Dairy · Wholesome Ingredients

Buttermilk – A Staple in Grandma’s Kitchen

Did you have buttermilk in your home when you were growing up? I think we did only on special occasions and holidays. Mom had a few recipes she made during these times that my Grandmother had also made. So buttermilk didn’t feature prominently in our families diet when I was a kid. But it did feature prominently in Grandma’s cooking. I had often wondered why the popularity but not looked into it very much until I started learning more about real food cookery. With that I’ve come to understand why it’s popular.

What is buttermilk exactly?

Buttermilk refers to two things … that’s why you’ll find some confusion when people are talking about it. Traditional buttermilk is simply the milk left in the bowl after butter making. This is the kind of buttermilk I’ve been using in my kitchen. But the second kind of buttermilk, cultured buttermilk, is also very traditional. It was a favored drink in the south prior to refrigeration as cultured buttermilk keeps for a long time even in a hot climate. Acid is a natural preservative … it inhibits the growth of pathogenic bacteria. Buttermilk is naturally acidic hence the longer life. There is no butter in buttermilk. Cultured buttermilk is the only kind available commercially and is the kind of buttermilk typically required in recipes. In the past there was some crossover between the two because pre-refrigeration and mechanical cream separators people simply left their milk out for the cream to rise. While the cream was rising a natural culture would begin to grow in the milk.

Most of the buttermilk available in the store is made by culturing pasteurized milk, not as a byproduct of butter making.

What is buttermilk used for?

Buttermilk is acidic and so can be used anywhere an acid is desired. For instance soaking grains, flours, beans, etc to reduce phytic acids. It can be used as marinade for meat and often was in southern cooking. It can also be used as a leavening as in buttermilk biscuits and pancakes. So you see why I now understand it’s great popularity! It is remarkably versatile! So having some around all the time will make your life as a southern real food cook much easier :-). And since it keeps well that is easy to do.

Traditional buttermilk is the least acidic kind and cultured buttermilk is the most.

How to choose the best buttermilk

In choosing buttermilk much of the same concerns apply as when choosing milk. Ideally you would want buttermilk made from raw grassfed milk. You’ll also want to consider whether it has live cultures, depending on how you’ll use it. Live cultures matter most when drinking straight, or soaking, or using it in a served raw recipe, like salad dressing. If you’re just using it in cooking, it’s less important.

Since we are all working within the 80/20 rule , here’s a guide to help in the balancing act of quality to money to time, so you can work out your own individual priorities. It’s organized from the best to least to must-avoid.

  • Excellent ($$$) – Buttermilk made either traditional or cultured from grassfed raw milk. This could be made either at home (super easy, btw) or by the farmer/distributor. This buttermilk will still contain live cultures with the cultured variety having more.
  • Pretty Good ($$$) – Cultured buttermilk made from lightly pasteurized grassfed milk made at home. This buttermilk will contain live cultures.
  • Pretty Good ($$$) – Traditional buttermilk made from lightly pasteurized grassfed milk. May or may not contain live cultures … most likely not :-).
  • Good ($$$) – Cultured buttermilk made from lightly pasteurized milk made at home. This buttermilk will contain live cultures.
  • Allright ($$) – Cultured buttermilk made from lightly pasteurized milk made commercially. This buttermilk may or may not contain live cultures so read the label carefully.
  • Absolutely Avoid – Buttermilk made with Ultra High Pasteurized (UHT) Milk – Personally I haven’t seen any buttermilk labeled UHT but I’m concerned that it *may* be happening as there are regulations on the books (FDA) concerning the labeling of UHT cultured dairy products so it seems that the food industry can make cultured products from this milk even though it’s difficult and results in an inferior product for the home cook. Note that you will rarely if ever see a cultured dairy product labeled as UHT … if you have seen it leave me a note below, I’d love to hear about it :-).

