How to Make Buttermilk

filed under: Food + Drink on April 25, 2019

Knowing how to make buttermilk can be a time saver as well as being more friendly on your pocketbook! You can make the exact amount you need for almost any recipe that calls for buttermilk! I tested out 4 different ways to make homemade buttermilk and can’t wait to share my findings with you! (If you scroll all the way to the bottom you can see where I tested these buttermilk recipes on my mile-high Buttermilk Biscuits!)

How to Make Homemade Buttermilk

How to Make Buttermilk at Home

I have been baking for the last 15+ years and I have to tell you, I sure do feel foolish. I have been told time and time again to make homemade buttermilk you use 1 cup milk and 1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice. And that will replicate store-bought. I got to thinking… does it?

It all started with a simple taste test. I had some store-bought buttermilk on hand and I made up a cup of milk with vinegar and tasted each. What did I find? It tastes nothing like buttermilk nor does it measure up in texture and appearance. So why have I have making it this way for so long?

I set out to replicate store-bought buttermilk with the same standard ingredients. Milk + an acid. I was surprised to find out that 1 tablespoon is not enough. Two tablespoons were so much better! From this day on, if you ever need to make buttermilk at home, try adding 2 tablespoons of the vinegar or lemon juice.

Why Use Buttermilk in Recipes?

Buttermilk brings a pleasant tang to cakes, bread, and biscuits. It helps tenderize gluten, giving baked goods a softer texture and more body. If baked goods have baking soda, then using buttermilk is a good option. Baking soda is a leavening agent that requires acidic ingredients such as buttermilk, lemon juice or molasses to activate it.

The following variations of homemade buttermilk can be used in most recipes that call for buttermilk.

Homemade Buttermilk with Vinegar

Vinegar Homemade Buttermilk Recipe

This is the classic, one that everyone knows. After testing the standard recipe I changed it up a bit:

1 cup room temperature whole milk + 2 tablespoons vinegar

Whisk the ingredients together until incorporated. Let sit for at least 10 minutes, up to 2 hours.

When I added 2 tablespoons versus 1, the consistency changed from thin milk to a thicker, chunkier (or curdled) version. But the most important reason I made the change was for taste. When I tasted the standard milk plus 1 tablespoon vinegar, I could barely detect it was there. When I added TWO tablespoons vinegar, the flavor was much more consistent with tangy store-bought buttermilk.

Simply put, 2 tablespoons of vinegar help to best replicate the thick, creamy, tangy storebought buttermilk.

Lemon Homemade Buttermilk

Lemon Juice Homemade Buttermilk Recipe

Probably the second most popular way to make buttermilk at home is with fresh lemon juice. Same as with the vinegar, I found that 1 tablespoon was not enough in a cup of milk. So, you guessed it, I tested using 2 tablespoons. I also tested using 3 tablespoons and found that it didn’t change the texture too much, but did add a bit of a lemony flavor. If you are making blueberry lemon quick bread or any recipe that would be complemented with a hint of lemon, you can certainly use 3 tablespoons in 1 cup of milk to create lemony homemade buttermilk! But for standard recipes calling for buttermilk, here is the formula.

1 cup room temperature whole milk + 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Whisk the ingredients together until incorporated. Let sit for at least 10 minutes, up to 2 hours.

I didn’t have any storebought lemon juice on hand so did not test its effectiveness. 

Homemade Buttermilk with Sour Cream

Sour Cream Homemade Buttermilk Recipe

This version of homemade buttermilk is not as common, but it sure is good! I know that I am more likely to have sour cream on hand (every Tuesday is Taco Tuesday dontchaknow) then buttermilk, so this option is a good one. To make sour cream buttermilk you need:

1/2 cup room temperature whole milk + 1/2 cup sour cream

Whisk the ingredients together until smooth and creamy. Let sit for at least 10 minutes, up to 2 hours.

When it came to replicate the flavor and texture of store-bought buttermilk, this recipe was the clear winner. It is thick. It is creamy. And it is tangy! I tried adding in an additional tablespoon of vinegar and liked that version even better, but my tastes testers thought it was just a bit too much. If you like extra tang, you might want to try adding the additional vinegar too!

Homemade Buttermilk with Cream of Tartar

Cream of Tartar Buttermilk Recipe

This version of homemade buttermilk was not as familiar to me, and I didn’t have high hopes for it as I started testing. The recipe is simple:

1 cup room temperature whole milk + 2 teaspoons cream of tartar

Whisk the ingredients together until incorporated. Let sit for at least 10 minutes, up to 2 hours.

When you whisk the cream of tartar into the milk it disintegrates quickly leaving you with homemade buttermilk the texture of… milk. After letting this version sit for about 15 minutes, I poured it into a different container and found that the cream of tartar had almost solidified at the bottom of the jar. Make sure that if you use this version to WHISK WELL immediately before use.

Room Temperature Buttermilk

Does the milk temperature matter?

In all the research I did no one mentions whether or not using warm milk or cold milk makes a difference. So I wanted to know, does it?

