Homemade Buttermilk:
Thick & Tangy, Cold & Creamy
and You Made It Yourself!

Have you ever heard that store-bought buttermilk isn't what it used to be? Me too. But take just milk, a little of that grocery store buttermilk as "starter", a sprinkle of salt and 24 hours later, what emerges is the thickest, creamiest and tangiest homemade buttermilk ever. Say hello to my latest obsession, making homemade buttermilk.

Homemade Buttermilk

Talk about a Christmas gift that keeps on giving!

Let me explain. At Christmas, I gifted myself with magazine subscriptions. For the first time in several years, I subscribed to Saveur, Bon Appetit and Vegetarian Times. I figured the subscriptions were not just for me but for the industry as a whole, paying for inspiring writing and recipes. (Another “gift”? Subscribing via Amazon Magazine Subscription Manager. Now my subscriptions are in one easy-to-find Amazon-efficient place.)

My favorite subscription so far, for everyday recipe inspiration, is Vegetarian Times.

But the Bon Appetit subscription paid for itself in the first issue. Buried in the verrrry back of January was a toss-off recipe for making buttermilk.

Now for the record, I’ve always been keen on buttermilk. Why?

I love its tang in smoothies and wherever you can really “taste” the buttermilk.
It’s also great for adding flavor and lightening a mayo-based dressing, a trick for reducing the calories in salads.
Plus buttermilk has a tenderizing effect on baked goods so a quart is always on hand for impromptu pancakes, muffins and my favorite rustic country-style cakes.

But when the fridge is buttermilk bare, like most of us, I have on occasion “made-do” by souring milk with vinegar or lemon juice as a substitute for buttermilk. That make-do buttermilk isn't that great, especially when commercial buttermilk is inexpensive and keeps for several weeks.

But over the years, I’ve also read that “store-bought buttermilk isn't what it used to be”. Would I be willing to put some effort into producing really good-tasting buttermilk? Heck yeah!

But this recipe? It is ever so easy! No yogurty heating and cooling contortions! No weird ingredients!

It takes no more than a little commercial buttermilk as the “starter” and then regular milk.

The first batch sat on my counter for a little over 24 hours and – not to overstate this or anything – IT WAS A REVELATION.

Tangy but with a touch of something akin to sweetness. Pillows of luxuriant creaminess. The first batch was made with whole milk and didn’t last long, I stirred it into soup and cereal and fruit and even took spoonfuls straight from the jar.

Since then I’ve made a new batch every week or so, often with whole milk, some times with skim milk. I use it for the typical buttermilk recipes but also as a substitute for yogurt and sour cream. I can’t get enough of this stuff!

In fact – for anyone who doesn’t have access to affordable Greek yogurt? (My regular grocery charges two arms and two legs for Greek yogurt.) Make the buttermilk with whole milk, then drain out the whey – it’s a very close cousin.

My favorite, by far, is making buttermilk with whole milk. This creamy stuff, it’s easy to imagine, is what old-timers so fondly remember about buttermilk.

For additional tang, I make buttermilk with goat milk too. I find it at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and even my regular Schnucks grocery here in St. Louis and unfortunately, the skim version is becoming harder to find.

Kitchen Parade is written by second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg and features fresh, seasonal dishes for every-day healthful eating and occasional indulgences. Do you have a favorite recipe that other Kitchen Parade readers might like? Just send me a quick e-mail via recipes@kitchen-parade.com. How to print a Kitchen Parade recipe. Never miss a recipe! If you like this recipe, sign up for a free e-mail subscription. If you like Kitchen Parade, you're sure to like my food blog about vegetable recipes, too, A Veggie Venture. Follow Kitchen Parade on Facebook!


DIY buttermilk, easy and luscious
Hands-on time: 5 minutes
Time to table: 24 hours
Keeps: 2 to 3 weeks
  • 1/2 cup commercial buttermilk (see TIPS)
  • 2 cups milk – whole, skim, goat (see TIPS)
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (see TIPS)
    FOR JUST ONE CUP (plus 1/4 cup starter for next time)
  • 1/4 cup commercial buttermilk
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
    FOR A QUART (4 cups)
  • 3/4 cup commercial buttermilk
  • 3-1/4 cups milk
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 part commercial buttermilk
  • 4 parts milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt (per cup milk)

DAY ONE Combine buttermilk, milk and salt in a very clean glass container (see TIPS). Give it a good shake to combine. Cover and let rest at room temperature for about 24 hours or until thick and creamy.

DAY TWO Set aside and refrigerate enough homemade buttermilk to use as the "buttermilk starter" for the next batch. Refrigerate and use the remainder within a couple of weeks. If the whey (that's the clear liquid) separates, gently shake to re-combine.

