4 Vegan Buttermilk Substitutes (+Our Best Recipe)

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When it comes to making the best vegan substitute for buttermilk, you not only have to consider flavor but also its chemical properties. Here are four nondairy options that will work every time.

Buttermilk is a vital ingredient in many baked goods and quick breads. Not only does it provide a unique flavor combination, but the way it interacts with other ingredients helps build the texture of the final product.

If you’re following a vegan diet, then this dairy-based ingredient is off-limits. But don’t worry, there are ways to replicate buttermilk—both the flavor and chemical properties—without using animal products. Below, we’ll show you four of the best vegan substitutes for buttermilk and give you our exclusive homemade vegan buttermilk recipe.

What Is Buttermilk?

Back in the day, when people used to churn cream into homemade butter, they would end up with two products. The fat in the cream would solidify into butter while the protein, sugar, and water would separate out into a thick liquid. This liquid was typically set aside and allowed to ferment overnight into what is known as buttermilk.

This acidic milk product is the perfect ingredient for making quick breads. The acid in it reacts with baking soda to make the batter rise. It also breaks down proteins like gluten which creates a delicately crumbly texture. Lastly, the acidic flavor works in contrast to the sweet spices and sugars to provide a more complex flavor.

Best Nondairy Substitutes for Buttermilk

When substituting buttermilk, it is important to replicate the mild, slightly creamy flavor of the milk and the tang of the acid that results from fermentation. These two properties have to be present in the right quantities not only to capture the flavor but to allow for the chemical reactions that need to take place to create the right texture.

Option 1: Lemon and Nondairy Milk

This option is one of our favorite go-to vegan buttermilk substitutes because it is super simple to whip up. And it is based on two ingredients that most vegans have on hand.

To make 1 cup of buttermilk substitute using lemon and nondairy milk:

  1. Add 1 tablespoon lemon juice to 1 cup nondairy milk of choice.
  2. Whisk well and allow to sit for 5 to 10 minutes.
  3. Once the mixture has thickened, it is ready to use.

The acid in the lemon juice will cause the milk to curdle somewhat. This helps replicate the texture of true buttermilk while supplying the acid necessary to react with baking soda and produce gas bubbles.

Vegan milk curdling with vinegar
Photo: Kirsten Nunez

Meanwhile, the protein, sugar, and fat in the plant milk do a good job imitating the consistency and flavor of the liquid part of buttermilk.

Option 2: Vinegar and Nondairy Milk

This option is equally as easy as the first but isn’t quite as good an imitation in terms of taste. Vinegar adds plenty of acid but lacks the tang that lemon juice brings.

One thing you can do to better capture that flavor is to use apple cider vinegar. This brings a subtle sweet-sour thing to the table that white vinegar doesn’t. But, in a pinch, either will do.

To make 1 cup of buttermilk substitute using vinegar and nondairy milk:

  1. Add 1 tablespoon vinegar to 1 cup nondairy milk of choice.
  2. Whisk well and allow to sit for 5 to 10 minutes.
  3. Once the mixture has thickened, it is ready to use.

Just like with the lemon juice version, the vinegar will culture the nondairy milk and cause it to get a little chunky.

Option 3: Cream of Tartar and Nondairy Milk

If you happen to be out of vinegar and lemon juice, you can use cream of tartar as part of your buttermilk substitute.

Cream of tartar is a natural byproduct created during the fermentation of wine. The scientific name for it is potassium bitartrate, also known as tartaric acid. This ingredient doesn’t taste all that great—I’d call it more tinny than tangy—but it does provide the acid necessary to make quick breads airy and crumbly.

To make 1 cup of buttermilk substitute using cream of tartar and nondairy milk:

  1. Add 1 ½ teaspoons of cream of tartar to the dry ingredients in your recipe.
  2. Add 1 cup of nondairy milk to the liquid ingredients.
  3. Continue preparing the recipe as instructed.

If added directly to liquid, cream of tartar tends to clump up something terrible. This not only makes for an unappealing texture but prevents the acid from mixing well with baking soda, which will leave your final product flat and chewy. To avoid this, make sure you mix the cream of tartar with the dry ingredients first, before introducing the nondairy milk.

Option 4: Vegan Sour Cream/Yogurt and Nondairy Milk

The sour flavor of buttermilk comes from the natural acids released during fermentation. One way to replicate that flavor really well is to use another fermented product. 

Both vegan sour cream and plain vegan yogurt fit the bill well. But you will need to cut them a little with some nondairy milk to get the texture right.

To make 1 cup of buttermilk substitute using vegan sour cream or yogurt and nondairy milk:

  1. Add ¼ cup nondairy milk to ¾ cup yogurt or sour cream.
  2. Mix vigorously until you get a consistent texture.

If you happen to be out of nondairy milk, you can use water instead for this substitute.

Depending on the acidity of your chosen yogurt or sour cream, the final product may or may not be as well leavened as it should be. You may have to experiment a little with this one and add a dash of lemon juice or vinegar if needed.

How to Make Homemade Vegan Buttermilk

Below is a printable recipe card for option #1 above, although you probably won’t need to print it since it’s so simple and easy to remember. It’s our go-to vegan buttermilk substitute because it provides the best balance of texture and tang to replicate buttermilk in vegan recipes. Plus the two ingredients are staples in our refrigerator.

Vegan Buttermilk Substitutes

Vegan Buttermilk Substitute

This homemade vegan buttermilk substitute requires just two ingredients and takes 10 minutes to make. Use it as a dairy-free substitute for buttermilk pancakes, mashed potatoes, creamy dressings, muffins, and more.
Click stars below to rate, or leave a full review in the comments
10 Ratings
Print Pin Recipe
Course: Condiments & Sauces
Cuisine: Any
Diet: Vegan
Keyword: buttermilk, dairy-free buttermilk, vegan buttermilk
Prep Time: 2 minutes
Resting Time: 8 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Author: Kirsten Nunez, MS

Ingredients

  • 1 cup plant-based milk plain and unsweetened
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice or white vinegar

Instructions

  • In a small bowl, combine the milk and lemon juice. Stir well.
  • Let sit, untouched, for 7 to 10 minutes. The milk will curdle during this time.
  • Use it in a recipe or store in a sealed, air-tight jar in the refrigerator.

Notes

Use your homemade buttermilk within 3 to 4 days.
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