As a dairy-free diner, have you ever looked at a recipe, thought it look delicious but then realised one of the main ingredients is buttermilk so you can’t eat it? This used to really annoy me. So I was very happy when I realised what buttermilk actually was, and how to make a plant-based alternative (in fact I already was, I just hadn’t realised!).
Traditionally, buttermilk is the slightly sour fluid that was leftover after milk had been churned into butter. Lactic acid from bacteria in the milk ferments the milk sugar, lactose, resulting in a thick, lumpy cream-like mix. It’s like thin yoghurt, but different. The lactic acid in buttermilk makes it great for baking as it reacts more effective with raising agents and helps achieve a good rise to yeast-free breads and muffins.
To make dairy-free buttermilk, all you need to do is add vinegar or lemon to a plant-based milk. It’s as simples that! This is something a lot of vegan cake recipes ask you to in order to get an improved reaction from the raising agents, it’s not often termed buttermilk though. It was only when I wanted to improve my soda bread recipe that I realised it was one and the same thing!
I find that soya milk makes the best dairy-free buttermilk. The protein structure is similar to cow milk, and it curdles with only a few drops. Almond milk on the other hand doesn’t seem to change texture, although adding the lemon or vinegar does make it sour. I tend to use lemon as I’m still intolerant to most yeast or fermented products, including vinegar. I also find the mix curdles with less lemon than vinegar. Don’t worry about it marring the flavour of your bake, as it all blends in ok with no left-over tang.
I’m really happy with my soda bread recipe now; in fact it’s going to be my next blog post, so keep an eye out. And next time you find a recipe asking for buttermilk, there’s no need to get put off!
250ml soya milk or dairy-free milk of choice
1/2 – 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar (cider vinegar preferably)
Pour the dairy-free milk into a measuring jug and the lemon juice or cider vinegar. You should notice a change in texture almost immediately. Leave for five minutes to fully curdle then use in recipes as a dairy buttermilk alternative.