CONTAINERS A wide-mouth one-quart canning jar with measure marks on the side works especially well, no measuring cup required. But I’ve also ordered a brush bottle cleaner to make homemade buttermilk in an antique milk bottle from the Winnipeg Creamery with a narrow pour. A glass V-8 bottle works great too – though mine is a few years old, V-8 maybe only comes in plastic now.
COMMERCIAL BUTTERMILK This acts as the "starter" that converts the milk into buttermilk. It's nothing special, just store-bought buttermilk, organic if you like and available in one-cup, two-cup and quart-size cartons. Since you’ll only use a little, start with a small carton, especially if you intend to set aside some of your own for the next batch. By accident, I’ve used as little as 1/4 cup starter to 2 cups liquid. It’s fine, just slightly thinner. This means you needn’t be exact with the amounts, three cheers for that, eh?
SALT The Bon Appetit recipe called for a touch of salt. I’m on-again off-again about adding salt, usually off.
MILK CHOICES I’ve made buttermilk every week or two since January using different milks. Here’s how they’ve varied.
Whole Milk – produces a luscious thick ‘n’ creamy mixture that makes you say, Wow, this is what they mean by “real” buttermilk. Amazing. Too thick to pour into a glass but instead soft and spoonable. Definitely my favorite.
Organic Skim Milk – produces a thick tangy liquid similar in texture to commercial low-fat buttermilk but with fresher, purer flavor. Can be strained through paper towels for something like soft yogurt.
Low-Fat Goat Milk – produces a tangy liquid, very pourable, very drinkable. This continues to thicken in the refrigerator, the texture is very similar to commercial buttermilk.
Full-Fat Goat Milk – produces a tangy liquid, not at all as rich and delicious as whole milk so I’d save the calories and stick with low-fat goat milk.
Mixed Milks – clean out the fridge and use up odd bits of dairy all at once.
Cream – culture cream and buttermilk together and you get, yes, crème fraiche!
NUTRITION ESTIMATE Per Cup Made with Skim/Whole Milk: 96/144 Calories; 1/7g Tot Fat; 1/4g Sat Fat; 7/23mg Cholesterol; 261/237mg Sodium; 12/11g Carb; 0g Fiber; 13g Sugar; 9/8g Protein. Weight Watchers Old Points 2/3, PointsPlus 2/4.
Adapted from Bon Appetit

This Week, Years Past 2002 - 2011

Juicy Pork Chops Grated Vegetables: Beet Röesti & Shredded Zucchini with Thyme Blueberry Sour Cream Pie Ratatouille Omelettes Leek Sauce for Pasta Peach Festival: Fresh Peach Pie & Savory Peach Appetizer & Peach & Cantaloupe Soup & Roasted Peaches First-Prize Peach Pie Sweet-Corn Soup with Shrimp

This Week, Elsewhere

Rich & Charlie's Chicken Spiedini from Rich & Charlie's
~ more St. Louis Restaurant Recipes ~
My Column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Farmers Market Quiche with Crispy Potato Crust
~ more Recent Recipes ~
A Veggie Venture

More "Homemade Pantry" Recipes

(hover for a description, click a photo for a recipe)
Homemade Ricotta - Skinny & Creamy Homemade Mayonnaise for BLTs Homemade Kabocha Squash Pumpkin Purée

Shop Your Pantry First

(helping home cooks save money on groceries)

© Copyright 2012 Kitchen Parade

Alanna Kellogg
Alanna Kellogg

A Veggie Venture is home of "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.


  1. kirsten7/11/2012

    I was thinking 'hey, I just picked up a half gallon for muffins, I'll save a bit and make my own buttermilk before it's empty'.

    But you had me at homemade creme fraiche. I'm doin' it today.

  2. Carolyn7/11/2012

    If I would have to actually 'buy' store buttermilk as a 'starter', I believe I would just use the store buttermilk.

  3. Carolyn ~ Just the first time, then you use your own starter from there on. But I know what you mean, I do. If this buttermilk didn't taste so good, it wouldn't make sense. I hope you'll give it a second look!

  4. Finally!! The famous buttermilk recipe. You've sufficiently convinced me that I need to stop with the milk and lemon juice, and I'm going to give this a try. Thanks so much for sharing!

  5. Alanna -- I am definitely going to try this. Love buttermilk and have some leftover from pancakes last weekend, just need to stop and pick up some milk. I just noticed your last name -- Kellogg. My maiden name was Post!

  6. Boy, you're not kidding about the price of Greek yogurt - the price is outrageous. This post comes at a good time - I have a container of that Saco dried buttermilk maker (for lack of a better term) sitting in my pantry, and have been meaning to try it out. Although I've heard good things about it, I do wonder. Your method looks excellent, and doesn't take much time. In the coming months I'll definitely be getting around to trying both! Great post - thank you.

