We have all heard of buttermilk biscuits and buttermilk fried chicken, but do you really know what buttermilk is? Fear not, we will talk about it all. The first thing to know is that it is a fermented dairy product.
Way back when, buttermilk was actually a by-product of churning butter. This is how it gets its name. It was essentially, the thin liquid leftover from butter making. When left at room temp for a bit, the natural and health-filled cultures developed even more.
Fun fact, it would last raw (meaning not pasteurized) far longer than milk during those days before having a glorious refrigerator was commonplace. This was fat-free because all the fat would end up in the butter.
As I am sure you have already guessed, the product we use today is a lot different than the one they used to keep around. Nowadays it is most often a by-product of milk production versus butter making.
It is cultured much like yogurt or kefir with lactic acid bacteria which is harmless and helps to transform the pasteurized milk into buttermilk. It is heated and allowed to ferment for around 12 hours. This is known as cultured buttermilk.
Because we have so much more control over the process now, you can buy it in all sorts of varieties including everything from skim buttermilk to full fat.
Buttermilk is found in the dairy aisle of your local grocer. It is thicker and tangier than its butter-churned cousin and regular milk. It is also more acidic.
Because it is a cultured product, it should last 1-2 weeks in the fridge. If you want to have some on hand, but don’t need it right away, throw it in the freezer for up to 3 months. If it is chunky, super thick, or visibly moldy, it’s time to throw it out.
When you get to the grocery store and they are completely out, don’t sweat it. You can make your own at home in a pinch. All you need is a cup of whole milk, 2%, or heavy cream and a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice OR white vinegar.
Stir your mixture up and let it stand for about ten minutes or so. You will know it Is ready when the milk is a little bit thicker and you see some small curdled bits. Keep in mind that this will not get as thick as the store-bought variety.
Once ready, use this as you would the regular stuff.
You can use it in your biscuits, ranch dressing, or your fried chicken, but you can also pour yourself a glass. It might be a bit of an acquired taste, but it is thought to help aid digestion and build up good gut bacteria much like yogurt.
What is the difference between milk and buttermilk?
While they are both in the dairy family, the latter is a fermented product. The lactic acid fermentation of the milk gives it a tangy taste versus the very neutral and almost sweet taste of milk.
What does buttermilk do in baking?
It is giving so much to your baking. Not only are you going to get a little fat, but your recipe will have a delicious tang. In addition to that, it is tenderizing your gluten which means softer and more tender crumb when everything is all baked.