Kitchen Tip: Homemade Buttermilk Substitute

Kitchen Tips & Tricks | 59 comments

I prefer to use real buttermilk in recipes as often as I can. I love the flavor that it ads to recipes like pancakes and scones, but I don’t think that buttermilk substitutes are quite as good as the real deal.

What I think doesn’t matter though, because sometimes something has to give. We’ve all been there. Mid-recipe you realize that the ingredients call for buttermilk and there’s none in the refrigerator.  No one wants to make a special trip to the grocery store for just one item, so you have to make do with a substitute.

how to make homemade buttermilk substitute

For those type of situations it is nice to have this kitchen tip up your sleeve. With common ingredients you can easily make homemade buttermilk to use in your recipes.

5 Homemade Buttermilk Substitutes

Some of these substitute recipes are easier than others in a pinch. My most commonly used method is with lemon or vinegar, but the others are helpful as well. All of the methods start with milk, so you’ll need to have that on hand.

Cream of Tartar

Measure 1 3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar plus 1 cup milk. Whisk to combine and let stand at room temperature for 5-10 minutes, until curdled and then stir.

Lemon Juice

Add one tablespoon of lemon juice to a liquid measuring cup. Then, add milk until the amount reaches one cup. Let the mixture stand at room temperature for 5-10 minutes. The milk should look curdled. Stir and you have homemade buttermilk!

Plain Yogurt

You can easily make a buttermilk substitute with 2 tablespoons milk plus enough plain yogurt to equal one cup. Stir to combine and then use your as recipe instructs.

Sour Cream

If you have sour cream on hand you can easily make a buttermilk substitute by thinning the sour cream with a bit of milk until it reaches the consistency of buttermilk. Stir to combine and then use your as recipe instructs.

White Vinegar

Add one tablespoon of white vinegar to a liquid measuring cup. Then, add milk until the amount reaches one cup. Let the mixture stand at room temperature for 5-10 minutes. It should look curdled. Stir and you have homemade buttermilk!


Depending on the recipe, I have used canned coconut milk as a substitute for the buttermilk. BUT you have to use your personal discretion on this one because the flavor is certainly different, plus some recipes need the acidity of Buttermilk (or one of the substitutes) to react with the leavening agent. Two recipes that I’ve recently used this substitution with are Lemon Coconut Cupcakes and Chocolate Buttermilk Cupcakes, but like I said: use your personal discretion.

Buttermilk Recipes for your Inspiration:

What are your favorite kitchen substitutes?

Katie Goodman

About the Author:

Katie’s lifelong interest in cooking good food has shown her that part of the goodness in life is enjoying delicious food with friends and family. She is: Mom. Writer. Photographer. Recipe Developer. Website Founder. Lover of all things good in life. A mix of great recipes, family memories, and yummy photography is what Katie serves up each week at GoodLife Eats™. Katie and her family reside in Colorado.

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  • 1
    Liz @ Blog is the New Black - March 22, 2011 @ 6:18 am

    I never even buy buttermilk anymore- I just throw it out!


  • 2
    stephanie - March 22, 2011 @ 6:47 am

    Thanks for sharing all of the options!


  • 3
    Sylvia - March 22, 2011 @ 7:46 am

    Thanks for share is very useful, mostly for me that is very hard to found on market here.


  • 4
    Tracy - March 22, 2011 @ 8:02 am

    It’s good to know there are more options than just lemon juice! Awesome!


  • 5
    Michaela - March 22, 2011 @ 8:21 am

    Hadn’t thought about cream of tartar… good point.


  • 6
    Amber | Bluebonnets & Brownies - March 22, 2011 @ 8:43 am

    I love all your suggestions, but I also think it’s worth mentioning (and you may not know) that you can get powdered buttermilk. It keeps in the fridge for pretty much ever, and you add it to the dry ingredients of your recipe. Then you add plain water in the amount that the recipe calls for of buttermilk. I’ve used it in tons of recipes and it works really well. We don’t keep a lot of milk based products in the house other than half and half because neither of us uses them.


    • Katie Goodman

      Katie replied: — March 22nd, 2011 @ 1:15 PM

      I have seen it in the stores before but never personally used it. Thanks for sharing. :)

  • 7
    My Kitchen in the Rockies - March 22, 2011 @ 9:21 am

    I substitute it with the lemon/ milk option most of the time. Works great.


  • 8
    Kenni - March 22, 2011 @ 9:51 am

    I had no idea you could use cream of tartar to make buttermilk! Thanks for this post!


  • 9
    Tessa - March 22, 2011 @ 11:05 am

    Fabulous post Katie! So informative. As always, love love love your photos.


  • 10
    Emily - March 22, 2011 @ 12:15 pm

    Just another fan of powdered buttermilk.


  • 11
    Wenderly - March 22, 2011 @ 12:44 pm

    Wow! I never ever knew that there were so many options!


  • 12
    Vanessa - March 22, 2011 @ 1:11 pm

    I have used lemon to make my own buttermilk many times before. It works great!


