Last Updated on January 6, 2022 by Zara R.
Buttermilk is an amazing ingredient that has a multitude of functions! But, is buttermilk lactose-free? And, what are the best substitutes?
We always prefer having regular everyday substitutions and lactose-free substitutions on-hand for dairy products. The best substitution for buttermilk is milk (dairy or vegan) combined with an acid (lemon juice, vinegar, or cream of tartar). This formula opens up a ton of doors and makes substituting a breeze!
What Is Buttermilk?
Buttermilk is a type of cultured milk that has been fermented using beneficial bacteria to create a very thick and tangy dairy product.
Traditionally, buttermilk was created as a by-product of butter churning. Once the butter has been churned, the leftover whey was left inside the churner at room temperature to promote the development and growth of naturally occurring bacterial cultures. This helped create a very unique tangy flavor and a product that lasts longer than milk.
Today, buttermilk is more often than not man-made. It is made in a similar way to yogurt and kefir. Fresh pasteurized milk is inoculated with harmless lactic acid bacteria that turn it into buttermilk.
Traditional buttermilk is completely fat-free because all of the fat inside of the milk would be used to make the butter. This left only the fat-free liquid to ferment.
But, today, you can find buttermilk with varying quantities of fat, from skimmed to full-fat. Naturally, the more fat buttermilk contains the higher the calorie count will be.
Store-bought buttermilk will always be creamier, thicker, more acidic, and tangier than handmade (or traditional) buttermilk is. This is definitely because of the precise bacterial cultures used and because most of these products contain stabilizers, flavor enhancers, and other preservatives and additives.
Is Buttermilk Lactose-free?
Unfortunately, buttermilk isn’t a lactose-free product. Many people have the misconception that because it has been fermented, the lactose disappeared.
While the fermentation does create less lactose, it doesn’t take it away completely. People that are sensitive to lactose might be able to handle that inside buttermilk. But, if you are extremely sensitive or outright allergic, still stay away from this dairy product.
Whole milk, 2 percent, 1 percent, and skimmed milk contain roughly between 9 to 14 grams of lactose per cup. Buttermilk contains between 9 to 12 grams of lactose per cup.
What Can I Replace Buttermilk With?
If you aren’t sure what to use to replace buttermilk with, luckily, there are a ton of options to choose from! First, you have to decide whether you are looking for a lactose-free substitute, or just an everyday alternative (that does contain lactose).
We will discuss some lactose-free options in detail below, but here are some other easy alternatives that you can use.
Milk and acid
The simplest and most readily available substitution is milk and acid. You can use any type of lactose-containing milk that you want (or have available). Simply add 1 tablespoon of acid (lemon juice or vinegar) to the milk and just like that you have buttermilk.
To get the right consistency, however, it is recommended to leave the mixture to sit and curdle (thicken) a bit before using it.
You can simply blend sour cream for very thick buttermilk. But, if you have to you can adjust the consistency with water or more milk.
There is no need to add any type of acid because sour cream already is tart and tangy. It will also perform the same functions in cooking and baking that buttermilk does, arguably making it the most accurate substitute.
You have to use plain unsweetened yogurt. It cannot be flavored with any other ingredient (including vanilla). You can choose any type of plain yogurt, from fat-free to full-fat.
Yogurt works in the same way that sour cream does and you will most likely need to thin it with some water or milk.
How To Make Buttermilk Substitute – Lactose-free Options
Here, we have compiled a list of lactose-free buttermilk alternatives. Some of these are very straightforward, while others require some calculations and measuring. Regardless of which you choose, they are all still extremely easy and convenient.
Unsweetened vegan milk and acid
You can choose any type of vegan milk that you’d like. All of them are dairy-free and completely plant-based. We love using almond milk, soy milk, and even coconut milk.
To make one cup of vegan buttermilk, combine 1 tablespoon of acid (this can be lemon juice or vinegar) with 1 cup of vegan milk. If you don’t have a liquid acid on hand, you can also use 5 grams (1 3/4 teaspoons) of cream of tartar.
Tofu and acid
Tofu is a condensed soy milk product that is pressed into solid blocks. Tofu turns this product into lactose-free buttermilk, all you need is to blend together 1/4 cup (62 grams) of silken tofu with 3/4 cups of water.
Once blended and completely smooth, add 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of acid. Again, this can either be lemon juice, lime juice, vinegar, or cream of tartar.
For tofu specifically, we like to use white vinegar to prevent creating an unappealing color.
Vegan sour cream and water
Using vegan sour cream is a fantastic option as it already contains the tanginess that buttermilk also has. This means you need one less ingredient to create lactose-free buttermilk.
You will, however, need to adjust the consistency of the sour cream to create buttermilk. You can start by mixing equal parts of sour cream with water and adjusting the consistency from there.
Learn more about Almond Bark vs White Chocolate
Buttermilk Substitute For Cake
First, you have to understand what buttermilk does in the cake to decide what to substitute it with.
Buttermilk helps give the cake a much more tender crumb and a light texture. It also adds some more complex flavors that balance well with the sweetness of the cake. It is also a fantastic ingredient that adds moisture to cake recipes.
So, naturally, you need a buttermilk substitute for a cake that will do those same things.
We would highly recommend making the “milk and acid” substitution or even just using plain yogurt or sour cream.
For lactose-free buttermilk substitutions, look at the flavor profile of the cake and choose lactose-free milk-based on that. If you have an almond cake, then almond milk and acid would be the best substitution.
Final Thoughts; Lactose-free Buttermilk Substitutions
We highly recommend experimenting with alternatives (especially lactose-free ones) to find what works best for you. This article is great for anyone struggling with finding the best substitutions for buttermilk, so make sure to share it with your family and the baking community!