Butter or Milk or Neither?
Buttermilk sounds like something fanciful from the olden days, but it’s actually a staple ingredient in a lot of today’s Irish baking and well, just good food really. Have you had buttermilk pancakes? Then you get the idea. Buttermilk is a key component if you want fluffy, delicious baking. But what exactly is buttermilk and what does it do?
So What is Buttermilk?
Buttermilk started out as a by-product of butter churning. Buttermilk is actually the thin, non-fatty liquid that is scooped off the top of the churn after making butter. Buttermilk has many buttery and tasty milk cultures that develop naturally when the butter is left to sit at room temperature. Because of these healthful milk cultures, the buttermilk can keep longer than normal milk and so has became popular in cooking and baking.
The Science Behind Buttermilk
Not only low in fat and tasty, buttermilk also adds a lighter, fluffier consistency to your baking. That’s because it contains higher levels of lactic acid from the fermentation process. Lactic acid reacts with bicarbonate of soda to help your baking rise, baby rise! However please note that if you are using a recipe with baking soda, substituting buttermilk for normal milk may not be a good idea because it upset the alkali-acid balance. Buttermilk is more acid than fresh milk, so you may end up quashing the carbon dioxide levels that help bread rise during baking.
What Recipes Contain Buttermilk?
There are many recipes and especially Irish baking recipes that use buttermilk. For instance, any variation of wheaten bread, Irish soda bread and brown bread recipes use buttermilk with bicarbonate of soda for that beautiful chemical reaction that makes it rise into fluffy bread. Soda farls from Northern Ireland also use buttermilk, as do treacle farls and some scone recipes. Not forgetting of course, buttermilk pancakes. But worry not! I’ve got you covered with these five easy subsitutes for buttermilk.
Can I Make Vegan Buttermilk?
Merely the name “buttermilk” makes it seems impossible to have a vegan option, but yes you can make a good vegan buttermilk substitute! Vegan or plant-based milk substitutes such as oat milk (my go-to for vegan baking) or almond milk, can be combined as below to achieve pretty good results in your vegan baking recipes!
My Top Five Buttermilk Substitutes For Baking
- Fresh Milk with Natural or Greek Yoghurt: Using a 50/50 mix, whisk together half a cup of unsweetened natural yoghurt or greek yoghurt with half a cup of fresh milk (full milk for best effect, but semi or skimmed milk also work). This is my personal favourite because I always have these ingredients in my fridge and I get a lovely buttery taste in my baking with this buttermilk substitute.
- Fresh Milk Gone Off: Using a cup of milk that has started to go off (smells off but has not yet separated) you actually get a similar level of lactic acid to buttermilk. This yields surprisingly good results in baking, particularly with my soda farls recipe. It was only knocked off the top spot because you may not always have off milk in your fridge to use so it’s not a convenient buttermilk subsitute.
- Fresh Milk or Oat Milk (Vegan) and White Vinegar or Apple Cider Vinegar: Add one teaspoon of white vinegar or apple cider vinegar to one cup of milk (full milk works best but semi and skimmed milk are doable). Leave for 5 minutes to react before using. I was worried that the apple cider vinegar would leave an aftertaste but actually this for me was better than using lemon juice. This is the best vegan buttermilk substitute, vegans.
- Fresh Milk or Oat Milk (Vegan) with Lemon Juice: Add one teaspoon of lemon juice to one cup of milk (same as above, the fuller the milk, the better the results) and let it react for 5 minutes before using.
- Kefir: This is a fermented milk drink similar to yoghurt, made by adding Kefir grains (colonies of yeast and lactic acid) that create a taste and consistency quite like buttermilk. Kefir is recognised as a healthy diet food. It is a good buttermilk subsitute but number five on the list as it not as accessible as my other rated buttermilk substitutes.
So What’s Your Favourite Buttermilk Substitute?
So there you have it; my favourite buttermilk hacks that i use in my Quer Bake recipes. What are your favourite buttermilk substitutes wherever you are in the world? Please leave a comment below or get in touch!