The buttermilk we know today has nothing to do with butter. Traditionally, buttermilk was made from, or rather, the byproduct of making butter. Butter production always left behind a thin milk liquid with an aftertaste of butter, and this was the original buttermilk. The modern buttermilk is somewhat a product of confusion when it came to terminology. At the same time that buttermilk was used to describe the leftover milk from making butter, some used to term to describe the ingredient used to make butter, which was slightly soured milk. There was also a third usage of the term “sweet buttermilk” which was the leftover liquid from making butter from fresh milk. Now guess which of the three terminologies stuck? In the mid-1800s, recipes called for the use of buttermilk, which was the sour version of the milk. With the advent of refrigeration in the 1900s, sour milk was increasingly rare to find, so many commercial dairies began to intentionally introduce bacterial cultures into milk to sour it, therefore giving birth to the cultured buttermilk that we know today.
- Cultured buttermilk is one of the main components of America’s favorite dressing: Ranch.
- There is no butter in buttermilk!
- May 14 is national buttermilk biscuit day.
- Nobody knows who invented National Buttermilk Biscuit day, it just started one day and it’s been celebrated ever since.
- Three-time Indy 500 winner Louis Miller drank buttermilk after winning in 1936, and since then the winners have been drinking the milk on Victory Lane ever since.
Buttermilk Buying Guide
While incredibly uncommon nowadays, you can still find traditional buttermilk in specialty stores. So don’t be surprised if you see different varieties of buttermilk. Here are some of the terminologies that you might encounter if you’re in the market for some buttermilk.
- Cultured Buttermilk – This is the most common type of buttermilk or the “modern” buttermilk. So if a recipe calls for the use of buttermilk, there is a 9/10 chance that they’re talking about cultured buttermilk. Some people find cultured buttermilk to be a little bit too tart to drink by itself, but some like it, I guess it’s an acquired taste.
- Cultured Low-Fat Buttermilk – This is actually just a marketing ploy, as most buttermilk since the early 1900s have been made with low-fat milk. The reason why low-fat milk was originally used to make buttermilk is because
- Churned Buttermilk – This is the traditional or “original” buttermilk. This is the leftovers from churning sweet cream or milk into butter. Due to the lack of lactic acid, this type of buttermilk has a mild sweetness to it.
- Powdered Buttermilk – This is traditional buttermilk that is dehydrated until all of the liquid is gone. Since this isn’t made from cultured buttermilk, the resulting rehydrated buttermilk is less sour as cultured buttermilk. Rehydrated powdered buttermilk is not meant for drinking.
Buttermilk Production & Farming in Texas
Outside of local dairy farms, it’s very hard to find traditional churned buttermilk around Texas. That isn’t all bad news though as there are a lot of small dairy farms around Texas. With over 400 dairy farms in Texas producing milk and/or butter, and there’s bound to be churned buttermilk if you visit these farms. Another place to find buttermilk (both churned and cultured) would be to visit your local farmers’ markets. If you can’t find any that are selling churned or cultured buttermilk, you can always ask the local cheese or butter merchant if he/she can provide you with some at the next farmers’ market. There’s a big chance that they will agree to your request because that’s what real food is about, real connections between people.
Preservatives, Chemicals, and Additives:
Buttermilk, both cultured and churned, does not contain any added preservatives, chemicals, and additives, aside from what is present in the source milk. If you wish to learn more about the chemicals, additives, and preservatives present in commercially produced milk, then you can check out our Milk Entry here at our Real Food Promptuary.
If you can find locally produced buttermilk (churned and cultured) made from the milk of organically raised livestock, then that’s the best choice.
Commercially produced buttermilk is sold in recyclable PET bottles. Churned buttermilk from artisan producers usually pack their buttermilk in glass jars or bottles.
Even though it is a dairy product, buttermilk isn’t primarily consumed on its own. Of course, you can, but it’s an acquired taste.
One of the best uses for buttermilk is to use it in baking applications. It’s perfect for quickbreads, with its acidity activating baking soda and making it rise faster. Buttermilk can also be used to add creaminess to dishes without adding all of the fat from cream.
Due to its high lactic acid content, buttermilk is great for marinating meats. A good example of this is the famous buttermilk fried chicken. The buttermilk tenderizes the meat while keeping it moist and infuses the meat with a milky flavor.
Since buttermilk has a rather high acidity level, it can last for about two weeks in the fridge. If you’re planning on storing it for a longer period of time, you can freeze buttermilk just like milk. Just make sure to let it thaw in the refrigerator and mix well to reincorporate the components that might have separated in the fridge.
Make your own Buttermilk Fried Chicken:
This is one of our favorite uses of buttermilk. Buttermilk fried chicken is a Southern favorite and it’s one of our own favorites as well.
Whole Chicken, Cut up into pieces
Buttermilk Marinade Ingredients:
Buttermilk, 3 cups
Salt, 30 grams
Ground Black Pepper, 15 grams
Cayenne Pepper or Hot Spanish Paprika, 10 grams
Flour Coating Ingredients:
All-purpose flour, 2 cups
Onion powder, 5 grams
Garlic Powder, 5 grams
Salt, 5 grams
Ground Black Pepper, 5 grams
Cayenne Pepper or Hot Spanish Paprika, 2 grams
Oil for Frying
In a large non-reactive bowl, mix all of the marinade ingredients and mix in the chicken and let stand in the fridge for at least four hours.
In a Ziploc gallon bag, mix the flour coating ingredients.
One at a time, shake the chicken pieces in the Ziploc bag with the coating then set aside on a baking sheet or tray.
Let the chicken stand for 30 minutes.
Heat the oil to 350 F. Deep-fry the chicken for 13-15 minutes.
Let stand for a few minutes then serve! Enjoy while hot! Be careful when biting through the chicken as the juices can be very hot!