Substitute for Buttermilk in Cakes

Ever notice this strange thing where every great cake recipe you find somehow calls for buttermilk? Well, it’s not that strange. Buttermilk is that secret magic ingredient that can instantly transform your cake from “meh” to “WOW”. 

That said, it’s not every day that you’ll keep buttermilk at home. Like all dairy products, they have a relatively short shelf life and it’s mostly used in baking, and not often drank as a beverage. So what do you do when you don’t have any?

I’m Angie, I’m a self-taught baker with over 10 years of experience baking, and I started my own little cake business not too long ago. Where I live, it’s hard to find buttermilk and so for the longest time, I’ve relied on different substitutes.

In this article, I will share with you all the different buttermilk substitutes I’ve tested so that you won’t have to do the work yourself. 😉

Keep reading to find out what they are!

What is Buttermilk?

According to Southern Living, buttermilk is still cultured milk. It is a by-product of churning butter. Traditionally speaking, when the fat and milk solids in the milk are removed and made into butter, the leftover tart liquid is what we know as buttermilk. 

Buttermilk has a distinct fermented taste that’s slightly sour. It is white in color but has a thicker consistency compared to milk, and thinner compared to yogurt. 

What Does Buttermilk Do in Cakes?

On top of the subtle tangy flavor, buttermilk brings to cakes, the acidity of buttermilk also helps to break down gluten and make your cake or baked goods more tender and soft, It also adds lots of moisture to your cakes. 

5 Buttermilk Substitutes for Cakes

The good news is, buttermilk really isn’t hard to replace. You can very simply create your own substitute following the instructions below!

1. Milk + Acid

When you look at the composition of buttermilk, really it’s just acidic milk. You can easily recreate this using some common ingredients you likely already have in the kitchen.


This one is my favorite substitute that I use nearly every week because it’s so easy!

To make one cup of homemade buttermilk, all you’ll need to do is to add a tablespoon of vinegar to one cup of milk and let it sit for five or more minutes, or until your milk starts to curdle and split. 

Distilled white vinegar is always best because it won’t alter the color of your milk, but I’ve used apple cider vinegar before and the result was just fine.

Cream of Tartar

If you’re a baker then you’re likely to also have cream of tartar somewhere in the drawers. 

Cream of tartar is a strong acidic ingredient. I often add it to my egg whites when I’m making meringue as it helps hold its structure.

For every cup of buttermilk, mix in about one and a half teaspoons of cream of tartar. Wait for a couple of minutes or until your milk thickens.

Lemon Juice

If you don’t have vinegar or cream of tartar, simply use lemon juice! Freshly squeezed if you can. Lemon juice is acidic enough to turn your milk sour just like vinegar.

All you’ll need is a cup of milk and a tablespoon of lemon juice. Mix the two together and use once your milk has curdled. 

2. Watered Down Sour Cream/Yogurt 

While buttermilk is thicker compared to regular milk, it is on the liquid side of the spectrum when compared with sour cream and yogurt. Component and acidity-wise, they are similar. So simply watering down your sour cream or yogurt will give you a spot-on substitute for buttermilk.

For a cup of buttermilk, take ¾ cup of sour cream or plain yogurt and mix it with ¼ cup of water. You can also mix it with milk instead of water for a slightly richer flavor. 

3. Kefir

Kefir is a dairy-based, fermented yogurt-like drink. It is acidic in taste and has a very similar consistency to buttermilk, making it another great substitute for it. 

To replace buttermilk with kefir, simply use the same amount of kefir to replace the buttermilk. Easy-peasy. 

5. Plant-based Milk + Acid

If you are on a dairy-free or plant-based diet, don’t worry if you can’t use buttermilk because you can still make your own plant-based “buttermilk”.

You will need 3/4 cup of plant-based yogurt, 1/4 cup of nut or rice milk, and 1/2 teaspoon of vinegar. Mix it together and let it sit for five minutes or longer before using it. 


Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about buttermilk.

What does baking soda do to buttermilk?

Baking soda is basic. When a base reacts with an acidic ingredient like buttermilk, a chemical reaction happens which creates carbon dioxide. The air bubbles created help your baked goods expand and make them more fluffy and voluminous. 

Is sour cream or buttermilk better in a cake?

This ultimately depends on what cake it is that you are baking as well as your personal preference. Buttermilk works best in a cake with baking soda because it neutralizes its acidity. Sour cream on the other hand contains fat and will give your cake extra moisture and tenderness.

Is buttermilk better than milk for baking?

Again, this depends on the recipe you’re using and your preference. Generally speaking, cakes made with buttermilk tend to be more moist and tender. 

Final Thoughts

Buttermilk makes your baked goods moister and more flavourful. But don’t stress if you don’t have it on hand because you can easily make your own, even if you’re vegan!

Have you tried any of these substitutes? Or do you have your own that I haven’t discovered yet? If so, don’t forget to leave a comment below and let us know what it is.

About Angie
I am a self-taught baker. I’ve been baking for over 10 years and started my own home baking business as a side hustle. I was born in Hong Kong and spent a pretty big chunk of my life in Canada. If you’re ever looking for me, I am probably there whisking vigorously away in the kitchen.

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