Tangier than milk, silkier than sour cream, and more buttery than yogurt, buttermilk is the multipurpose dairy product you’ve been missing out on.
Flavor of Buttermilk
Similar to other fermented dairy products such as yogurt and sour cream, buttermilk tastes creamy with a slightly sour flavor. This characteristic tanginess is complemented by buttery richness and a hint of sweetness.
Buttermilk is so named because it was originally the byproduct of churning butter from cultured cream. Fresh milk would be left to sit, which causes the cream and milk to naturally separate and lactic acid to be formed. The lactic acid naturally ferments the cream and milk, creating an acidic environment that gives the resulting buttermilk a long shelf life. This process of making buttermilk is still practiced in parts of South Asia and the Middle East.
Cultured buttermilk, more popular in the West and parts of the world where traditional buttermilk isn’t often consumed, is made from pasteurized and homogenized milk that is treated with lactic acid-producing bacterium. This makes the milk more acidic and promotes curdling, turning it into thick buttermilk.
How to use Buttermilk
Buttermilk can be consumed on its own, typically as a chilled drink, or utilized in baking and cooking. Some of the most popular uses of buttermilk, particularly in Western cuisine, are in pancakes, waffles and as a marinade for chicken. The acid in buttermilk breaks down gluten and protein while providing a hint of tang that cuts through any fattiness. The result is fluffy pancakes and tender chicken with perfectly balanced flavors. When mixed with baking soda or baking powder, buttermilk also makes an effective leavening agent for airy baked goods and shatteringly crisp fried breading.
Use buttermilk’s unique properties to your advantage when incorporating it into your cooking. Add a splash of buttermilk to dressings and dips to introduce a creamier texture and a kick of acidity. Combine it with baking soda or powder for lighter flatbreads, sheet cakes, or quick breads. You can even use it as a base for chicken, pork, and lamb marinades. Unlike stronger acids such as lime or vinegar, buttermilk will tenderize the meat without turning it into mush over time.