10 Ways To Use Buttermilk And Sour Milk

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Here are 10 easy ways to use buttermilk and sour milk in response to your buttermilk questions! More of what you wanted to know about homemade buttermilk!

10 Ways To Use Buttermilk And Sour Milk

Readers’ Homemade Buttermilk Questions Answered

We get many questions about buttermilk and our homemade buttermilk recipe like, “How do I use homemade buttermilk?” “What if I don’t have any buttermilk to start it?” and so on, so I thought I would try to clear up some of the confusion about making your own buttermilk today.


  • Yes you can freeze buttermilk. It is like milk though you must shake it well after freezing because it separates. You may not want to use it for drinking though because texture is different.
  • Dried buttermilk in the can works great. I use it all the time. It has an almost forever shelf life if unopened and it lasts almost as long when opened.
  • You can use buttermilk in place of milk in recipes but you must be careful if those recipes have baking powder in them. It messes up the leavening in the recipe. If you want, you can still use it. You just need to replace each 2 tsp. of baking powder with 1/2 tsp. of baking soda.
  • You can interchange yogurt, sour cream and buttermilk in  most recipes. If you need your recipe to be looser, you can use 1/4 cup milk plus 3/4 cup yogurt or sour cream in place of buttermilk.
  • Let 2-3 tsp. of lemon juice or vinegar set in a cup of milk for 10 minutes to make sour milk. Be sure to put the vinegar or juice in the cup first and then add enough milk to make a cup.
  • Buttermilk and sour milk really shouldn’t be interchanged if you can help it. You can do it but it will sometimes change the texture of what you are making.



Today I made some homemade buttermilk. Homemade buttermilk is the simplest thing to make! I had some milk that was left out and became sour. Mike in his ever efficient manner made sure that we all knew it was sour. (see picture :-)

make homemade buttermilk from sour milk

At the grocery store today, I found some buttermilk marked down for .39 so I grabbed it up and made some buttermilk. It will be done in the morning, just in time for pancakes. Here’s the buttermilk recipe if you would like to try it. It works best with whole milk but it will work with skim. It will just be runnier. This time I just dumped the buttermilk into the milk container because I had already used some of the milk for biscuits.


One of our readers asked why it is okay to set out buttermilk and let it sour but the sour milk in her child’s sippy is bad for her child.

Here is Jill’s answer:

Many people think sour milk and buttermilk are the same but they are different.

used to be the watery stuff leftover from making butter. These days, it is made by adding a lactic acid bacteria to regular pasteurized milk.

Sour milk
is made by adding vinegar and lemon juice to regular milk to make it sour.

Spoiled milk
is milk that has just been left out and has gone bad, like the milk in a child’s sippy cup.

To make homemade buttermilk, the recipe says to add 1-2 cups of buttermilk you already have to regular milk and let it sit out. The acid bacteria in the original buttermilk is what makes the difference. This isn’t a perfect example but it is kind of like the good bacteria and the bad bacteria in your stomach. You need the good bacteria to kill off the bad and to keep you healthy. It is the same type of thing. The bacteria in the buttermilk that you add to the milk keeps the bad bacteria at bay. Regular milk gone sour doesn’t have that acid in it, so you get nothing but bad bacteria in spoiled milk.

The same is true with sour milk. Vinegar or acid kills bad bacteria in the milk. That is why canned pickles last so long– because the acid in them keep the bacteria away longer.

You can interchange buttermilk and sour milk in a recipe but there is a difference between the two. Often, the difference is in the texture so when a recipe calls for buttermilk I usually try to use buttermilk and not just make my own sour milk with vinegar (although I do use sour milk in some recipes).

Buttermilk pancakes or biscuits come out slightly fluffier using buttermilk than when you substitute sour milk. That’s why they’re not called Sour Milk Pancakes. 😉


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  1. Denise says

    How long does purchased buttermilk last in the fridge once it has been opened? I’ve never cooked with it much but we enjoy it for pancakes. The problem is I never know when it’s still good or when it is time to toss it. Thanks!

  2. jill says

    Well the unofficial time you can keep it is forever. It pretty much is sour anyway. I have have some in the fridge that has been opened and is 4 weeks past it’s date on the bottle that I have used. I just hesitate because I know I will be flood with e mails for saying that you can keep it that long.

    My point being is that it will keep longer then your normal milk does and much longer then most people think.

    Also if you don’t use it often and only need it once in a while I use to keep a can of powder buttermilk and it works really good. You just make up the amount you need each time. You can find it in the baking section of the store and sometimes with the powder milk.


  3. Dineen says

    I am wondering why you bothered purchasing the buttermilk to culture with, since the milk was already sour? I am not sure I would drink soured milk, but it’s already soured and great for pancakes “as is”. My grandparents used to purposely keep ends of cartons of milk just for this reason.
    So are you just using the homemade buttermilk for cooking? Did it make that much difference in the taste from the plain sour milk?
    Also if you don’t use buttermilk that often, one way to substitute is to sour regular milk by putting one tablespoon of vinegar in a measuring cup and adding milk to equal a cup. Let it sit 5 minutes or so and you have nice soured milk (while you measure rest of ingredients for the recipe). What’s nice about this is you can do it with the richer whole milk for baking and I am pretty sure most buttermilk in the store is made with low-fat milk.

