Growing up in a South Indian home, we had a big container of buttermilk in our fridge at all times. We’d mix it into fluffy white rice with spices and aachar, simmer it in a thick, coconut-and turmeric-inflected stew, or, more often than not, pour it into a glass and drink it straight, maybe with a pinch of salt and pungent asafetida.
See, in my family, buttermilk was traditionally always a digestive aid and a flavor booster. It never once went into a baked good; in fact, I didn’t know you could use it for baking until I took a trip to Huntsville, Alabama for Space Camp in the eighth grade, and tasted my first buttermilk biscuit. I recall the biscuit being noticeably tangy, fluffy, and tender as heck, and I immediately had to know why. The answer, as it turns out, was under my nose (well, in our fridge back at home).
As I soon learned, buttermilk adds a characteristic tangy flavor to recipes, sure. But it also lends a softer, more tender texture to gluten-rich foods, and even helps with leavening (thanks, acidity!). It’s also much more versatile than I could’ve ever imagined (salad dressings! frostings! meat and vegetable brines!). So if you recently picked up a container of buttermilk for a recipe and are stumped about how to finish it up—or, if you’re like my family, and already have some hanging out in the fridge—here are 33 recipes to make great use of it.
These pancakes are sky-high and fluffy as can be—and you don’t even need to whip egg whites to get there. Acidic buttermilk reacts with the baking soda to give the pancakes their lofty lift.
You might be thinking about making banana bread in the near future (who isn’t?!). Why not try on this boozy, brown-buttered, buttermilk-rich rendition for size?
Of course Samin Nosrat—cookbook author, podcaster, decorated chef, lasagna buff—gave us one of the puffiest, flakiest biscuit recipes around. The trick is to keep everything colder-than-cold (yep, the buttermilk too!).
A little bit of tangy sweetness and a lot of fluff make these some of the tastiest waffles we’ve ever tried. A piece of shattering-crisp fried chicken on top wouldn’t be out of place (and luckily, Snoop also has just the recipe.)
Here’s an exceptionally fragrant and tender loaf of bread, thanks to rolled oats and buttermilk. It’s equally great for sandwiches and slathered with butter and jam.
More pancakes! More oatmeal! But a completely different kind of breakfast. You can get this dish started the night before, when you’re clearing up dinner, and wake up the next day to a hearty meal in, oh, about 10 minutes.
“Tangy,” “nooks, and “crannies”—mighty fun words to say, and also perfect descriptors of this griddled-to-perfection breakfast bread. This one takes a sec to put together; but once you’re done, admire the spoils of your labor, then slather with tons of butter and jam.
For those precious few spring weeks when you can get your hands on ramps, biscuits might not be at the top of your must-make list—but they should be! The fleeting allium perfumes every bite of the biscuit, not super-intensely but very intently. When ramps are out of season, garlic scapes, chives, or even plain ol’ scallions would work a treat.
Wholesome scones with a tart little secret—two, in fact, in the form of dried cranberries and velvety buttermilk. Spelt takes these to a whole new, super-nutty flavors, creating an incredibly unique yet balanced end product.
This herby, puckery, oh-so-balanced dressing will give your vegetables a boost without overpowering them.
What happens when you take an already great thing—garlicky, umami-filled bagna cauda—and add buttermilk to it? Very good things. This dressing is creamy without being overly rich, piquant and not bracing. The best of both worlds, if you ask us.
Bacon and ranch go together like…well…bacon and ranch. Peppery, slightly bitter endive and a whole mess of herbs add lightness and brightness to the mix.
If bathing in this buttermilk-Parmesan dressing were socially acceptable, we’d be all
overinto it. But for now, we’ll just drench thick wedges of Napa cabbage and half-moons of apples in the stuff (and possibly drink the rest).
This special salad encompasses a wild medley of flavors and textures—sour, bitter, sweet, herbaceous, salty; crunchy, silky, creamy, and cooling.
