In The Kitchen Ingredient Guides

The Best Substitutes for Buttermilk

Buttermilk is a must for weekend pancakes or waffles, but it’s not always something you keep in your fridge. Here’s what you can use instead.

5 Buttermilk Substitutes laid on a colorful background.
Alison Bickel

All too often I wake up Saturday morning with a craving for pancakes and no buttermilk in the refrigerator. Although I love buttermilk’s pleasant tang and its ability to make my short stack ultra-tender, I rarely keep buttermilk on hand.

Because of this, I’ve learned to adapt and use substitutes! Luckily, there are a lot of great ones. Here are the very best, including one that’s dairy-free.

What Is Buttermilk?

Traditionally, buttermilk was the liquid left behind after churning butter. Nowadays, however, buttermilk is made by adding bacterial cultures to low-fat or whole milk to produce a fermented milk product that’s slightly thick, with yogurt-like tartness.

Buttermilk is most commonly used in baking. When paired with baking soda, it helps things like pancakes and biscuits rise, while giving them exceptional fluffiness. It’s also often used to help tenderize chicken before frying or roasting it, and it’s an essential ingredient in creamy dressings like ranch.

5 Buttermilk Substitutes laid on a colorful background.
Alison Bickel

5 Buttermilk Substitutes

If you don’t have a carton of buttermilk in your fridge when you’re looking for it, these quick substitutes will save you.

1. Milk + Lemon Juice

This is the buttermilk substitute I use the most because I always have milk and lemons on hand. Souring milk with an acid results in a quick and reliable hack for buttermilk!

To make, squeeze 1 tablespoon of lemon juice into a liquid measuring cup and pour in enough whole or low-fat milk until it measures 1 cup. Stir to combine and let the mixture rest at room temperature for a few minutes until it has thickened and curdled. This blend can be used interchangeably for 1 cup of buttermilk in any recipe.

2. Milk + White Vinegar

If you don’t have lemons in your kitchen, you can use white vinegar as the acid with which to sour milk with.

Follow the same method as above. Pour 1 tablespoon of white vinegar into a liquid measuring cup and add milk until it measures 1 cup. Stir to combine and let the mixture sit on the counter for a few minutes until it has thickened and curdled.

3. Yogurt + Milk

Yogurt has the same subtle tang as buttermilk; the only difference is that it’s thicker than buttermilk, but that’s easy to fix! Simply thin plain yogurt with a bit of milk and use the mixture as an equal 1-to-1 substitute. You can do this with either regular or Greek yogurt, whole milk or low-fat.

4. Kefir

Like buttermilk, kefir is another fermented milk product, which means it has a very similar taste and consistency to buttermilk. This makes it an excellent 1-to-1 buttermilk substitute in cooking and baking. You can use either whole milk or low-fat kefir, just be sure it’s not flavored or sweetened.

5. Soy or Almond Milk + Lemon Juice or Vinegar

Not all non-dairy milk will thicken and curdle when you add lemon juice or white vinegar to it, but some will. Unsweetened soy milk and almond milk are your best options. (Stay away from coconut milk.)

Combine 1 tablespoon of the acid of your choice with 1 scant cup of non-dairy milk and let it sit for a few minutes at room temperature until curdled.