Out Of Buttermilk But Want Pancakes STAT? Here’s What To Use Instead

No buttermilk? No problem.

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Carton of milk on green backhground

It's easy to make your own buttermilk. Photo, iStock.

There’s something about buttermilk’s pleasant tang that perfectly rounds out the flavours in sweet carrot cake muffins and savoury buttermilk-cornbread waffles. Because it delivers extra-delicious results, it’s a shame to leave buttermilk out of your favourite brunch recipe. But since you can’t plan ahead for a pancake craving, here’s how to substitute regular milk for buttermilk.

What is buttermilk?

Buttermilk gets its name from the liquid left over when milk is churned into butter. In the days before refrigeration, the naturally occurring bacteria in milk would ferment, giving buttermilk its characteristic tang. Most commercial buttermilk products today are created by adding bacterial cultures to fresh milk, which thickens it and creates the tart flavour.

Why is buttermilk important in a recipe?

The acid from the buttermilk reacts with baking soda in baked goods such as banana bread and chocolate cake to help them rise. It also produces that signature tang in buttermilk pancakes and biscuits. Plus, the acid works to make pastries more tender, producing ultra-moist muffins and cakes.

How to make a buttermilk substitute

You can recreate commercial buttermilk at home by adding an acid to regular milk (1% or 2%). Just follow this ratio:

  • For every 1 cup of milk, add 1 tbsp of white vinegar or lemon juice, or 1 tsp of cream of tartar.
  • Let the milk and acid sit at room temperature to thicken for about 10 minutes, and bam! You have buttermilk.

Originally published April 2018; updated May 2019.