whole milk buttermilk contains 8 grams per cup. 

The vitamin B12 content in buttermilk is an excellent alternative for those who do not eat meat—especially because this nutrient is most plentiful in buttermilk. Vitamin B12 also is vital for a healthy nervous system and red blood cell formation.

Additionally, the calcium, vitamin D, and protein found in buttermilk are beneficial. They are essential parts of a nutritious diet and help build bone and muscle, repair cells, and aid in other bodily processes.

Buttermilk Substitutes

There are dairy and non-dairy alternatives to buttermilk that can replace the liquid in your favorite recipes. Here are some common substitutions for buttermilk if you do not have any on hand, or if your allergies prevent you from consuming buttermilk.

Milk and Acid

Plain milk does not suffice as a one-to-one replacement for buttermilk due to a lack of acid. The acid in buttermilk—and the following buttermilk replacements—work to create a softer result in your baked goods by tenderizing gluten. 

Another function of the acid is to boost the rise of your baked goods, particularly when combined with another leavening agent like baking soda. And, of course, the tangy, zippy flavor of buttermilk is a unique aspect of the ingredient that milk cannot provide unless combined with another acid.

You can combine various kinds of milk with different types of acids to make a very close alternative to buttermilk. For 1 cup of buttermilk, try the following:

  1. Fill a 1- to 2-cup measuring cup with 1 cup of milk of your choice, filling to the top. Milk options include cow or other dairy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, or cashew milk.
  2. Place 1 tablespoon (15ml) of an acid such as white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or lemon juice to the measuring cup.
  3. Let sit for 1 minute.

The nutritional value of your milk-based buttermilk substitute will depend on the milk you choose. Non-dairy milk often lacks some essential nutrients that make dairy milk so valuable, including protein, calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D. Check the nutritional information on the label for more details.

Dairy foods provide approximately 52% to 65% of daily dietary calcium intake for most people and 20% to 28% of daily protein requirements. Dairy foods and the nutrition they provide are particularly vital for bone and muscle health. 

Kefir

Kefir is a fermented beverage made with milk that is naturally tangy and thick, similar to buttermilk. Kefir is highly nutritious and has the benefit of including probiotics, although these may be killed off if you are baking with it due to the high temperatures. 

Use kefir as a cup-for-cup replacement of buttermilk, or if your kefir is very thick, thin it out with a bit of milk or water.

One cup of low-fat, plain kefir contains 104 calories, 9.2 grams of protein, 2.5 grams of fat, and 12 grams of carbohydrates. Kefir is an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, selenium, and several other B vitamins.

Milk and Yogurt or Sour Cream

Yogurt and sour cream impart a similar tangy flavor to baked goods and sauces or dressings. Because yogurt and sour cream are much thicker than buttermilk, you will need to thin them out with a bit of milk. If you are dairy-free or vegan, you can use soy or other plant-based yogurt or sour cream versions.

Try using 3/4 cup of yogurt or sour cream with 1/4 cup of milk. Yogurt contains probiotics that buttermilk does not. Keep in mind that, like kefir, the probiotics will likely die off with high temperatures used in baking.

However, if you use your buttermilk substitute for fresh salad dressings or dips, you will get a probiotics boost from yogurt. The nutritional information for yogurt and sour cream will depend on the type, fat content, and brand you choose. 

Tofu with Acid and Water

Using tofu as a dairy-free option is a decent replacement for buttermilk, especially to make dressings or sauces. Here is how to make 1 cup of tofu-acid buttermilk substitute.

  1. Add 1/4 cup (62 grams) of silken, soft tofu to a blender.
  2. Add 3/4 cup (163 ml) of water.
  3. Add 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of an acid such as vinegar or lemon juice.
  4. Blend until smooth.

Tofu is high in protein and low in calories, fat, and carbohydrates. One hundred grams of silken, soft tofu contains only 55 calories with 5 grams of protein, 3 grams of fat, and 3 grams of carbohydrates.

Silken tofu is low in sodium and cholesterol. It also is a good source of minerals including iron, zinc, potassium, magnesium, and calcium—although it does contain less than dairy products. Tofu also provides some B vitamins.

Milk Only

If you only have milk and no acid or you just want to replace the buttermilk with regular milk in your baking to make things fuss-free, you can adapt your baked goods or pancakes recipe by using plain milk of choice. Here is how.

Increase the baking powder called for by 2 teaspoons and use 1/2 teaspoon less baking soda per 1 cup of buttermilk required in the recipe. Although this substitute will not affect the rise of your baked goods, it also will not impart the classic and desirable tangy flavor of buttermilk.

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  2. National Institutes of Health. Vitamin B12 Fact Sheet for Professionals. Updated: April 6, 2021

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