Buttermilk has been a staple in many cultures for centuries, with each culture having its own unique spin on this timeless liquid. At its most basic level, buttermilk is a fermented dairy product made from the liquid residue of churning butter. Buttermilk has a thick, creamy texture and tangy, slightly sour flavor and aroma. It is ideal for baking, cooking, and as a refreshing, probiotic-rich drink.
Buttermilk has a long and winding history. The term is believed to have originated in Britain in the 1700s, when the naturally occurring lactic acidic bacteria found in butter would cause butter to curdle into a thick liquid called "butter-milk", which would then be consumed as a beverage. This tradition eventually spread to the United States, Canada, and many other countries, who each developed their own variations of the product.
In the United States, buttermilk usually refers to millk that has been soured through the use of lactic acid bacteria such as lactococcus lactis, lactobacillus bulgaricus, and leuconostoc citrovorum. The bacteria feeds on the natural sugars and starches in the milk, producing lactic acid which in turn curdles the milk and gives it a thick texture and tangy flavor. Buttermilk can also be produced through various other methods, including culturing heated milk, or adding a commercially available starter culture to the milk.
Buttermilk is widely used in cooking and baking. The acidity of the buttermilk helps break down gluten proteins, resulting in tender and fluffy cakes, muffins, scones, and pancakes. It also adds moisture and flavor to savory dishes such as sauces, salad dressings, and marinades. Buttermilk is commonly used in the Southern United States to make biscuits, cornbread, and fried chicken.
Buttermilk nutrition is surprisingly rich in both proteins and healthy fats as well as certain vitamins and minerals. Each 1 cup serving contains roughly 90 calories, 8 grams of protein and 8 grams of fat, along with several essential vitamins and minerals. While the nutritional profile of traditional buttermilk is largely the same as low-fat buttermilk, many people find the full-fat variety to be creamier and more flavorful.
Buttermilk is a versatile ingredient and can be readily swapped in place of other dairy products such as yogurt, sour cream, or even heavy cream. It’s also an ideal substitute for regular milk in recipes as its natural acidity helps to tenderize ingredients, resulting in a flavorful and light finished product. For example, you could use buttermilk in place of regular milk in pancakes and waffles for a slightly tangy and extra fluffy end result.
In recent years, buttermilk hasn’t simply been limited to baking and cooking recipes; it is increasingly being used as a drink as well. It is rich in probiotics, the beneficial bacteria which promotes healthy digestion and immunity, and has a naturally sweet and creamy taste. Non-dairy versions of buttermilk, such as almond or oat milk, are also becoming increasingly popular due to their nutty, subtly sweet flavor.
Buttermilk definitely lives up to its reputation as a versatile ingredient, boasting a range of interesting flavors and textures. Whether you’re using it to enhance your favorite dessert, drink up its probiotic benefits, or try something new and creative, buttermilk is sure to please.