May 3, 2009
Q What is buttermilk? A friend said that it has less fat than normal milk and probably has some form of butter added to it. Is it a form of 'breakfast milk'? Can I substitute it with skim or normal milk, unsweetened soya milk or coconut milk? Do I have to add a bit of butter if these substitutes are used?
A Traditionally, buttermilk is the liquid drained off from butter after the churning.
In the pre-refrigeration era, most butters were churned from cream that had ripened - naturally soured - a little and so the resulting buttermilk was slightly thickened and tangy.
These days, commercially sold buttermilk is more often just milk that has been lightly soured with a lactobacillus culture (usually different from those used for yogurt).
Flavour-wise, it is less acidic than yogurt, rather like a mild lassi. It is however much thicker and stronger-tasting than traditional buttermilk, and thus they are not interchangeable.
Most modern recipes calling for buttermilk mean the cultured stuff, often using it in tandem with bicarbonate of soda for leavening.
Some American recipes marinate chicken portions in it before deep-frying them because it tenderises meat just as yogurt does in tandoori cooking. Buttermilk is also a popular base for cold and hot soups in Europe and India.
If you cannot find buttermilk at your supermarket, just use a mixture of half plain unsweetened yogurt and half milk.
Alternatively, for a richer substitute, blend two parts sour cream with one part milk and one part water.