  • 13
    Robyn | Add a Pinch - March 22, 2011 @ 1:19 pm

    Great tip, Katie. It’s so easy to make your own buttermilk. I use the lemon method mostly. It works like a charm!


  • 14
    Maryea {Happy Healthy Mama} - March 22, 2011 @ 1:28 pm

    I use lemon w/ non-dairy milk (almond or soy) to make vegan “buttermilk”. It works great!


    • genie replied: — March 31st, 2011 @ 11:13 AM

      I do that too! But, I’ve been using apple cider vinegar and almond milk… makes the best whole wheat pancakes I’ve ever had!

  • 15
    Lindsey@lindselicious - March 22, 2011 @ 1:48 pm

    Thanks for the great info! Does this only work with cows milk or will it work with Rice or Almond milk as well?


  • 16
    Amanda - March 22, 2011 @ 2:52 pm

    I had no idea there were so many options! Awesome!


  • 17
    Kristen - March 22, 2011 @ 2:54 pm

    I either use the lemon juice option or the vinegar option. I never buy buttermilk anymore as I honestly can’t tell the difference when I use the real thing or one of these substitutes!


  • 18
    Lea Ann - March 22, 2011 @ 2:57 pm

    Just today I used pineapple coconut juice in my banana bread instead of buttermilk. Turned out great!


  • 19
    Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction - March 22, 2011 @ 5:06 pm

    I always seem to be running out of buttermilk. I’ve tried most of these substitutions, but never heard about cream of tartar.. I’ll keep that in mind!


  • 20
    Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen - March 22, 2011 @ 6:51 pm

    I’ve never used cream of tartar to make a buttermilk substitute before, what a great idea, I always have that in my pantry.


  • 21
    Kulsum at JourneyKitchen - March 23, 2011 @ 2:04 am

    I use the white vinegar trick most of the time. Sometimes I use yogurt as it is as substitute and for most recipes in works. Next time I shall try thin it out with milk


  • 22
    Lisa {Smart Food & Fit} - March 23, 2011 @ 5:38 am

    Great tips,
    I use lemon and milk or cream of tarter. You need something acidic to coagulate and ferment the milk which makes it more viscous than milk.


  • 23
    laura - March 23, 2011 @ 9:16 am

    yogurt is my favorite buttermilk substitute and yet yours is the first blog I’ve seen it suggested on! i nearly always have nonfat yogurt in the house and will substitute an equal amount of it for the buttermilk without adding any milk. because nonfat yogurt is thinner than the regular or greek varieties, i haven’t had any texture issues with this method.

    i also often use nonfat vanilla yogurt rather than plain for baking – yum! :)


  • 24
    Happy When Not Hungry - March 23, 2011 @ 4:11 pm

    Wow what great tips since I never have buttermilk when I need it!


  • 25
    Brenda @ a farmgirl's dabbles - March 25, 2011 @ 9:06 am

    I hadn’t heard of a couple of those methods, so “thanks!”. I do try to be prepared for recipes calling for buttermilk, as I always think it works best, too. Especially for my favorite scones. I’ve tried the lemon juice/milk substitute and my dough was a sloppy mess for trying to cut into scone shapes. Most other kinds of recipes, though, the substituting works great.


  • 26
    Rosie - March 25, 2011 @ 2:08 pm

    I can’t remember whose blog I got the tip from, but whenever I need a buttermilk substitute, I use half yogurt/half milk!


  • 27
    rx4foodies - March 25, 2011 @ 2:13 pm

    thanks for sharing buttermilk substitutes! I only needed a 1/4 cup of buttermilk for a recipe recently, and had to buy quart. Such a waste. Now I’m trying to find recipes to use up all the buttermilk :)


  • 28
    Lisa @ Tarte du Jour - March 26, 2011 @ 7:57 pm

    Nice to know ways to come up with buttermilk! It never fails that on a Saturday morning my kids want buttermilk pancakes and nobody wants to go to the store to get the buttermilk…. your tips will come in handy!


  • 29
    Christie - March 27, 2011 @ 9:17 pm

    I use milk that has soured. Most people think that sour milk has gone “bad” but it won’t make you sick and it is the original milk that buttermilk replaced. BTW I use lightly pasteurized/homogenized milk. It goes sour in about a week. I would never use ultra-pasteurized, highly processed milk that seemed like it had turned. Who knows what kind of bacteria will make it go south!


  • 30
    Beastie - March 29, 2011 @ 1:32 am

    Wow, great post for home made basics. Buttermilk is rare at shops, but deffenitely give s a favour to cakes! Thanks


  • 31
    Keri Grant - March 30, 2011 @ 3:31 pm

    This are such great tips for cost saving!!


  • 32
    Jean davies - June 19, 2011 @ 2:13 pm

    What sort of milk, whole, 2% or 1% or fat-free? Thank you, from Grammajean


    • Katie Goodman

      Katie replied: — June 20th, 2011 @ 8:55 AM

      I usually have 1% or 2% in the house, but any should work fine.

  • 33
    Ruth Pfeifferr - July 31, 2011 @ 9:24 pm

    I love using buttermilk in my baking and I don’t always have it on hand and wasn’t sure how to make it. Thanks for the buttermilk recipes substitutes. I will give them a try.


