Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
Jul 25, 2013 10:48 AM

Are real buttermilk and cultured buttermilk interchangeable when baking?

The buttermilk one gets in stores isn't actually buttermilk so im wondering if they will work the same way. Im sure real buttermilk will work fine in recipes such as fried chicken but in recipes that depend on baking soda reacting with something acidic, that poses a different question. Im not sure how acidic real buttermilk is. Can one use real buttermilk in place of cultured buttermilk when baking? I have access to real buttermilk from Animal Farm in Orwell,Vermont. In terms of quality, its probably excellent as it comes from the same butter Thomas Keller uses in his restaurants. Will it produce the same rising action? not sure.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I'm a newbie to buttermilk, why is the store bought not "actually buttermilk?"

    11 Replies
    1. re: fldhkybnva

      These days time is money and milk isn't left to sit and slowly separate naturally before butter can be made from the cream. Therefore the resulting by-product of making butter isn't sour (ie. natural buttermilk) and so gets otherwise used in dairy products.

      Commercial buttermilk is made by culturing milk to mimic traditional buttermilk.

      I use reconstituted buttermilk powder, cultured buttermilk (store bought), and acidulated milk interchangeably in baking without any significantly noticeable change in outcomes.

      1. re: iamafoodie

        I interchange buttermilks as well, and have also been successful using plain regular or Greek yogurt, diluted with water to mimic buttermilk consistency.

      2. re: fldhkybnva

        Unless labeled otherwise, B'milk sold in most grocery stores is actually 'soured' milk: skim (lowfat) milk innoculated with a specific culture of bacteria. It is not the same product as that generated when high-fat milk is churned for removal of solidified butter, then the residue milk is allowed to 'sour' slightly, as a result of exposure to bacteria in the air (or mixed with a previous batch. And that de-buttered milk, slightly soured is also different from the original 'clabbered' milk that is so delicious.

        Most people today have never tasted real 'clabber' : whole, unpasteurized milk that has been permitted to age slightly, exposed to a strain of bacteria that gives it a distinctive taste and a useful level of acidity. It was very common in the US and especially the south, before refrigeration was in homes.
        It's not unlike other cultured dairy products around the world: creme fraiche, sour cream, yogurt, kefir etc.

        All of the biscuit, bread and other recipes using these products rely on the interaction of lactic acid and baking
        soda for the 'rising' that results. And the tastes are different, but not decisively so, although I can certainly tell the difference in biscuits, soda bread, etc.

        Up until the last 30-40 years, many southern cooks could count on having some clabbered milk at home, but like so many other good things, people stopped making so much and clabbered milk has almost disappeared. it's just as simple for people to buy a small amount of commercial buttermilk at the store and use that. But real clabbered milk tastes different. Once, people had a good amount of leftover milk and turned it to usefull clabber well before other yucky bacterial strains could make the milk nasty.

        I make clabbered milk frequently, as well as my own yogurt,
        creme fraiche and sour cream (different cultures) and I use them in baked goods interchangeably, especially biscuits. Full-fat milk just tastes so much better. And these products work because the bacterial strain is compatible for most people, and often improves digestion (these are the good bacteria - now sold to consumers as Activia etc).

        I find most people in the US are terrified of 'cultured' dairy products, although they swoon over anything French (expensive butter and creme fraiche) served in restaurants or in the country itself. These are the not-so-secret ingredients in outstanding biscuits, corn bread, scones, and pound cake. The flavors are richer and much more complex. And I have a can of dry buttermilk powder on a shelf, just in case. Give making clabbered milk and yogurt a try yourself and good luck.

        1. re: kariin

          Kate's Buttermilk, the real thing, is now widely available in supermarkets - in the northeastern U.S., anyway.
          I've baked with it but in all honesty could not tell a difference between Kate's, cultured buttermilk, and thinned yogurt.

          1. re: greygarious

            Nice to know someone used it successfully. I think I'll try making some buttermilk biscuits and buttermilk fried chicken. I have some White Lily flour being shipped and it'll be here tomorrow.Im using my regular recipes from Ad Hoc at Home. I wonder how it will impact the results.

            1. re: VongolaDecimo

              It is great for fried chicken. I have been keeping a couple of quarts on hand at all times and having fun experimenting.

            2. re: greygarious

              Look at Kate's Nutritional Facts page. The Buttermilk ingredients are: Cultured Buttermilk

              They may start with the milk that is leftover from making butter, but I suspect they culture it just like everyone else.

              I have a feeling that the 'real' part of Kate's is more marketing than a significant difference.

              The buttermilk that I get from Trader Joes has: Cultured reduced fat milk, salt, and is actually a bit higher in fat than Kates.

              1. re: paulj

                Haven't looked into the ingredients, but I can tell it is different in some way from any I've ever used. It's thinner but also richer. There was an article in the NY Times about it being made the old fashioned way, that is one news source I usually trust.

                1. re: paulj

                  Thanks for the red flag as I was considering getting that one as well. Animal Farm buttermilk is bottled straight from the butter churn so I guess I'll go with that. It even has some flecks of butter floating around in it.

                  1. re: paulj

                    Nevermind. It appears Animal Farm's is cultured as well. From the back of their bottle:
                    "Animal Farm is a small, Jersey daiy in Orwell, Vermont producing artisanal butter. After making our butter, we bottle small quantities of our cultured buttermilk, fresh from our farmstead creamery's churn. Whether you love buttermilk for drinking, cooking, or baking, you'll taste the difference between our REAL buttermilk and all the others!"

                    Further reading reveals that they do not add the cultures directly to the buttermilk. The buttermilk that results is cultured because butter is often made from fermented (cultured) cream. Back then...cream used to make butter would be several days old and would ferment or culture. This would also facilitate the butter churning process. So it seems even traditional buttermilk was cultured as it was made from old and now cultured cream. Today, we simply add the culture to skim milk rather than wait several days for the bacteria to naturally occur.

                2. re: kariin

                  I'm getting an education here - thanks!

                  Is today's basic cultures-added, store-bought buttermilk more acidic than what remains after butter has been made from the cream? I'm wondering if the issues I was having with a biscuit recipe was that the buttermilk I was using wasn't acidic enough (they didn't rise well, other troubleshooting didn't fix it).

                  I don't think the farm added any cultures to it, just whatever is there naturally (based on the label on my butter, which is called "cultured butter" but the only listed ingredient is "unpasteurized cream". If that's a possibility, would letting it sit around a bit longer to age make it more acidic?

              2. I believe traditional buttermilk was derived from fermented/cultured dairy. The real buttermilk you have access to is the milk/cream cultured before they make butter? Or is this the remains from using a separator?

                How acidic your real buttermilk is depends upon how the dairy makes it's butter.

                1. I've been experimenting with Kates real buttermilk and it is fantastic. Adds a lightness while retaining richness.

                  1. Newer recipes tend to use both baking powder and baking soda. The powder is the main leavening agent. The soda serves more to balance the acidity of the buttermilk and promote browning.


                    implies that the Animal Farm buttermilk is not as acid as other ones, even Butterworks Farm. If there is a difference it should be evident in a taste test.

                    So has anyone looked at the Animal Farm buttermilk cookbook? Have the baking recipes been adapted to a different level of acidity?


                    1 Reply
                    1. re: paulj

                      i have used yogurt as replacement for buttermilk in biscuits but it has a yogurty flavor, rises good though. mixing store buttermilk with milk and letting ferment, say at least 23 hours,extends buttermilk supply, using cream makes a reasonable creme fraiche. good project if your dairy is getting old. scald and cool first.