Vegan buttermilk is any milky acidic liquid that is made from plant milks and can substitute dairy buttermilk when cooking or baking. It’s pretty much plant milk (soy, oats, coconut, etc) with an added acidic component – most often lemon juice or a mild vinegar.
Buttermilk is not as versatile as butter, but it may be essential for some recipes. Its particular combination of acidity and fat or protein content, helps enhance many flavors, and achieve some fun chemical reactions.
Smoothies and cold soups
Because of its tang, buttermilk is a great way to freshen up any blender recipes. It’s particularly useful if you want to transition a nut-heavy winter recipe into the summer. Also offsets the cloying sweetness of ingredients like dates or maple syrup.
Use it instead of regular milk or water in your recipe. In the case of soups, replace up to half of the stock with buttermilk.
Whether you’re making ice cream or popsicles/creamsicles, use buttermilk instead of milk for some extra freshness. Just remember to watch for the fat content of your base (aka the milk you’ve made the buttermilk from). The higher the fat content, the smoother the final product will be.
Or freeze it as is and then make snow cones or shaved ice with it. The tanginess will work great with any sweet syrup you drizzle on top.
In the omnivore kitchen, dairy buttermilk is fantastic for tenderizing tough cuts of meat or removing the bloody aroma from animal innards.
The acid in vegan buttermilk can be also used to soften up thought veggies, like asparagus or mushroom stalks. Also, if it is fairly high in fat content, it will help with the development of some aromatic notes. Some flavor compounds are only dissolvable in fat, and even that tiny amount of it that seeps into the produce can bring out something that you would not get with only salt or a water brine.
Also, leftover buttermilk that clings to the outside of food will help with browning.
Probably the reason why you’re here in the first place. Buttermilk and baking soda together produce some of the most tender and fluffy baked goods.
This is because buttermilk is acidic, while baking soda is alkaline (a base). Once the two meet, they neutralize each other. But, in the meantime, they produce a lot of bubbles.
Baking powder is simply baking soda with cream of tartar (an acid) added to it. Prior to it becoming readily available, most home bakers relied on a combination of buttermilk and bicarb to create that fluffiness. You could use baking powder as well with buttermilk, but it’s truly not necessary.
You’ll find buttermilk in the ingredients list for anything from pancakes and cornbread to the red velvet cake. Depending on the other ingredients, it will also have some of that tangy goodness leftover once they come out of the oven.
Another use while baking is as a wash on breads and pastries. High protein veggie milks like soy milk or oat milk are brushed lightly over the dough and will help the baked good develop a glossy deep gold crust.
Dairy buttermilk has a whole host of other applications. For example, it is often used in homemade skin treatments because of its very high content of lactic acid (PHA) and enzymes. However, you’ll not get any of that from a vegan product.
More importantly, if you made your buttermilk with lemon juice or vinegar, you may want to keep that stuff away from your face, since they are too acidic and may cause some serious damage with prolonged use.
Buy or Make Vegan Buttermilk
Make. It’s a lot cheaper and it’s embarrassingly easy to make. Not to mention, depending on where you live, vegan buttermilk can be almost impossible to find in stores. Currently, there is no mass-produced version that is available nationwide, so you’ll have to rely on whatever you can pick up locally.
Vegan Buttermilks from Different Plant Milks
There is a very simple formula that you will have to follow and you’ll be able to make buttermilk from any plant milk in your kitchen.
The ratio is 1 tablespoon of acid to 1 cup of milk. Lemon juice is best because it isn’t as acrid as vinegar, but you can play with this and see what suits your taste. I had some lovely results with rice vinegar, so you can try that as well. But a quick note, don’t bother with anything too expensive if you’re going to use it as a marinade or a baked good with gazillion other ingredients.
Add the acid to cold milk. Don’t mess this up especially if you’re working with soy because it will curdle. Stir gently, cover it and leave it to sit for 10 minutes on the counter. Your buttermilk is now ready for use.
This ratio will work with all bases (plant milks). Just keep in mind what the fat and protein content of your base is, and pick one that is the most suitable for your future needs.
Can I Make Butter and Buttermilk from a Plant Milk?
No. The way dairy cream behaves when whipped or churned is completely different than what other plant milks do when you treat them the same.
If you did any baking before you went vegan, you will remember warnings in desert recipes not to overwhip the cream. This is because it may split, and if you take it far enough, you’ll end up with butter. And if you want to make butter, you can run cream in the food processor for long enough and just rinse and drain it after.
The way this works is because the cream is a relatively stable and homogenous emulsion of water, protein, and fat. When whipped, protein and fat help make the bubbles, but their structure is still fairly fragile because of the comparably high water content. As you know, water and fat tend to not be the best of friends, so it doesn’t take enough force to get them to separate.
None of the veggie milks or cream behave the same way since they are not the same type of emulsion. This doesn’t mean that you can’t make vegan butter and buttermilk at home at all, but you’ll have to do so separately. As you saw, making vegan buttermilk is very easy, and butter is not a lot more complicated.
Can I Make Cultured Buttermilk?
You can get your hands on cultures that work with vegan milk, but it’s not worth it – leave them for making yogurt. They can’t survive the heat, and chances are that you need buttermilk for cooking or baking.