There isn’t much that can be more defeating than finally deciding to try a new recipe only to discover that you don’t have a crucial ingredient. That’s why knowing how to make buttermilk at home can be so useful. Buttermilk isn’t really something most households keep on hand but it is fairly likely that the things you need to make buttermilk at home are on hand in your refrigerator.
What is buttermilk?
Traditional buttermilk is a byproduct that is created in the process of churning heavy cream into butter. Don’t know how to make butter either? It’s really easy, subscribe to my email updates and you’ll find out as soon as that future post is available.
Anyway, when heavy cream is churned (or processed in a food processor), it separates into fat globules (butter) and a milky liquid. That milky liquid is buttermilk.
There is also something called ‘cultured buttermilk’ which is a commercially available industrially created and cultured product. Cultured buttermilk is usually made from skim milk but can also be found made from whole milk. Helpful bacteria are then added to the milk to be cultured at a low temperature (about 69 degrees F is ideal) for 12-14 hours. After culturing salt, stabilizers, and sometimes sugars may be added to this product (The Spruce Eats).
However, just because cultured buttermilk is called buttermilk does not mean that it is equal to true or traditional buttermilk. Lactic acid bacteria used in most commercial buttermilk can’t survive the human digestive system making it a less desirable option if you are concerned about your gut health.
Lastly, there is a third type of buttermilk called acidified buttermilk. This buttermilk substitute is made by adding an acid such as lemon juice or vinegar to milk and allowing it to curdle (wiki). While this works in a pinch to create that recipe that calls for buttermilk, it is the least desirable option in terms of nutrition and gut health.
a brief history of buttermilk
The buttermilk which we are familiar with today was developed in Europe. You see, buttermilk is best made by allowing bacteria to thrive at temperatures around 72° F for 14-16 hours. The overnight temperatures in Europe allowed for this naturally according to Eater.com
can I substitute buttermilk for regular milk?
Generally, yes you can with great success. Try substituting buttermilk for regular milk in some of your favorite baking recipes. The flavor becomes a bit more rich and complex with buttermilk you make at home. I’ve done this with my favorite pancake recipe and was quite pleased with the result. You can try it too, it is a simple 1 to 1 trade off. No measurement conversions here!
how to make buttermilk at home
First, you’ll need some heavy cream. My favorite source for cream is that which I skim off the top of a gallon of raw organic milk from grassfed cows that I buy from a local farm. If you don’t have access to whole raw milk, you can use commercially available cream. Just get the best cream you can get your hands on.
Using a food processor or blender, add 2 cups of cream and process for several minutes. You will see the cream become thick and frothy. This is a wonderful whipped cream but that’s not what we’re going for here. Keep processing.
You will eventually see globules of fat (butter) start to accumulate and a milky liquid will be splashing on the sides of the cup.
Once it seems sufficiently separated, turn off the food processor and remove the lid. Pour off the liquid into a glass jar. Remove the solids into a glass or wood bowl.
Using a wooden spoon, press the lump of butter together and squeeze additional liquid out of it. I like to do this process for a few minutes and pour off the extracted buttermilk periodically. After a minute or two of pressing buttermilk out of the butter, ass some ice water to the bowl. The ice water will help the butter stay solid which helps in the extraction of any remaining liquid.
*NOTE: once you add ice water to your bowl, you will no longer want to pour the liquid off into your jar of buttermilk. You will just discard any remaining liquid at this point. Continue the process of adding ice water, pressing the butter together to extract liquid, and pouring off all the liquid until no more milky liquid can be seen (the ice water stays clear).
Well done! You now know how to make buttermilk at home.
wait, did i just make butter at home?
Happy surprise! Yes you did. I love working with raw milk so much because there are so many good things that come from it. In the process of making buttermilk for your favorite baking recipes (or any other uses), you also get butter! Just add a teaspoon of salt once the last bit of liquid has been poured off and you have some wholesome and truly awesome butter.
If you were able to use cream from raw organic milk from grass fed cows, you may notice that your butter is a much darker shade of yellow than even the best store-bought butter. This is because the level of bio-available minerals and nutrients in your homemade butter far exceeds what is available at the store commercially. That’s two happy surprises!
what about the rest of the milk?
Remember at the beginning of the process, I had you skim the cream off the top of a gallon of whole raw organic milk from grass fed cows? What remains in essentially skim milk. So, you can just drink it if you wish. Or, you can go a step further in your homemade kitchen and make yogurt!
If you have never made yogurt before, you can use a high quality organic whole milk yogurt from the store as your starter (as long as it has live cultures in it) or you can buy a starter culture. My understanding is that using a store bought starter will only work for a few batches of yogurt. However, the starter cultures you can buy from Cultures for Health on the other hand can live on for batch after batch after batch. I have been making yogurt for nearly 2 years from the same starter I bought from Cultures for Health and it has only gotten better. More on making yogurt in a future post here! But if you want to know right now, head over to Cultures for Health for tutorials on yogurt making and lots of other culturing information.
is buttermilk healthy?
I turned to Healthline to help me answer this question.
For most people, yes, buttermilk is a healthy beverage to consume. It is packed full of bone building calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin K2. Many cultured buttermilk options from the store are also fortified with vitamin D.
Thanks to the lactic acid breaking down the lactose, buttermilk is easier to digest. This means that for many people who are lactose intolerant, buttermilk could be a good alternative that can work just fine for them.
It appears that buttermilk may have some anti-inflammatory effects on the skin cells lining the mouth, thus improving periodontal health.
It’s also been noted that buttermilk can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
are there any downsides to buttermilk?
There are a few potential downsides such as, buttermilk can be high in sodium. Although Healthline didn’t specify, I believe this is probably exclusive to the cultured buttermilk commercially available in the store that has salt and other stabilizers added. I don’t see that you homemade buttermilk produced by churning cream from whole raw milk would have a high level of sodium.
For people who are lactose intolerant, buttermilk may still cause some digestive discomfort. If you have sensitivities to lactose, be aware of this possibility and consume only small amounts until you’re sure how your body will respond.
**If you are allergic to lactose and other milk products, buttermilk should be avoided as well.
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links in this post
The Spruce Eats: https://www.thespruceeats.com/what-is-buttermilk-1806998
Cultures For Health: http://www.culturesforhealth.com/?a_aid=61d2e751639f7