Buttermilk is a fermented dairy product that is equal parts tangy, tart, versatile and nutritious. In addition to supplying a good amount of protein, calcium and phosphorus in every serving, some types are also rich in probiotics and low in lactose. Plus, it has also been shown to boost heart health, strengthen the bones and even protect against gum disease.
So what is the difference between milk and buttermilk? And how can this common dairy product impact your health? Here’s what you need to know.
What Is Buttermilk?
Traditional buttermilk is a product made from the liquid that remains after churning butter from fermented cream. Although this form remains common in areas such as Pakistan and India, it is far different in most western countries. In fact, the buttermilk you may spot on the shelves of your local supermarket is made by pasteurizing and homogenizing regular milk, then adding a bacterial culture such as Lactococcus lactis or Lactobacillus bulgaricus.
Cultured buttermilk tends to have a sour, tart taste, which is produced when the strains of bacteria ferment the milk sugars, thickening the milk and causing a decrease in the pH.
It is commonly used in the food industry and in the production of baked goods, pancakes, ice cream and more. It can also be used to tenderize meat, thicken up soups and add fluffiness to recipes like buttermilk biscuits, buttermilk pie and buttermilk pound cake.
Wondering where to buy buttermilk, how to make it at home and how you can start using it in your own kitchen? Let’s take a closer look.
How to Make It
Homemade buttermilk is nutritious, delicious and easy to prepare.
How do you make buttermilk from regular milk?
Making buttermilk is simple and only requires a few ingredients. There are plenty of buttermilk recipe options available for how to make buttermilk from milk, but it typically involves combining milk with an acid, such as vinegar or lemon juice. For each cup of milk, you should use approximately one tablespoon of acid.
Once the acid and milk are combined, allow it to set for about 10 minutes or so. The acid causes the milk to curdle, allowing it to thicken slightly and take on a texture that’s ideal for baking.
There are plenty of other methods to make dairy-free versions as well, which involve using plant-based nut milks like cashew milk, almond milk or coconut milk. These typically use the same ratio of milk to acid, which is about one cup milk to one tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar.
Uses and Health Benefits
1. Highly Nutritious
Buttermilk is a great source of several important nutrients, making it a worthy addition to any healthy diet.
In fact, one cup (about 245 grams) of the cultured, reduced fat version contains approximately:
- 137 calories
- 53 carbohydrates
- 10 grams protein
- 5 grams fat
- 350 milligrams calcium (35 percent DV)
- 0.5 milligrams riboflavin (30 percent DV)
- 201 milligrams phosphorus (20 percent DV)
- 0.9 micrograms vitamin B12 (15 percent DV)
- 441 milligrams potassium (13 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligrams thiamine (8 percent DV)
- 5.6 micrograms selenium (8 percent DV)
- 3.7 milligrams vitamin C (6 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligrams vitamin B6 (4 percent DV)
- 14.7 micrograms folate (4 percent DV)
- 0.6 milligrams zinc (4 percent DV)
- 142 international units vitamin A (3 percent DV)
In particular, it is high in protein along with micronutrients like calcium, riboflavin, vitamin B12, phosphorus and potassium. Certain buttermilk brands that have been fortified may also contain vitamin D, a nutrient that many of us lack. Vitamin D plays a central role in overall health.
2. Helps Prevent Gum Disease
Promising research shows that buttermilk can help improve oral health and protect against gum disease. In fact, studies show that fermented dairy products possess powerful anti-inflammatory properties and can reduce levels of certain inflammatory markers tied to gum disease. One study published in Journal of Periodontology also found that eating more dairy products was linked to a lower risk of gum disease. According to the study, the prevalence of gum disease was 41 percent lower in those who consumed the highest amount of dairy compared to those who consumed the lowest.
3. Supports Heart Health
Some studies have found that adding buttermilk to your daily diet can boost heart health and may even help reduce the risk of heart disease. A 2013 study out of Quebec actually found that drinking 45 grams — which is about 1/5 cup — each day decreased levels of bad LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, both of which are major risk factors for heart disease. Another study in the journal Nutrition showed that short-term consumption was able to reduce systolic blood pressure, another key risk factor for heart disease.
4. Strengthens Bones
Loaded with calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D, it should come as no surprise that buttermilk is a great addition to a bone-building diet. About 99 percent of the body’s calcium is found in the bones and teeth, where it plays a central role in bone growth and development. Meanwhile, vitamin D is involved in maximizing calcium absorption, supporting skeletal integrity and maintaining adequate calcium stores in the body. Phosphorus, on the other hand, is important for bone mineralization, a process in which minerals are incorporated into the bone matrix.
