What do pancakes, cornbread and homemade salad dressing have in common? Buttermilk, of course. The magical dairy ingredient can keep baked goods moist and transform tough meats into melt-in-your-mouth bites. But if you’re sticking to a vegan diet, you’ll run into one small problem: Vegan buttermilk just isn’t a thing. (We know: It’s frustrating.) What’s the solution? Make your own vegan buttermilk substitute at home. It’s a lot easier and faster than you’d think. Best of all, our swaps are 100 percent dairy-free and can be whipped up using ingredients you already have in your kitchen.
But First: What Is Buttermilk?
Traditionally, buttermilk was a by-product of making butter. Cream was churned into butter, and the remaining liquid was left to ferment for a few hours—enough time for the milk sugars to convert into lactic acid, thereby allowing the buttermilk to keep for longer without refrigeration (which was very handy back in the day). Nowadays, buttermilk is made with fresh, pasteurized milk that’s been inoculated with cultures (i.e., lactic acid bacteria) to transform it into a rich ingredient that’s thicker than regular milk but not quite as heavy as cream and with a distinctive tangy taste.
The dairy staple is frequently called for in sweet and savory recipes like biscuits, fried chicken, dips, dressings, cakes and quick breads, but it’s not always just for flavor. In baked goods, the acidity lends leavening power when it reacts with baking soda, as well as breaks down gluten formation for a more tender final product. So when you’re dairy-free or vegan, finding a substitute or making a swap can seem like searching for a needle in a haystack. What should you use when a recipe calls for buttermilk? We’re here to help.
7 Vegan Substitutes for Buttermilk
1. Lemon juice. Add one to two tablespoons lemon juice to a plant-based milk alternative (such as soy milk or almond milk) to measure one cup. Stir the mixture, let it stand for five to ten minutes or until thickened (aka curdled) and you’re good to go.
2. Vinegar. This method works the same as above, except you swap the lemon juice for one tablespoon vinegar—both white vinegar and apple cider vinegar will work.
3. Cream of tartar. For every cup of dairy-free milk, use one and a half teaspoons cream of tartar—but add it to the recipe’s dry ingredients to avoid clumping.
4. Vegan sour cream. You can easily achieve a dairy-free, buttermilk-like ingredient using a commercially available vegan sour cream. All you have to do is whisk some dairy-free milk or water into the product until you get the right consistency. The exact amount will depend on the thickness of the sour cream you start with, but roughly one-quarter cup of liquid with three-quarter cups of vegan sour cream should do the trick.
5. Vegan yogurt. Use the same method as above but swap vegan sour cream for plain and unsweetened vegan yogurt (like soy, almond or coconut).
6. Tofu. For every one cup of buttermilk, purée one-quarter cup of silken tofu with a pinch of salt, one tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice and half a cup water in a blender. Add water tablespoon by tablespoon (up to three total) and blend to get the proper consistency, then let the mixture sit for about ten minutes before using it.
7. Homemade nut cream. If you’re not a fan of processed plant-based dairy alternatives (and you have a little extra time), you can make a vegan buttermilk substitute that’s nut-based and preservative-free. Start by soaking raw, unsalted nuts (like cashews or macadamia nuts) in water, then drain and purée them in a blender, adding one cup water and two teaspoons lemon juice or vinegar for every cup of nuts.
How to Cook with a Vegan Buttermilk Substitute
If you need some kitchen inspiration for using all that vegan buttermilk, why not start with breakfast? Cornmeal bacon waffles or blueberry buttermilk scones would be a good start. If you’re in a savory mood, try a fried chicken and waffle sandwich (with a side of buttermilk skillet cornbread with tomatoes and green onions, naturally).