Pies, cakes, pancakes, waffles, biscuits…these dreamy, soft, and fluffy goods have one thing in common – buttermilk.
However, the use of this amazing ingredient is not limited solely to batter-based foods. It is also used in marinades due to the fact that its acid makes the meat tender and moist, at the same time allowing the flavors to penetrate the meat more easily.
You will also find this creamy, tangy liquid in ice-creams, vinaigrettes, smoothies, and savory drinks like lassi. What is this magic ingredient anyway? is it good for you or should you be looking for healthier substitutes? And what are the possible substitutes you can turn to? Read on to find the answers to these and questions and discover the amazing world of buttermilk recipes.
What is Buttermilk and How Does It Work?
Originally, buttermilk is a by-product obtained after the process of churning butter from fermented or cultured cream. The buttermilk produced using this technique is today known as ‘traditional buttermilk’ and is still widely used in some Asian countries such as India and Pakistan. People in these countries often make their own buttermilk by shaking a cup of non-homogenized cream until it separates into buttermilk and butter. Then, they top it with sugar, salt, and spices like curry or cumin, and serve it with almost every meal!
In Western countries, the commercially available buttermilk sold in stores and supermarkets is obtained from pasteurized and homogenized low-fat milk. A culture is then added to the milk, that enhances the growth of natural, ‘good’ bacteria. This manner of producing buttermilk dates since the 1920s.
Lately, the popularity of dried buttermilk has been on the rise. This powdered version is popular for one important advantage – it can be kept at room temperature and does not go bad as fast and as easily as regular buttermilk.
How does buttermilk work to make your treats pillowy? The lactic acid it contains reacts with the rising agent in the recipe (baking powder or baking soda) and produces carbon dioxide. The fizzy reaction that occurs as a result, acts as a leavening agent that makes your treats airy and tender.
How Long Does Buttermilk Keep?
Due to its acidity, which prevents the growth of harmful bacteria, buttermilk keeps quite long. A carton of this creamy liquid should survive for three or four weeks in the fridge. You will know that it has spoiled if it gives off a funny smell and if it looks grainy.
Make sure to always shake the carton before use to unsettle the milk solids. Buttermilk also freezes well in case you don’t plan to use it any time soon. It will keep in the freezer for up to six months, but it should be noted that its texture will be significantly altered after defrosting.
Is Buttermilk Good for You
Even though the name indicates high fat contents, it is not so. The name is just a reminiscent from the traditional manner of obtaining this liquid, after churning butter. As mentioned before, buttermilk contains no butter.
Fats and Calories
Being made of low-fat (1%) or reduced fat (2%) milk, the fat content in buttermilk is, as expected, low. The calorie count, as well as the amount of all the other nutrients, depends on the type of milk as well. Buttermilk made with low-fat milk contains 2g fat and about 100 calories per one cup, whereas the one made with reduced-fat milk contains 5g fat and about 140 calories.
Buttermilk is considered a great source of protein because it provides 10-20% of the recommended daily intake. Low-fat buttermilk contains 8g protein per cup, whereas the reduced-fat variety has 10g.
Buttermilk is also a good source of calcium, providing over 20% of the recommended daily intake. Low-fat buttermilk has 284 mg calcium and reduced-fat buttermilk has 350 mg calcium.
Buttermilk contains high amounts of riboflavin, one of the B vitamins which helps transform the food we eat into energy. Low-fat buttermilk contains 0.4g riboflavin, whereas the amount of this vitamin in reduced-fat buttermilk is 1.7g.
Like all fermented dairy products, buttermilk is a probiotic. Probiotics contain good bacteria that are very beneficial for the organism. They enhance the immune system, prevent and treat urinary tract infections and aid the digestive function.
How to Substitute Buttermilk
Knowing what to use instead of buttermilk in recipes comes very handy in two situations – when you don’t want to buy a whole carton of buttermilk to make a recipe that makes use of just half a cup, or when you have thrown together almost all the ingredients together and realized that you have run out of buttermilk.
Even though nothing can substitute the original taste of buttermilk, the following simple hacks will help the action in your kitchen continue uninterrupted and reduce the amount of stress.
