The ins and outs of buttermilk

Pancakes, Southern biscuits, cornbread – all benefit from the tangy punch of buttermilk. But not all buttermilks are the same, according to an article from Eater. The dairy product has morphed from its origins as a byproduct of butter making to a cultured product akin to kefir or yogurt.

Food historians theorize that buttermilk originated in eastern Europe as animal husbandry took hold a few thousand years ago. Unlike the warmer areas where dairy was already established, the cooler climate of Europe meant that milk could be left overnight, allowing the cream to float to the top. The cream was churned into butter, and the remaining liquid – buttermilk – contained useful properties. Most importantly, according to Harold McGee, the “remnants of fat globule membranes are rich in emulsifiers like lecithin, and make it especially valuable for preparing smooth, fine-textured foods of all kinds, from ice cream to baked goods.” 

Mechanical cream separators meant that people no longer had to wait for the cream to rise to the top, which meant that the microbes that acted overnight were no longer acting on the buttermilk to give it tang. Today you are much more likely to find cultured buttermilk in your grocery store than “true” buttermilk. Regardless of how they get there, the acids in buttermilk reacts with leavening agents like baking soda to produce fluffy pancakes, mile-high American-style biscuits, and other baked goods. In addition, the acids provide a subtle tang that enhances flavor. I always have a carton of buttermilk in the refrigerator because it adds so much to myriad baked goods, and it keeps well beyond the stated “best by” date stamped at the top.

Photo of How to make your own buttermilk (a.k.a. liquid gold) from Bon Appétit

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  • Rinshin  on  October 2, 2021

    I always have buttermilk on hand, but unfortunately not all markets sell it. But they sell enormous amount of non-dairy selections which I don’t buy.

  • SLBlue  on  October 3, 2021

    You can also freeze buttermilk. You won’t want to drink it when it thaws (for those of you who actually drink buttermilk like the old folks in my family did) — but it works perfectly in baking. So that’s how I deal with keeping it on hand: I freeze it in large-cube ice cube trays.

  • Jenjeanh  on  October 9, 2021

    I always like to have buttermilk on hand as well but I am annoyed when I can’t find full fat buttermilk in the store. I find that the 1.5% fat just does not add the same flavour

  • MarthaLorden  on  October 10, 2021

    I love using buttermilk for wonderful, no-fail stove top cheese!

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