  4. jill says

    Originally buttermilk was the liquid that was leftover after butter was made. Now a days buttermilk isn’t the same at all. It is milk (most of the time low fat) that has a special acid and cultures added to it. It is then left to ferment for a certain period of time. Sour cream is made the same way but you use heavy cream instead of the milk.

    Buttermilk lasts longing then milk because of the acid is used in it which kills bacteria. You can also freeze it for 3 months but you do need to shake it when you thaw it.

    The reason you use a small amount of buttermilk added to regular milk when making homemade is you are adding the cultures to the milk that were used in the original buttermilk.

    For some recipes you can just add a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to milk to replace the buttermilk. You can also use 3/4 cups of yogurt and 1/4 cup of milk to replace buttermilk.

    In some of my recipes I can tell a little bit of difference in the texture if I use buttermilk over just the “soured” milk made with vinegar or lemon juice that is why I usually use buttermilk when it calls for it.

    The reason we use whole milk is for some reason it seems to “take” better then when we use low fat and the consistency is better.

    Some people like to drink buttermilk and when it comes to the flavor it is totally different then just “souring” the milk.

    Hope this helped to explain a few things.


  5. Pamela says

    I was about to ask about the powdered buttermilk. Have you ever used the powder to mix with the soured milk rather than using the liquid buttermilk. If so how much of the powder should I use or should I just mix up enough to match the “receipe” you already posted.

  6. Nee Nee says

    Thanks Jill,
    That cleared up a lot of questions that I had as well. I am certainly going to try it. I use buttermilk in pancakes, several of my cake recipes and a couple of frosting recipes. And I am forever throwing out “bad” milk….feeling very wasteful as I do it.

  7. jill says

    I have not ever tried the powdered with soured milk. Maybe some of our readers have. If not I would say it was worth a try. If you only need enough for the recipe for the moment mix up that amount. If you think you will be using more for something else then mix up a bigger batch.
    Also there are really good instructions on the back of the powder buttermilk to help you to figure out what you need.


  8. Linda says

    Powdered butter milk is not new> My Mom use to put in the amount of the dry butrtermilk it took to make the amount of liquid butter milk in the recipe and then add her water to the recipe. That way no butter milk is left over to spoil. Foe instance if your recipe calls for 1 cup butter milk but in the amount of dry butter milk to make the 1 cup and then add one cup od water.

  9. Leah says

    I use powdered buttermilk in my pancake recipe along with whole milk. I use to use water but I must admit that the whole milk makes them taste better. Once my daughter is 2 and no longer drinking whole milk I’m sure I’ll start using 2%.
    Here’s my recipe if anyone is interested.

    1 C flour
    4 T dry buttermilk
    1 T sugar
    1 t baking powder
    1/2 t baking soda
    1 egg
    1 T oil
    1 C milk (or water)

    Mix well and let sit for 10 minutes while the griddle heats up. Pour by large spoonfulls (I have a special spoon just for pancake batter). Turn once the bubbles are clear and the bottom is browned.

    Last night I used 1/2 C self rising flour and 1/2 C whole wheat flour because I was out of white flour. I cut the amount of baking powder and soda in half and they were wonderful. I think I’m gonna try using vanilla yougert to give them a little vanilla flaver next time! The great thing about pancakes is you can mess with them. Add blueberries or strawberries, chocolate chips ect. We eat pancakes once a week because my son loves them so much. He’s only at our house 2 days out of the week because he lives with his mom the rest of the time so I figure I can make pancakes for him when he’s at our house.


  10. Janice Bennett says


  11. Jessica says

    My husband eats that, the cornbread and milk.
    I have been making homemade buttermilk with milk and lemon juice or vinegar for about 6 months. The kids like the buttermilk pancakes and waffles better than the non-buttermilk.
    Sour is already bad like sour cream…my Mom would always say, “What’s it gonna do, go good?! Unless it is growing things, it’s good enough!” LOL!!

    • says

      I like your mom Jessica. I think the same thing until it is growing things it is ok. I keep my buttermilk forever and keep using it because it is sour and can’t get any more sour just like you said.

  12. Lois says

    I have been making Greek yogurt by straining regular yogurt through a coffee filter held in a sieve over a bowl. I was going to throw out the whey, but then I wondered if I could add regular powdered milk to it to make “buttermilk”. I tried it in an oatmeal pancake recipe and it worked fine. The nutrients in the whey don’t get poured down the drain!

  13. barb~ says

    I buy the powdered buttermilk. It comes in a container that looks a little like a cocoa can. I keep it in the freezer, and mix up just what I need. Finding the powdered buttermilk was a big money saver, and now I don’t steer away from recipes that call for it.

  14. Linda Cabler says

    I hardly ever buy buttermilk. When using a recipe that calls for butter milk I put 2 to 3 tablespoos of vinegar in a cup and add enough regular ( sweet milk) to make a cup of milk. Leave it sitting on the counter for about 5 min and you have fresh buttermilk.

