How to Make Buttermilk

Every editorial product is independently selected, though we may be compensated or receive an affiliate commission if you buy something through our links. Ratings and prices are accurate and items are in stock as of time of publication.

Save yourself the emergency trip to the supermarket—here's how to make buttermilk with vinegar or lemon.

If you’re a newbie to the kitchen, you might not know just how essential buttermilk can be. Even some seasoned pros can underestimate its importance! And while we love how delicious it makes our bakes, we’ve definitely run into recipes that need buttermilk and realized we don’t have any in the refrigerator.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve given up the dream of buttermilk pancakes or biscuits when I found myself short of this ingredient. As it turns out, it’s actually wildly easy to make homemade buttermilk.

How to Make Buttermilk in a Pinch

Ingredients

  • Milk
  • Vinegar, fresh lemon juice or cream of tartar

Directions

For each cup of buttermilk:

  • To make buttermilk with vinegar, a tried and true method, use 1 tablespoon white vinegar, plus enough milk to measure 1 cup. Stir, then let stand for 5 minutes.

How to Make Buttermilk with VinegarTMB Studio

  • Use the same method to make buttermilk with lemon juice. Combine 1 tablespoon lemon juice plus enough milk to measure 1 cup. Stir, then let stand for 5 minutes.

How to Make Buttermilk with LemonTMB Studio

  • To make buttermilk with cream of tartar, the ratios are different. Use 1-3/4 teaspoons cream of tartar plus 1 cup milk.

Are There Other Buttermilk Alternatives?

Yogurt makes a great substitute for buttermilk. Just use 1 cup of yogurt for each 1 cup of buttermilk in your recipe. If using thick yogurt, like Greek yogurt, thin it with some water and measure out a cup.

You can also use powdered buttermilk, such as Saco Cultured Buttermilk Blend, which you can find on Amazon or near dry and canned milk in the grocery store.

Tips for Using Homemade Buttermilk

Do I need to use buttermilk?

Yes, it makes a difference in the finished recipe. Buttermilk brings a pleasant tang to cakes, breads, biscuits and other bakes while adding very little fat. Like yogurt and sour cream, this acidic ingredient also helps tenderize gluten, giving baked goods a softer texture and more body. Plus, it helps quick breads rise.

Is buttermilk necessary when baked goods have baking soda?

Baking soda, a leavening agent in many baked goods, requires acidic ingredients such as buttermilk, lemon juice or molasses to activate it. If the baking soda doesn’t properly activate, your light-and-fluffies will be more like dense-and-heavies.

Does buttermilk work in all baked goods?

Buttermilk can be used in almost all baked goods, but keep an eye on other acidic ingredients in your recipe. Especially take note if your recipe calls for baking powder, which already contains an acid to help with leavening. You may want to use regular milk so you don’t end up with a baked good that’s too tangy.

Is there a dairy-free option?

You bet. Combine 3/4 cup plain or vanilla almond milk yogurt, 1/4 cup almond milk and 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar. Let stand for 5-10 minutes before using.

Quick Substitutions for Common Ingredients

Ellie Martin Cliffe
Now Taste of Home's content director, Ellie has been writing about food and parenting for almost 20 years. When she isn't at TOH HQ, she's likely trying gluten- and dairy-free recipes, canning whatever's in season, listening to anything with a fiddle, or playing Forbidden Island with her family.