Homemade Buttermilk

I did a simple test. In one bowl I added 2 tablespoons of vinegar to milk that I had heated in the microwave for 20 seconds. This version was instantly different; curdling and creating a thicker texture.

Homemade Buttermilk Temperature Testing

In the second bowl, I added 2 tablespoons of vinegar to cold milk. The vinegar didn’t seem to have the same effect on texture or thickness.

Conclusion: The warm milk version seemed to accept the acidity of the vinegar better, which makes perfect sense! We adhere to that rule (room temp ingredients) all the time in baking, why not apply it to our homemade buttermilk?

BUT MY TESTING WASN’T DONE THERE!

After doing all of this I wanted to know, does it make a difference in the final product? So, I whipped up a batch of my Buttermilk Biscuits. Well, four batches.

Testing 4 Versions of Homemade Buttermilk in Biscuits

Here is what we discovered:

  • Sour Cream – these biscuits were great, were as tall as they should be, and soft. This was my favorite version of homemade buttermilk as I love buttermilk biscuits to have a golden crust on top and be delicate and sweet inside.
  • Cream of Tartar– this was a surprise, but it really shouldn’t have been! The biscuits were more of a cakey texture. Still tall and delicious, but not as distinguishable in the individual flakey layers. This makes perfect sense! We add cream of tartar to baked goods all the time as it helps cookies and cakes rise as well as produces carbon-dioxide gas bubbles that break gluten apart and make it soft. If you want a biscuit that will melt in your mouth, this is the version to try.
  • Lemon Juice– these biscuits tasted great, were as tall as they should be, and had flakey layers. We saw no difference between these biscuits and the vinegar buttermilk biscuits.
  • Vinegar – these biscuits tasted great, were as tall as they should be, and had flakey layers. We saw no difference between these biscuits and the lemon juice buttermilk biscuits.

Homemade Buttermilk test with Buttermilk Biscuits

In this picture, the order from left to right: sour cream, cream of tartar, lemon juice (I made 5 instead of 6, so it was bigger), and vinegar-based biscuits.

4.67 from 3 votes
homemade buttermilk
Homemade Buttermilk
Prep Time
5 mins
resting time
10 mins
 

Four options for how to replicate buttermilk at home!

Course: Breakfast
Cuisine: American
Keyword: how to make buttermilk
Servings: 4 servings
Author: Amanda Rettke
Ingredients
Vinegar Buttermilk
  • 1 cup room temperature whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar
Lemon Juice Buttermilk
  • 1 cup room temperature whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Sour Cream Buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup room temperature milk
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
Cream of Tartar Buttermilk
  • 1 cup room temperature whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
Instructions
Vinegar Buttermilk
  1. Whisk the ingredients together until incorporated. Let sit for at least 10 minutes, up to 2 hours.
Lemon Juice Buttermilk
  1. Whisk the ingredients together until incorporated. Let sit for at least 10 minutes, up to 2 hours.
Sour Cream Buttermilk
  1. Whisk the ingredients together until smooth and creamy. Let sit for at least 10 minutes, up to 2 hours.
Cream of Tartar Buttermilk
  1. Whisk the ingredients together until incorporated. Let sit for at least 10 minutes, up to 2 hours.

Recipe Video

Final conclusion?

All four recipes for homemade buttermilk work! Just be sure you try adding TWO tablespoons next time you make the vinegar or lemon juice version. 🙂

And while they all seem to work beautifully, they do seem to produce different results. But not enough that anyone would notice! We were scrutinizing every detail and that’s how we came to our conclusions, but if you were serving any of these to friends and family they would only have one reaction… “that’s a great biscuit!”

Looking for recipes to use Homemade Buttermilk in?

Buttermilk Biscuits

Buttermilk Banana Bread

Ranch Dressing Recipe

Chocolate Bundt Cake with Cream Cheese Filling

Rocky Road Sheet Cake

Buttermilk Scrambled Eggs

Buttermilk Pancakes

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Comments

  • Regina says:

    Thank you for the information, I find it very helpful because I never keep buttermilk on hand .

    • Amanda Rettke says:

      So happy it’s helpful! 🙂

  • Debbie Carlson says:

    Thank you so much for all this information on buttermilk substitutes! You don’t know how many quarts I’ve ended up throwing out because I never used them before expiration. In fact I have one in the fridge now that just expired yesterday. Such a waste! The recipe I have for making buttermilk uses 1 Tbsp. of vinegar/lemon. I wonder if there’s a big difference between your 2 tbsp. vs. the 1 Tbsp.? In any case, I shall keep your results for the next time I need buttermilk. One question though, is there ever a time when the real thing should be used instead of these substitute versions?

    • Amanda Rettke says:

      I think that 1 tablespoon will be ok… stick with what you like! 🙂 I can’t think of an example where the real buttermilk is essential, except maybe for cakes. Cakes are delicate in structure and the measurements need to be exact so…

  • Charlotte Moore says:

    tried to find the rocky road cake but every time I clicked the link the bundt cake came up.