5. Low in Lactose
Lactose intolerance is a common condition that impairs the body’s ability to digest lactose, the main type of sugar found in milk. Symptoms of lactose intolerance typically include digestive issues like stomach cramps, bloating, gas and diarrhea.
Compared to other dairy products like milk or cheese, buttermilk is typically lower in lactose. This means it can be more easily digested by those with lactose intolerance. However, some may still be sensitive to it. Therefore, it’s best to start with a small amount and see how your body reacts to assess your tolerance.
6. May Contain Probiotics
Some types of buttermilk may contain probiotics, which are a type of beneficial bacteria found in the gut. Research shows that probiotics can be beneficial for immune function, heart health, cancer prevention and digestion, along with a slew of other health conditions as well. However, not necessarily all types contain probiotics. Be sure to search at your grocery store for cultured buttermilk that contains live active cultures to take advantage of the gut-boosting benefits.
7. Incredibly Versatile
In addition to the multitude of health benefits associated with buttermilk powder, it’s also versatile and easy to incorporate into a variety of recipes. So what is buttermilk used for? There are limitless possible buttermilk uses, and it can be enjoyed in a number of different dishes, from buttermilk pancakes to buttermilk waffles and beyond. It’s also sometimes used to make a batter for foods like buttermilk fried chicken or used as a base for soups, sauces and salad dressings.
Plus, it’s also commonly added to baked goods and can be found in buttermilk bread, biscuits, cakes and more. What does buttermilk do in baking? The acidity helps ingredients retain moisture, acts as a leavening agent and adds a zing of flavor to baked goods like pies and pastries. The thick texture of it also gives foods a creamy, velvety texture that sets it apart from other dairy products.
Buttermilk Substitutes and Recipes
We’ve all been there: You’re starting to read a recipe when you scan the list and realize you’re completely out of one of the ingredients. Fortunately, there are plenty of ingredients that work as a quick and easy buttermilk substitute when you’re in a pinch.
You can easily mix milk with an acid such as vinegar, lemon juice or cream of tartar for a quick and easy buttermilk replacement. In most cases, this involves simply mixing one cup of milk with one tablespoon of acid and letting it sit for around 10 minutes to thicken up.
If you don’t have the ingredients on hand required for how to make real buttermilk, try using kefir or powdered buttermilk for a simple buttermilk alternative instead. You can also use sour cream or yogurt mixed with a bit of water to mimic the texture of regular buttermilk.
What is a non-dairy substitute for buttermilk?
Whether you’re cutting out dairy for health or ethical reasons, there are several vegan buttermilk substitutes available as well. Try mixing one tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar with one cup of your favorite nut milk, such as coconut, almond or cashew milk. Be sure to opt for unsweetened varieties without added sugar to enjoy the best possible substitution for buttermilk.
Once you’ve got your hands on some, there are tons of different ways that you can use it in your favorite recipes. Need some inspiration? Here are a few delicious buttermilk recipes that you can use to start enjoying the many benefits:
- Homemade Buttermilk Biscuits Recipe
- Healthy Buttermilk Pie Recipe
- Oven-Baked Buttermilk Crispy Tenders
- Oatmeal Buttermilk Waffle Recipe
Risks and Side Effects
In moderation, this ingredient can be enjoyed as part of a healthy, well-rounded diet. However, it’s important to keep in mind that it is also high in sodium and often contains histamines, hormones and antibiotics. In the United States, the use of hormones and antibiotics in livestock is prohibited by the United States Department of Agriculture. In other countries, you may need to check for brands labeled as hormone- and antibiotic-free.
Additionally, while many with lactose intolerance can tolerate it just fine, others may have issues. Ideally, it’s best to start with a small amount and work your way up to ensure that you’re able to tolerate it. Those with an allergy or intolerance to milk, dairy products or histamines should avoid it altogether.
Finally, keep in mind that not all recipes with buttermilk are great for your health. For example, fried foods like buttermilk chicken tenders or onion rings are high in calories and unhealthy fats that negate any of the benefits associated with it. Selecting healthier versions of these recipes that have been oven-baked or air-fried may be a better alternative.
- How is buttermilk made? Although it’s widely available at most grocery stores, it’s also easy to make at home by simply combining milk with an acid, such as lemon juice or vinegar.
- It is high in several important nutrients and may help improve heart health, prevent gum disease and strengthen the bones. It’s also low in lactose and some types may contain probiotics as well.
- There are plenty of ingredients that you can use as a simple buttermilk substitution, including kefir, yogurt, sour cream or plant-based milks.
- Keep in mind that it is high in sodium and histamines and may also contain hormones and antibiotics in some cases. If you have an allergy or intolerance to dairy or histamines, you may want to consider using one of the other alternatives instead.