  • 34
    maria - November 20, 2011 @ 6:06 am

    what type of milk ? fresh milk,low fat or full cream?
    please help me


    • Katie Goodman

      Katie replied: — November 20th, 2011 @ 2:03 PM

      I use either low fat or whole milk. I never buy skim, so I haven’t tried that.

  • 35
    nicoluzza - February 02, 2012 @ 9:20 am

    just a side note … if you prefer to use real buttermilk, but never seem to use it all, you can freeze the left overs for future use … in order to eliminate waste, you can freeze it in 1/4 cup servings.


    • Marne replied: — March 1st, 2012 @ 7:20 AM

      I freeze buttermilk all the time! Don’t waste it. I freeze it in one cup increments if I won’t be using it before it goes bad. Works great!

  • 36
    myra - March 22, 2012 @ 11:31 am

    Awesome! thanks for posting, you are a life saver! .. butter milk is not available where I am.. even if it is I wouldn’t know how to translate it for the shopkeeper!! Yogurt and milk substitute seems good for my red velvet cupcakes no ?


  • 37
    Charlotte - March 26, 2012 @ 11:19 am

    Hey, just so you know, buttermilk is easier than most things to make! All you do is stir about a 1/4 cup cultured buttermilk (from the store or previous batch) into a half gallon whole or raw milk (not ultra-pasturized). That’s all! Let the jar(s) sit on the counter about 24 hours, and don’t let it get above 80 degrees. Then you have buttemilk! I do this every month and have it always on hand.


  • 38
    Jenn - May 08, 2012 @ 8:36 am

    Glad I found this – I have only tried a sub once and it was vinegar – I am not saying it didn’t work but I could smell vinegar in the mini donuts I made – I fed them to the outside cats as I couldn’t eat a donut that smelled like vinegar, off to try the cream of tartar!


  • 39
    Jeanette - July 09, 2012 @ 1:58 pm

    I keep powder butter milk on hand. I get buy it in bulk and thus have it when needed.


  • 40
    Kathleen - August 10, 2012 @ 11:23 am

    The cans of unopened powdered buttermilk keep indefinitely. I called the maker to find out.


  • 41
    Aya B. - August 23, 2012 @ 6:21 am

    Very Clever
    I always substitute buttermilk with Low fat plain Yogurt mixed with some water to lighten it up
    it works perfectly… and makes my recipes somehow lighter
    Very helpful information though…


  • 42
    Bonnie - November 07, 2012 @ 10:28 pm

    Can you make it using lactaid milk?


    • Katie Goodman

      Katie replied: — November 8th, 2012 @ 10:17 PM

      I have never tried that and do not know.

  • 43
    Gail - December 08, 2012 @ 1:37 am

    Katie, Thanks for the ideas. I think I will use vanilla yogurt and “leftover” coconut milk for the Chocolate Muffins I am going to make. Actually, I would have bought buttermilk, but did not get to read the comments before going to the store to find out that one can freeze buttermilk! Or maybe I could use a cup of the eggnog my husband bought?


  • 44
    brian - January 21, 2013 @ 1:44 am

    I usually marinate boneless, skinless chicken in seasoned buttermilk(vinegar/milk method) 24-48 hours before frying. Think I’ll try using some quality seasoned coconut milk for my next batch of fried chicken. Thx for the ideas.


  • 45
    ika - April 08, 2013 @ 3:09 am

    great tips for me, who always hardly find buttermilk ,thanks katie :d


  • 46
    M.J. - April 10, 2013 @ 4:22 pm

    Thanks I too use yogurt a great deal but like to use what the recipe calls for most times..I am sharing this on my blog and noted where it came from..:)


  • 47
    Eleanor - April 30, 2013 @ 7:57 pm

    can you use this with buttermilk chicken


    • Katie Goodman

      Katie replied: — May 3rd, 2013 @ 6:55 PM

      Hi Eleanor, I haven’t tried that because I don’t make buttermilk chicken very often.

  • 48
    kelly hodges - May 28, 2013 @ 7:58 am

    Thanks for the info. Can you make 2 cups at a time or is this only effective in one cup ratios?


    • Katie Goodman

      Katie replied: — May 28th, 2013 @ 11:22 PM

      you can make as much as you need at a time, it was just easy to demonstrate with 1 cup portions.

  • 49
    susan - June 09, 2013 @ 6:18 am

    This may be a stupid question,but i rarely ever cook but my hubby wants buttermilk pancakes,lol. Do i use it as is,or do i strain out the nasty curdled parts ?? Thank you


    • Katie Goodman

      Katie replied: — June 9th, 2013 @ 8:45 AM

      Stir it up and use it as is.

  • 50
    Callie - September 07, 2013 @ 12:09 pm

    I would like to make some buttermilk biscuits. I have sour cream and evaporated milk. Can I use this as a substitute for buttermilk and get the same resultsI am concerned that my biscuits will not taste like buttermilk biscuits as I am baking them for dinner guest.


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