  15. rose says

    walmart sells the really tiny bottles for buttermilk and that is what i buy (of course i hardly bake these days) so this is ok with us ..

  16. Staci says

    Ok, someone needs to help clarify something for me… I have been doing a lot of reading on making products like buttermilk and yogurt, etc. I’m baffled at how you can set milk out to “sour” without it growing bacteria that will make you sick. My kids will occasionally find an old sippy cup of milk, and that never turns out good. How is leaving milk out to “sour” any different? If I accidentally left milk out, I’d throw it away. What am I missing here? Thanks!

  17. Real Buttermilk says

    When you leave heavy cream out on the counter until it sours, you kill two birds with one stone You can make
    both butter and buttermilk and not throw out anything. Just shake it until the two separate or put in the food processor until it separates. If you haven’t tried it, give it a try.

  18. anita says

    Staci, the difference between the milk you find left over in a sippy cup and the milk that has soured purposefully is that either an acid (lemon juice, or vinegar or citric acid) or cultures (previous batch of buttermilk) have been added these not only sour the milk but prevent harmful bacteria from forming. The stuff in the sippy cup not only doesn’t have that protection but also has bacteria from the mouth in it that can cause all kinds of nasty.

  19. Colleen G. says

    I have found that once cultured buttermilk goes bad you cannot mistake it for good, the smell alone is horrid. So when it doubt give it a sniff. It should smell like buttermilk. I got in the habit of smelling it when I use it.

  20. Joyce says

    Okay, I may be thick, but I need further info. The 2% milk in the fridge ran out of date and smells sour. I add a cup or two of buttermilk or vinegar or lemon juice and let set on counter for an hour or so—gets me buttermilk, right? Regular milk left on the table after breakfast, is sour smelling when I get home from work—Throw it out or try to make it into buttermilk with vinegar or other buttermilk??? I agree about not using the sippy cup sour milk due to mouth germs, but what about a clean carton of milk??

    • says

      Joyce I make my buttermilk with whole fresh milk but adding a 1 cup of buttermilk to it and letting it sit on the counter.

      If the milk is not too sour (where it is thick clumps etc) you can use it too to make buttermilk by adding 1 cup of buttermilk to it.

      Now you can add the vinegar to the milk if you want too in place of using buttermilk. It is perfectly fine to use this in recipes which call for buttermilk. The main thing is you don’t need to add the vinegar ahead of time in this case. I just measure my milk (regular or sour) add a cap full of vinegar and let it sit for a minute or so before I use it. You don’t let it sit on the counter for an hour or anything like that.

      Two things to know. If you use vinegar instead of buttermilk to make it the consistency will be different and may change the texture (let’s say of the pancakes) ever so slightly and the other thing is if you don’t use whole milk your buttermilk will not take quite as easily and be runnier.

      As far as the germs from the sippy cup. I use that milk when we are sharing our food among family members plus people worry so about these things but don’t forget you will be baking or cooking at high temps so those germs will be all gone by the time the dish is done.

    • says

      Joyce forgot to answer you on the milk left sitting on the table. I wouldn’t maybe use that. Instead of trying to figure out how to use this left over milk not just you but others too might try controlling how much milk is used in the first place. Only pour a 1/2 of cup of milk or put a 1/3 of cup of milk in a sippy cup. Put the milk in a small 2 cup pitcher and you would be surprised how much more careful the kids are when using it and it doesn’t quickly glub out like a big 1/2 -1 gallon jug of milk does. Make sure they use a small amount too.

  21. Joan Kidd says

    I sometimes put buttermilk or sour milk in a cake or coffeecake that does not originally call for it. Do I have to change the amount of baking powder or baking soda because of this? It seems to me that chemically something might change?

    • says

      Sour milk makes no difference and you can leave everything the same but if you use buttermilk instead for every cup of buttermilk you use you need to use 2 tsp. less baking powder and 1/2 tsp. less baking soda. Buttermilk is more acidity so that is why you need to adjust it. Even though many use sour milk in place of buttermilk they aren’t the same. Sour milk is milk gone sour (obviously) and buttermilk is a different part of the milk. It would be like saying you can use cottage cheese in place of cheese.

  22. Jan says

    Is skim milk that has soured in the frig several weeks ago safe to use in cookies? Someone said sour milk can get too sour.

    • says

      Several weeks maybe too long Jan. A week or two isn’t bad but after a bit there are things that go wrong with it besides getting sour like it can start getting moldy and other things.

    • says

      Personally I have never made it with half and half but if you try I would do it the same way that you do using regular milk. The only thing it might have a much heavier consistency like sour cream.

  23. Mary Jane says

    Sour milk, or buttermilk is awesome in a baking powder-type biscuit. I just go ahead and do the recipe as called for, and substitute the sour milk for reg. milk. I guess I could substitute some of the baking powder for baking soda. Dumplings that are steamed on top of a stew, can use the sour milk as well. If I have too much sour milk to use up, it seems to me that my dogs are more than happy to gobble it all up. (Store bought dog food is expensive, too.)

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