Links to more about buttermilk

22 thoughts on “Buttermilk – A Staple in Grandma’s Kitchen

  1. I “think” I have made cultured buttermilk here at home with my raw milk.
    First…I cultured a quart of heavy cream by adding about 1/3 cup of my homemade creme fraiche to the quart, stirring gently to mix, then leaving it out on the counter for 24 plus hours. It will then be thick and creamy. (like sour cream, almost) I then refrigerate it for up to a week. When I am ready to make my cultured butter from it, I take it out and using my large Kitchenaid mixer, I make my butter. What is left after making the cultured butter is buttermilk. It looks and tastes like store bought cultured buttermilk, unlike the thin, watery liquid I get when I make butter using my raw cream, but without culturing it first.
    My recipe is similar to this one: http://cooklikeyourgrandmother.com/2008/06/how-to-make-cultured-butter-and-buttermilk/


    1. Hi FarmgirlCyn! Yes, looks like cultured buttermilk to me πŸ™‚ I love Drew at CookLikeYourGrandmother.com too! Lots of great cooking tips … I loved it that Drew doesn’t rinse his butter either when he plans to eat it up quickly. I left out that step in my How to Make Butter at Home just ’cause we eat it so fast, it doesn’t have a chance to sour :-).


  2. I keep a Mother culture going to make our own cultured butter and buttermilk. It’s the best stuff! I always put a bit of it in my fresh cream then leave it on the counter a couple days to culture. The resulting butter is fabulous and I get plenty of cultured buttermilk to use for cooking, or reculturing. I use it to make my sour cream and cream cheeses, among other things. Great post!
    You CAN culture pasturized milk from the store, to keep it going so you don’t have to buy more.
    I have a Jersey so I use my raw milk.


  3. Great information! I’m going to share on my FB page. I love buttermilk for baking. I remember my grandparents crumbling up cornbread in a tall glass of buttermilk and eating it with a spoon — and also just drinking it! I have never tried to make my own buttermilk — would love to know how to do that!


  4. Still haven’t attempted to make my own buttermilk. Sigh. But not a lot of my recipes call for it. Usually I skip the ones that do (cause I don’t have it!). I am probably missing out on a lot.


  5. Pingback: Whole Wheat Buttermilk Soaked Biscuit Recipe β€” Mrs Dulls Nourished Kitchen
  6. Hey Kathy! I live outside of Austin as well (Pflugerville) . I was wondering if you could help me out? I tried to make cultured buttermilk by taking 1/4 cup of storebought stuff from HEB (It says it it was cultured) and mixing with normal milk in a quart jar.

    I let it sit for 12 hours and it was thick and not very acidic. I tried another 12 hours and same thing. Now the buttermilk is pretty thick and not as acidic as the store bought and not something I would want to drink but it smells like cultured buttermilk.

    I guess my question is, if you make cultured buttermilk at home I shouldn’t think it will turn out like the stuff in the stores?


    1. Hi Neighbor πŸ™‚ I live so close to you, I’m just down the road in Elgin. We should share food sources πŸ™‚ I know this is a method used to make cultured buttermilk that works using buttermilk with live cultures and raw whole milk. I’d be wary though of making it with HEB buttermilk and pasteurized milk. There is a very good chance that the grocery store buttermilk no longer has any live cultures left in it to inoculate the milk with good bacteria. Then, if you leave the pasteurized milk out it won’t have good bacteria in abundance, so the bad bacteria in the milk will multiply. So the milk will sour, but in a very bad way, more like putrefy. Maybe you could get some raw milk? There’s a few dairy farms near us … I buy from Sand Creek. Then you can make traditional buttermilk or cultured buttermilk from a starter. Then you can use your own buttermilk to make new batches. If you want to talk sources just drop me an email at adminATgrannysvitalvittles DOTcom. Sorry for spelling that out … trying to avoid spambots.


  7. I just cracked the lid on my first pint of home made buttermilk (from grass-fed milk bought at the farmers’ market.) Maybe I was getting the creme fraiche from the top, but it tastes absolutely nothing like store-bought buttermilk — it has a very light, clean flavor. I promptly spooned it over my morning granola cereal instead of the plain yogurt I normally use. Now, I have to get around to making yogurt.


  8. I have a store in my hometown that sells raw milk. However, they keep it frozen. Will this kill the needed enzymes/bacteria needed for culturing the milk into buttermilk? Thanks!


Comments are closed.