Learn how to make buttermilk in a pinch with this super simple guide. You’re just 2 ingredients away from never having to run back to the store again!

Buttermilk being poured from a small glass pitcher into a little jar.

Knowing how to quickly pull together homemade buttermilk is a trick you’ll want to keep handy. Being able to make a stack of fluffy buttermilk pancakes for your hangry kids on a Saturday morning is kind of a parenting survival skill. But more than that, realizing you’ve run out of buttermilk is well…the opposite of that!

What’s buttermilk?

Buttermilk is the liquid that is produced after churning homemade butter. What results is a nonfat, culture-rich liquid that, when used in baking, produces a tangy, moist, soft crumb. It’s used for cake and pancake recipes as well as biscuits, muffins, and more.

It isn’t something you typically buy without a purpose. Even when you do, you don’t normally use all of it, so it ends up going bad. Then there are those pesky days when you start making buttermilk sheet pan pancakes or strawberry buttermilk pancakes, and you realize you’re out of buttermilk. That’s the worst! Especially because you know what a difference it makes in their flavor and texture, so you can’t even contemplate using regular milk!

Lucky for you, making a DIY buttermilk substitute is as simple as combining milk and your choice of 3 different acids. This easy-to-follow guide will get you homemade buttermilk no matter which option you choose. Save yourself an extra trip to the store and reduce waste by only making the amount you need!

The results are as good as the real thing, and in recipes that require just a small amount of buttermilk, no one will know the difference!

Small glass pitcher of milk, with a hand whisking it with a small whisk.

What you need

For this easy recipe you will need milk and ONE type of acid. Your choice of the following:

  • Vinegar – Use neutral-tasting vinegar. White distilled vinegar is best, but apple cider or white wine vinegar will also work. Stay away from balsamic or any flavored vinegar.
  • Lemon juice – For one cup of buttermilk, one lemon should be more than enough.
  • Cream of tartar – A powder easily found at your local bulk food, health food, or grocery store.
From left to right, a bottle of vinegar, a jar of milk, and a lemon.

3 Ways to make buttermilk

Milk & Vinegar

In a large glass measuring cup, add the appropriate amount of vinegar. Pour in the milk until it reaches the 1 cup line. Allow it to sit for up to 10 minute. Curdling is totally normal! Once it has set, it’s ready to use as desired.

Milk & Lemon juice

Take a lemon, cut it in half and squeeze out the amount you need into a measuring cup. Fill the cup with milk and let it sit for up to 10 minutes. Use as desired.

Milk & Cream of Tartar

This powder is a little more concentrated than its liquid counterparts, so you’ll need a bit less. The same instructions apply. Add cream of tartar to a measuring cup and fill the remaining space of 1 cup with milk. Allow it to sit and once slightly curdled, it’s ready for use.

Spoon in small pitcher of buttermilk.

FAQs

Can I use heavy cream instead of buttermilk?

Technically yes. It’s not directly interchangeable since cream doesn’t react with the baking soda or baking powder in a recipe, but if you add lemon juice or vinegar to the cream, it can be used as a suitable replacement.

Can I use almond or soy milk instead of cow’s milk for a vegan buttermilk?

The awesome thing about making your own buttermilk is it can be used with virtually ANY milk! Almond milk, oat milk, soy milk, cashew milk and even coconut milk will work!

What does buttermilk do in baking?

The acid in buttermilk reacts with the baking soda or baking powder (or both) in a recipe giving all your baked goods a lovely rise. It’s also rich, thick, and tangy giving it an amazing flavor and moisture.

Are buttermilk and sour cream interchangeable?

They are! Actually, so is yogurt. You can use 3/4 cup sour cream or yogurt along with 1/4 cup of milk to thin it out. If you have kefir on hand, you could also use that. It’s fermented milk, so there’s nothing more you need to add to it.

Measuring spoon being dipped into a small glass pitcher of milk.

How to make any amount of buttermilk with vinegar or lemon juice!

  • 1/4 cup buttermilk = 1/4 cup milk and 3/4 teaspoon of lemon juice OR vinegar
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk = 1/3 cup milk and 1 teaspoon lemon juice OR vinegar
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk= 1/2 cup milk and 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice OR vinegar
  • 1 cup buttermilk = 1 cup milk and 1 tablespoon lemon juice OR vinegar

TIP! Anything over those three amounts, just add the amounts as needed! For example, if you need 1 1/2 cups, add the 1 cup and 1/2 cup measurements together.

Storage Suggestions

Unlike the store-bought version, this homemade buttermilk won’t last as long in the fridge. It’s important to keep it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks, but it’s best used immediately after you make it. It also freezes really well for up to 2 months. If you proportion it in small amounts (for example in an ice cube tray) you only have to thaw what you need each time.

Buttermilk on a spoon, hovering over a glass pitcher of milk.
Buttermilk being poured from a small glass pitcher into a small glass jar.

Get the Recipe: How to Make Buttermilk

Learn how to make buttermilk in a pinch with this super simple guide. You’re just 2 ingredients away from never having to run back to the store again!
5 from 1 vote

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon vinegar OR 1 tablespoon lemon juice OR 1 3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar (don’t use all three!)
  • 1 cup milk

Instructions

  • In a measuring cup, add vinegar, lemon juice, or cream of tartar.
  • Add milk to 1 cup line and stir well to combine.
  • Set it aside for 5-10 minutes before using. It will look curdled, so don’t be alarmed by that!

Notes

  • Use a neutral tasting vinegar. White distilled vinegar is best, but apple cider or white wine vinegar will also work. Stay away from balsamics or any flavored vinegars.
  • Makes 1 cup, can scale to other measurements as needed.
Serving: 0.25c, Calories: 152kcal, Carbohydrates: 12g, Protein: 8g, Fat: 8g, Saturated Fat: 5g, Cholesterol: 24mg, Sodium: 105mg, Potassium: 322mg, Sugar: 12g, Vitamin A: 395IU, Calcium: 277mg, Iron: 1mg