We have covered all kinds of things on our website and debated whether they are vegan or not. Some foods, drinks and other products present problems when we assess their vegan credentials, but when it comes to buttermilk, there is no such ambiguity. Buttermilk is not vegan. Why not? Because it is made from milk and milk comes from animals.
As we discuss in detail in our article about why milk isn’t vegan, the dairy industry causes animals great suffering and exploitation. These issues often revolve around over-milking of cattle, the way they are artificially inseminated, that the calves are taken away from their mothers far earlier than many experts believe is healthy (or indeed ethical) and plenty more besides. Not least that male calves are typically killed for sale as veal – at best.
In this article, though, we’ll be focusing on buttermilk. We’ll first explain what it is and what it’s used for. Then we’ll suggest some vegan-friendly alternatives to conventional, dairy buttermilk. We’ll even tell you how to make your own vegan buttermilk (which is ludicrously easy!).
What Is Buttermilk?
As mentioned, buttermilk is made from milk. More specifically, it is essentially a by-product of the butter-making process, hence the name. At least when made using traditional methods, buttermilk was the liquid that remained after butter was churned from the cultured cream. As such, buttermilk is fermented due to lactic acid that was produced by bacteria. The fermented buttermilk would have an acidity level that meant it soured less quickly as it was not as good a medium for various less favourable microorganisms.
It is more common these days for buttermilk to be produced from pasteurised milk to which cultures are added to replicate the process of lactic acid production. This is known as cultured buttermilk (though it might just be referred to as buttermilk on food labels). A third option, called acidified buttermilk, is produced by simply adding an edible acid (such as lemon juice) to normal dairy milk and allowing it to curdle. This will often be used in baking recipes, for example.
What Is Buttermilk Used For?
Buttermilk can be drunk as it is and is popular in various countries in the Arab world, as well as India, Pakistan and Nepal. It is also popular in a handful of European countries, including Finland, Poland and Netherlands in particular. It is also used as an ingredient in a wide variety of food products from cakes and muffins to cheese and ice cream. Anything that includes buttermilk among the list of its ingredients will, of course, be rendered non-vegan as a result.
Vegan Alternatives to Buttermilk
Depending on what purpose you would need it for, there are various options when it comes to vegan alternatives to buttermilk. If you are simply seeking a sour, dairy-like ingredient for whatever dish you are preparing, you could opt for a vegan sour cream or vegan yoghurt. But really, copying the method for acidified buttermilk is often the easiest way to get a good vegan alternative to dairy buttermilk, as we shall see in the next section.
How to Make Vegan-Friendly Buttermilk
This is probably the easiest vegan recipe you will ever encounter. All you have to do in order to make vegan-friendly buttermilk is pour a tablespoon of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar into a cup of your favourite vegan-friendly milk (we would recommend oat milk or almond milk). Let it settle and curdle for 5-10 minutes, give it a stir, and there you have it!
You can experiment with different quantities and types of plant milk and lemon juice/vinegar to get the flavour and consistency that works for you. That might depend on what you’re planning to use the vegan buttermilk for, so we’ll leave that part to you to suss out.
Traditional Buttermilk Is Never Vegan
Anyone who has looked into veganism at even a superficial level will suspect that anything that has both “butter” and “milk” in its name is unlikely to be vegan. That’s certainly the case with buttermilk, which is made from dairy milk and therefore not suitable for those on a plant-based diet (or indeed anyone who is allergic to dairy products for that matter). Whether the buttermilk in question is produced using the traditional method (as a by-product of butter production), or one of the more modern methods, the resultant buttermilk is not vegan.
As mentioned, there are various options for vegan-friendly alternatives to buttermilk. Making your own version is so simple that this can often be the best way forward. Grab your chosen plant-based milk and a lemon, and make your own vegan buttermilk today.