  7. Anonymous7/13/2012

    Looks delicious Alanna! I will try it this weekend. Question - when covering it, are you putting the jar lid on, or are you covering with cheesecloth, the way we would when making yogurt? Thanks, Becky

  8. Denise ~ Yes, finally. I think you'll love this!

    Sandi ~ I grew up teased as "Cornflakes", is there a Post counterpart?

    Kalyn ~ Thanks, it's goooood stuff!

    John ~ Our friends Charlie and Jan rave about the Saco buttermilk powder. I suppose it's "convenient" but I just don't get how buttermilk is NOT convenient already.

    Becky ~ I just use the bottle/jar cover. Cheesecloth, I think, is designed to let some culture in but in this case, the starter/culture is coming from the smaller portion of buttermilk. Let me know how it goes!

  9. Great information. Making this is on my list - not done yet as no small containers of this available anywhere here. Only one size and that is a litre... and then to make my own I would have to be baking immediately after. Or making cheese that needs it. I am just doing my first mascarpone. OH, I am such a cheese baby. But, when I get into something - I must confess, I get a little obsessed!
    Thanks for the information at the end of the post, too!

  10. I regularly make yogurt and have buttermilk on my to-do list. I think you've just bumped it to the top of the list, as I have some store-bought buttermilk in the fridge.

  11. Thanks for the recipe, Alanna. This was so easy! Yesterday I happened to buy a can of coconut water to try. I found it rather sweet for my taste, so I mixed it with an equal amount of the homemade buttermilk. Delicious! Kind of like a buttermilk pina colada. Hmm, maybe I'll add some pineapple juice next time, too. . .
    -Susan K from Thunder Bay

  12. Hi Alanna, I found this recipe while reading your best of 2012 post. I just have a quick but super-important question because I can't wait to make some buttermilk! The commercial buttermilk you're using is the "lowfat" type typically found at supermarkets, correct? I've looked all over Chicago, and I've never seen one that was full fat (or nonfat for that matter). Thank you for clarifying!

  13. Hi Julie, yes here too there's only low-fat buttermilk so that's what I start with. It's really the "starter" you're after so it works fine, so does yogurt and any similar drink/whatever with active cultures. I hope you love this as much as I do - buttermilk has been so denuded, just like American-style yogurt all about the sugar, not the natural fermented flavors.

  14. Thanks for the quick answer Alanna. I'm definitely going to make it! I bake with buttermilk all the time, but I've always wanted to use something better than commercial.

  15. Anonymous6/12/2013

    Hi - do you absolutely have to leave it at room temperature? If you put it in the fridge, would it still become buttermilk but just take longer? I have had mixed results and wonder if I just made sour milk. I'm wondering if I did it with buttermilk that no longer had live cultures and instead of making more buttermilk, I possibly made soured milk. Thanks for this post!

  16. Could you make buttermilk with lactose-free milk?

  17. Anonymous ~ Y'know, I would think it would work (like a slow-rise yeast bread). I've made this so many times and it's definitely not just "sour milk" - it's thick and creamy and has that distinctive buttermilk "tang". I'm not using any special buttermilk though, just due to availability, probably have used only two or three brands. Maybe I'm just lucky?

    Kathy EM ~ Gosh, I have zero idea. But it's sure worth a try. Wouldn't the buttermilk starter itself have lactose? The proportion would get smaller and smaller over time but still, for someone with a severe issue with lactose, might not work in real life, even if the process does create buttermilk.

    I hope you'll both let me know what you learn here, if you give this a try!

  18. I followed this for buttermilk to a "T" using the 2 cups of whole milk. It sat 24 hours and it smells good but has not thickened at all! Disappointed :-(

  19. Jenny ~ Aii, I’d be disappointed too! Did it ever thicken? If not, the only thing I can think of is that your buttermilk “starter” didn’t have anything alive in it, maybe it was ultra-pasteurized? something else? I just checked the commercial buttermilk in my fridge and it makes no mention of “live cultures” (as yogurt will). I know I’ve used several brands of buttermilk as starter with no issues. The only thing I can think is, to switch buttermilk brands. “Something” is different, we just have to figure out what, I really appreciate your letting me know so that I can help figure it out.


Post a Comment

Thank you for taking a moment to write! I read each and every comment, for each and every recipe. If you have a specific question, it's nearly always answered quick-quick. But I also love hearing your reactions, your curiosity, even your concerns! When you've made a recipe, I especially love to know how it turned out, what variations you made, what you'll do differently the next time. ~ Alanna