Ingredient Guide: Buttermilk

Featuring in pancakes, waffles, cobbler, Red Velvet cake and many more recipes, you might be surprised at just how many bakes depend on a dash of buttermilk.

What began as a humble by-product of butter making has rightfully earned its place in countless American baked treats.

The reason for the popularity of buttermilk not only stems from the resourceful use of the milky liquid left behind after butter is churned, but the ingredient itself also works to improve the texture and flavour of various bakes.  

What is buttermilk?

There are several types of buttermilk: traditional buttermilk is made when butter is churned from cream and the residual liquid separates away.

Cultured buttermilk is the variety that you’re more likely to find in the dairy aisle of your supermarket. This is cultured with the help of live bacteria and is artificially fermented.

Both traditional and cultured buttermilk are suitable for baking but, depending on the particular brand and production process, they may give slightly different flavours.  

What does buttermilk taste like?

Buttermilk has a sour flavour, but don’t let this put you off. When used in baking this is often balanced out by sugar elsewhere in the recipe, so many of the recipes that incorporate buttermilk only have a slight tang.

It has a thick, yogurt-like consistency and can usually be poured.  

How does buttermilk work to improve texture in bakes?

As an acidic ingredient, buttermilk reacts with raising agents in the recipe to create air bubbles that help the mixture to rise when baked.

Home bakers may notice that we add buttermilk to our Red Velvet sponge – this provides an extra acidic kick and a luxurious smoothness to the mixture.  

Can I make my own buttermilk?

Methods for making buttermilk at home with milk and a squeeze of lemon juice do work, but as baking relies on precise use of ingredients in definite quantities, you increase your chances of creating a curdled mess when using your own homemade buttermilk.

The real stuff can be readily purchased in most supermarkets and grocers so we recommend using this where available.  

Is low fat or reduced fat buttermilk suitable for baking?

Recipes will still work with low fat and reduced fat buttermilk, but we insist on going full fat if you wish to achieve a richer depth of flavour when baking.