Milk and acid
Add one tablespoon white vinegar or lemon juice to a cup of milk (low-fat, reduced-fat, or whole milk) Stir and let the mixture sit for five minutes.
Note: use raw milk whenever you can; it is the healthiest and the most nutritive option. Also, opt for goat’s milk instead of cow’s milk.
This method also works with non-dairy milks like almond, coconut, soy, and rice milk.
If you need two cups of buttermilk, combine the milk with a tablespoon plus a teaspoon of lemon juice or white vinegar. Two tablespoons are too much.
Mix ¼ cup of water or milk into a ¾ cup of plain, unsweetened yogurt to thin.
Dissolved sour cream
Combine water and sour cream in equal proportions to thin.
Emergency advice – If you have run out of all dairy products, make your own sour cream by whisking together one cup of heavy cream and a teaspoon of lemon juice using an electric mixer. When the mixture thickens, add ¼ teaspoon of salt.
Substitute unsweetened and unflavored kefir for buttermilk in equal amounts.
In terms of healthiness, kefir is more beneficial than regular buttermilk. It is rich in enzymes, easily digestible complete proteins, vitamins, and minerals, as well as good bacteria. All these nutritive elements fight harmful free radicals and fight various diseases.
Emergency advice– Making kefir at home takes much longer than making sour cream, so this is not so much an emergency advice, but it is manageable if planned beforehand. And if you have kefir grains.
Place 1 or 2 tablespoons of kefir grains in a clean glass jar, then add 2 cups of milk (preferably at room temperature, since cold milk requires an extra hour for fermentation). Stir, cover the mixture and place in a dark place. The mixture should be left to ferment for at least 24 hours, but no more than 48 hours. Pour the contents of the jar into a strainer and reserve the kefir grains to prepare another batch.
Cream of Tartar and Milk
Combine a cup of milk with 1 ¾ teaspoons of cream of tartar. To make sure that the mixture is lump free, mix the cream of tartar with 2 tablespoons of milk first, then add the rest of the milk.
Emergency advice: Learn how to substitute cream of tartar with lemon juice or baking powder.
Besides adding lemon juice or white vinegar into non-dairy milk, you can also combine ¾ cup almond milk yogurt with ¼ cup almond milk, then add ½ teaspoon of white vinegar and stir well. You can also use soy milk and soy yogurt.
Battered Buttermilk Recipes
Substitute buttermilk in any batter-based recipe that calls for whole milk to produce fluffier, softer, and moistier treats. For best results, combine each cup of buttermilk required in the recipe with a teaspoon of baking soda. Baking powder contributes a somewhat tangy taste, so leave it out if you want to soften the flavor of the batter. This rule applies to all sorts of battered goods, including pancakes, muffins, cornbread, scones, quick breads, etc. Here are a few suggestions:
Beyond Batter Buttermilk Recipes
If you have just finished making your batter recipe, you are left with an almost full carton of buttermilk. Don’t throw the carton away. Put it to good use in these amazing recipes:
Fruit and Buttermilk Smoothies
Combine buttermilk with a banana, frozen berries, and some cinnamon or vanilla extract in a blender. Add a couple of ice cubes for extra coolness and swirl until homogenous. You will get a sweet fruity mix with extra creaminess and a tangy twist from the buttermilk.
Lassi is a sweet or savory blend of yogurt, water, and spices. The sweet variety often contains sugar or fruits, like this recipe that makes use of fresh peaches, peach yogurt, and peach jam, complemented with some cinnamon and nutmeg.
There is nothing easier to make than a buttermilk-based custard. Just combine two cups of buttermilk with three eggs and some honey. Complement with cinnamon to taste and just a pinch of salt. Pour the mixture into cups or ramekins and bake for about one hour, placed in a pan filled with water.
Add some buttermilk to your marinade to make the meat extra juicy and tender. Combine buttermilk with herbs and spices like black and/or cayenne pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, dry mustard, and salt. To allow the marinade to penetrate the meat more easily, poke the meat with a fork. Cover with the marinade and place it in the fridge to chill for minimum one hour but, if possible, leave it there overnight.
Replace vinegar with buttermilk in dressings to soften the tangy taste and make them creamier. Try this creamy avocado dressing aka guacamole buttermilk dressing.