When plump white beans are marinated in garlic-laced buttermilk and wine, magic happens—the beans absorb the fragrance and personality of their marinade, and the garlicky buttermilk thickens into a starchy, velvety sauce. It’s a win-win situation. Top with garlicky greens and a runny fried egg, and you’re in business.
Speaking of buttermilk marinades—they work like a charm for other proteins (chicken, pork, even tofu!), too. Mixed with some pickle juice, buttermilk tenderizes and seasons a whole chicken from the inside out, and encourages a super-crispy skin as the bird roasts. Bonus: The slightly buttermilky pan drippings make for a low-touch, high-reward sauce.
The addition of buttermilk takes mashed sweet potatoes to uncharted, creamy heights. It’s the perfect complement to butter-basted salmon.
Chickpea flour-thickened buttermilk forms the base of this stew, which enrobes fried, coriander-spiked spinach dumplings. Pro tip: This stew tastes even better the next day, so make sure to save a batch of tonight’s dinner leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch.
What buttermilk does to beans and chicken, it can also do to broccoli—imbues it with full-fledged flavor, and makes for an unbelievably crisp-tender texture under high heat. The preserved lemon here makes the marinade super-special, but you can use fresh lemon for a similarly tasty effect.
This recipe took almost two years to perfect—true and tested doesn’t even begin to cover it. A 24-hour brine makes for the tenderest chicken possible (so don’t skip it!).
21. Saag Paneer
A bevy of spices melds with spinach, buttermilk, and heavy cream to become what our co-founder, Merrill, likens to one of her favorite dishes: creamed spinach.
Buttery leeks, zingy buttermilk, and a big knob of butter make already creamy Yukon Golds even creamier. Technically, you don’t need an Instant Pot to make this dish, but who could say no to mashed potatoes, faster?
Chicken and buttermilk go together like—well, chicken and buttermilk. There’s no duo more dynamic than this one, no two ingredients that work together more synergistically. Add some toasted spices to the mix, and you’ve got one juicy, tender, wham-pow-flavored bird.
Cookie Queen Dorie Greenspan, swears by this cake—a recipe from the Queen of Cakes, Maida Heatter. (How appropriate!) It’s absolutely not shy about its lemony, buttermilk-y punch, just the way we like it.
Warning: This plush, fluffy peanut butter cake with swirly chocolate frosting will put a smile on anyone’s face who encounters it. Buttermilk tenderizes the batter and adds a subtle “je ne sais quois?” tang that tames the sweetness.
Buttermilk, condensed milk, and evaporated milk make up the three milks in this cake. Recipe developer (and baking pro) Erin McDowell loves that the buttermilk lightens up the base of the cake, so she can double-down on the whipped cream that goes on top. We’re in.
If you’re feeling a little “same old, same old” about your go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe, take these babies for a spin. The buttermilk makes for a pleasant tartness reminiscent of sourdough bread.
Buttermilk cuts through chocolate frosting’s often cloying sweetness. Pile this one high on rich, fudgy brownies.
Step 1: Roast sweet-as-can-be strawberries till they fall apart. Step 2: Blend with ice cream and buttermilk for the most refreshing drink of early summer.
Peaches and cream, remixed. You don’t even need an ice cream maker for this one! Just blend some ripe-as-heck peaches and tangy buttermilk up for a smooth, creamy base.
Different fruit, equally great creamy, icy, buttermilky situation. We’ll take two scoops (of each).
This dessert might be as traditional as it gets, but we’re not complaining! Chock-full of warming spices and cozy mashed sweet potato, all it needs is a big scoop of ice cream on top (can we interest you in one of the above?).
Pineapple, cinnamon, pecans, smooth-as-heck cream cheese frosting, lifted up and lightened by tart buttermilk—these are a few of my favorite things, all together in this wonderful cake.
What’s your favorite way to use buttermilk? Let us know in the comments.