5 Buttermilk Questions You Were Too Embarrassed to Ask

Photo Credit: Cooks Illustrated

Buttermilk is a dairy product that many of us do not use every day. Here are 5 buttermilk questions you were too embarrassed to ask, but that we are not afraid to answer!

What is buttermilk?

Buttermilk was originally a drink that resulted after churning butter. The liquid left behind was used in cooking or just drunk straight. It got tangy because the liquid sat ripening for a few days. If you were very wealthy, you might feed buttermilk to the pigs, but most families never tossed anything that nutritious away. It is usually a light yellow color or a pale off-white. Today, buttermilk is produced commercially and does not bear much resemblance to real buttermilk, if you have ever churned butter and been able to see what is left over.

Why use buttermilk?

It is the slightly tangy flavor of buttermilk and its amazing capacity to make foods moist and juicy that causes us to use this in so many dishes. It has both a buttery flavor and a sharp one that can flavor foods wonderfully. Its high lactic acid content is also perfect for marinating chicken, especially chicken that you later fry.

How long can I keep buttermilk?

It depends on what kind of buttermilk you have. If you have purchased commercial milk, which contains all kinds of other ingredients, it may keep even up to one month. Again, the high lactic acid content keeps the milk from turning truly bad. Always check it, and you will notice it loses its lovely buttery flavor and becomes increasingly sour over time. Try to use it up in two weeks. Make cakes, marinate chicken, or cook pancakes with it to use it all up.

Can I substitute something else for buttermilk?

Not really, although there are suggestions out there. Some recipes say to use 1 teaspoon of lemon juice dissolved in the milk. Others suggest yogurt, or yogurt thinned with milk. A final method is to whip cream of tartar into the milk, which is not a bad solution to achieve the lightness that buttermilk gives. None are particularly satisfactory substitutes and will result in a slightly different product. Still, if you’re stuck, it’s better than nothing.

Is it worth buying?

Buttermilk is a great product to become accustomed to using and keeping in your fridge. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a farmer friend who will sell you the real stuff; otherwise, buy the commercial variety at your local grocery store.

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