  • Cheri says:

    Wondering if plain yogurt instead of sour cream would work?

  • Jadaa Lewis says:

    You are amazing, I love using buttermilk. Thank you for sharing the research, very informative and helpful. Very good layout from beginning to End.
    Thank you,
    Jadaa

  • Joanne Palmer says:

    I dearly love your recipes . Can you give me the orange juice cake again . You are greeeeeaat

  • Bettina Halpern says:

    I usually purchase the carton of powdered buttermilk, found in the baking section of the market. I was wondering if you have ever made a comparison using this product? As I was reading your results, I realized that I never really noticed that distinct “buttermilk” flavor when using the powder and you now have me wondering whether the powder does buttermilk justice.

  • Sharon says:

    Thanks for sharing. This is very useful

  • Rosa Maria says:

    Very helpful and interesting.
    Thanks a lot!

  • Teresa says:

    Thank you so much for this information. This is very informative. I appreciate all your research and will definitely keep this on hand.

  • Jeanne says:

    Wondering if you add vinegar or lemon juice to your sour cream and whole milk recipe. You don’t specifically state to add lemon juice or vinegar. You do talk about adding more vinegar but don’t say how much. You said this was the clear winner – so am I to understand that you add 2 TBSP vinegar or lemon juice ?

  • Sandy Fowler says:

    Could u use ricotta cheese to make buttermilk instead of sour cream?

  • Diane Teske says:

    YAY! Thank you. I am baking tonight and DON’T HAVE BUTTERMILK! But I can MAKE SOME! <3

  • Susanna says:

    Could it work with lactose free whole milk?

    • Amanda Rettke says:

      It could! I haven’t tested it specifically, but I don’t see why not. 🙂

  • Rachel Hodum says:

    Thank you so very much! I have used 1 cup milk + 1 T. Vinegar for years. Kind of embarrassed I never questioned or even tasted it! I guess I a!ways have vinegar on hand since a bottle lasts forever (except at E aster).

  • Shelly says:

    I have a tried and true method I have used for years. I have a large family, love thick buttermilk, and use lots of it. I use whole milk and have used 2 percent. Remove 4 cups milk, add 4 cups store bought high quality buttermilk, shake, leave cap off and leave out on counter overnight. You have yourself one gallon of buttermilk, and you can use your “homemade” buttermilk over and over for future batches, and your gallon of buttermilk is the cost of a gallon of milk.

    • Amanda Rettke says:

      So smart!

  • Nana says:

    Interesting . Thanks for doing all the “lab work”

  • judy davis says:

    can you use 2% instead of whole milk

    • Amanda Rettke says:

      You could! I prefer the fat content of whole milk, but 2% will work.

  • Sherry says:

    Can I also apply it to the chocolate moist cake? I was using only 1Tbsp of vinegar. So can I make it 2T?

    • Amanda Rettke says:

      Sure, I think it would enhance it. 🙂

  • Kat says:

    I thought this was actually going to be a recipe for homemade buttermilk. It’s really not buttermilk, it’s buttermilk substitute.
    However, it’s great to know that I wasn’t crazy when I always had to add extra vinegar, because ONE tablespoon just didn’t cut it, and why!
    Thank you 💕

  • Neva Kitts says:

    Just wondering if 2% milk works as well as whole milk when making buttermilk.

    • Amanda Rettke says:

      You could! I prefer the fat content of whole milk, but 2% will work.

  • Carol Key Narsis says:

    Why don’t you have a show on The Food Network?

    You are SO GOOD and your recipes look and tadte wonderful!

    • Amanda Rettke says:

      Thank you! <3 I'm too fat for the Food Network. Too much taste testing! hahahaha

  • Robin says:

    Hi Amanda. I wanted to chime in here regarding the buttermilk dilemma. I always bought the Hood variety where I live. Well known etc. One day I noticed another brand named Kate’s Buttermilk. It’s description caught my eye so I bought it. I make a mean homemade red velvet cake a couple times a year. It’s delicious. Anywho, it was over the top yummish using the Kate’s Buttermilk. Like WOW. Huge difference! So I am totally sold on Kate’s. When I subbed in the vinegar method it was no where near as good. The texture of the cake wasn’t even close. I guess I’d consider the sour cream version if I got caught in a pinch. That version sounds the thickest. Seeing is believing. Well…tasting is believing too lol. Thanks for all those options. And trial and errors!! Ps. Your banana cake and your chocolate cakes are thee best homemade cakes everrrrr! I’ve even made the banana cake with cream cheese frosting for my sister-in-law’s wedding. At her request! And showers and…. hahaha Thank you for so many great recipes.

  • Carla says:

    I have used yogurt instead of sour cream, it seems to work well also, you?

  • Barbara Dittrich says:

    i typically do not have whole milk on hand. I use 2%. Could I add half & half (which I use for my coffee each morning) to the 2% milk? Thanks for all your research,

    • Amanda Rettke says:

      You could! I prefer the fat content of whole milk, but 2% will work.