Because of its name, you might assume that buttermilk is a rich, fatty dairy beverage. But true buttermilk is actually just the product of making butter; it's the liquid that remains once milk has been churned into butter. Slightly thicker than milk, but also lower in fat, buttermilk has a slightly tangy taste, similar to yogurt. It is often used in baked goods to add a light texture and a kick of flavor.
These days, most commercially-made buttermilk is just pasteurized whole or skim milk cultured with a lactic acid bacteria and fermented for 12-14 hours. If you look for it in the supermarket, you'll usually see it labeled "cultured buttermilk".
It's tough to find real, old-fashioned buttermilk, but some farms are still producing it. Animal Farm in Orwell, Vermont makes hand-churned butter and bottles its buttermilk, which can be found at specialty retailers like Saxelby Cheesemongers in New York.
Buttermilk has some great health benefits. While most people don't drink it by the glass anymore, it has much less fat than regular whole milk and more flavor and richness. A cup of whole milk packs 157 calories and almost 9 grams of fat; commercial buttermilk is 99 calories per cup with only 2.2 grams of fat. Real buttermilk can also be easier to digest than regular milk because it contains active bacteria cultures that aid in digestion.
You can add it to a smoothie for a low-fat substitute for yogurt, or use it in mashed potatoes instead of calorie-laden butter or sour cream for added tanginess. It also works well as a base for creamy salad dressings.
If a recipe calls for buttermilk and you don't have it in the fridge, you can actually easily make it at home! Just follow these steps for Homemade Buttermilk:
1. Add 1 tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice to a glass measuring cup. 2. Add milk (whole, low fat, or skim) until the amount reaches one cup. 3. Whisk together and let stand for 10-15 minutes until the milk is curdled. 4. Stir and enjoy your homemade buttermilk!
Need a way to use your buttermilk? Try it in Buttermilk Cheddar and Bacon Biscuits!
Photo Credit: Lindsay Hunt