• Buttermilk fried chicken (Donna Hay)Source: Donna Hay
Buttermilk sure helps us live on the lighter side of life.
9 Sep 2021 - 8:52 PM  UPDATED 9 Sep 2021 - 9:08 PM

Buttermilk is one of those often-overlooked ingredients. It tends to be tucked up the back of the dairy cabinet, hiding somewhere between the lactose-free milk and the Yakult. You never even notice it until you get the urge to try buttermilk pancakes and suddenly the hunt is on.

Pancakes are fabulous, of course, but buttermilk is good for so much more. Many people shy away from it simply because the word 'butter' tends to do that to people. Not us, but people.

The irony is that buttermilk was once what was left after the fat was churned from milk to make butter. The thin liquid was full of cultures that developed naturally when the cream was left at room temperature to improve the butter's flavour. Traditional buttermilk is rarely commercially available in Australia but is still common in other parts of the world.

Have a go at making your own
Butter and buttermilk

Buttermilk is very easy to make at home; a delightfully milky product that has a slight tang.

The modern buttermilk we use today is still a fermented dairy product. It's made from water, lactose and casein, with added lactic-acid-producing bacteria cultures. Lactic acid is what gives buttermilk its slightly sour taste, which is a result of the bacteria fermenting lactose, the primary sugar in milk.

Not only is fermented food great for oral and gut health, but buttermilk also packs in plenty of calcium and B vitamins. This is all very positive, but the main reason you'll want to find buttermilk is that it stars in so many brilliant recipes.

So, by all means, make the pancakes, but be sure to use up any leftover buttermilk trying other recipes. Guaranteed you'll be adding this versatile staple to your weekly shopping list in no time.

Pancakes forever

Buttermilk pancakes with blueberries and spiced maple butter

Everyone knows that buttermilk makes the lightest, fluffiest pancakes in the world. Especially good with blueberries and maple syrup, but also good with coconut, or orange or even buckwheat...

Easy buckwheat pancakes

You can never have too many pancake recipes, and having a buckwheat one up your sleeve is essential. Buckwheat flour has a nutty, earthy, aromatic flavour – and it's naturally gluten-free friendly. 

Blueberry pancakes and spiced orange syrup

"Early on in the year I had to confront the strange fact of never having made a decent pancake in my life – sometimes it's the simplest things that can elude you. After a month of anguish testing many recipes, I finally arrived at this delicious result." Poh Ling YeowPoh & Co.

Buttermilk pancakes with fresh coconut and makrut lime maple syrup

A diner classic meets the Asian tropics in this pancake stack flavoured with lime and served with fresh coconut shavings.

Cinnamon puff

A Danish spin on pancakes, aebleskiver translates as 'apple slices' but recipes rarely contain any apple these days. What they do contain is buttermilk. Without it, there's simply less puff.

Ripper ripple

A brown-sugar ripple cake served with wine-roasted pears and caramel sauce is every bit as amazing as it sounds. But it would be nothing without buttermilk.

Chocolate, raspberry & buttermilk cake

This is the fudgiest of all the chocolate cakes I know and it’s perfect even without the raspberries on top. 

Ginger fluff

Likewise, a rich ginger cake is lifted by buttermilk. The gentle sourness enhances the ginger and other spices beautifully.

Carrot lift

American Southern-style carrot cake

If you've never added buttermilk to your carrot cake, it's time. BM brings its signature light and fluffy moves to what can sometimes be a rather heavy affair.

Shine a light

It's no surprise that buttermilk also works well in a more gentle recipe. It allows delicate flavours like rosewater, fruit juice and herb de Provence to shine.


Chocoflan is known as 'impossible cake' because the layers of chocolate cake and creamy custard completely swap around during baking. Obviously, the buttermilk in the chocolate cake has a lot to do with this magic.


This chess pie is a great example of the way BM cuts back the saccharine when you're making sweet tarts. That gentle sourness can make all the difference.

Soft twist

Do you know what makes a really great pretzel? Yup.

Run rings

Buttermilk is responsible for that melting softness that is essential in a good onion ring. That way you get maximum contrast between crisp batter and melt-in-your-mouth onion.

Chicken tender

Yeah, we're starting something. Soaking chicken in buttermilk before frying makes it super tender. You might consider using the buttermilk you soaked your onions in (above) for even more flavour...

Martha Stewart’s fried chicken

Martha's recipe for her perfect fried chicken, crisp and golden every time.

Super-crispy fried chicken

Fried chicken is the universal way to show love. 

Maple-brined and smoked fried chicken

I love the flavour combination that comes from smoke and maple, so I brine the chicken in a maple-salt brine before smoking. Not only does this infuse the chicken with a subtly sweet flavour, it also gives it extra juiciness. We serve ours on a buttermilk waffle garnished with freshly shaved maple sugar cube and orange slices. You know, because maple-brined smoked fried chicken isn’t rich enough as it is. I never said this was a diet blog.

Hush now

Fried chicken is not the only Southern American recipe that makes good use of buttermilk. Ever tried hush puppies? You want to, right?

Oyster po' boys

The po’ boys we serve in the restaurant are a variation on the Louisiana staple, the name being a contraction of its original name, ‘poor boy’. In that neck of the woods, you might also find them filled with roast beef, and typically they’re served on a baguette — a French influence from New Orleans. We serve ours on house-made English muffins, with coleslaw. Make a start on this recipe the day before serving, as the oysters need a good long buttermilk soaking. 

Not-so flatbread

Vikings knew that buttermilk would give their flatbreads a lift. Especially when accompanied by a giant side of salmon.

Hot buttermilk

Cornbread is a super-tasty, super-moist kind of bread that deserves a place at more tables. It's especially good with Southern and South American food and definitely good in the mornings.

Breakfast sausage cornbread

A sweet-and-salty breakfast combo, this easy cornbread is filled with sausages, and topped with melted butter and maple syrup to serve. 

Cheesy bean and cornbread pie

This is a little like a shepherd’s pie, but instead of mashed potato, it has cornbread on top and it's absolutely delicious. It's great for camping or at home. 

Corny cornbread muffins

There are many versions of cornbread but this recipe is fairly traditional. It uses fresh, sweet corn kernels for flavour. If you like a little heat, you could throw in chopped jalapeños and cheese, too.

Muffin secret

It's not just the 'don't over-mix rule that makes for a lighter muffin. The secret is also using buttermilk instead of milk in your recipe. There, it's out.

Duffin jam

Jam duffins

When a muffin meets a doughnut and buttermilk is the chaperone, only good things happen.

Flaky ending

Whether you call them biscuits or scones, the fact remains that they'll be tastier and fluffier if you make them with buttermilk. Actually, consider that a general rule of cooking.

Butter(milk) us up
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Here are 10 recipes to celebrate a whole range of milky goodness, from almond to soy, condensed to buttermilk.
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Buttermilk pancakes

Classic, fluffy buttermilk pancakes which are gorgeous topped with seasonal berries, maple syrup and butter.

Buttermilk panna cotta

A dollop of passonfruit pulp adds a tropical touch to the classic Italian panna cotta.

Walnut bread

This versatile loaf is nutty and fragrant with wholemeal flour, walnuts and walnut oil, making it as at home on cheese platter as it is toasted for breakfast. 

Southern-style crispy chicken salad with buttermilk dressing

For those times when you want fried chicken, but you also want a salad... Donna Hay has worked her recipe magic so you can have the best of both worlds.

Tomato cobbler with buttermilk biscuits

This cobbler, a savoury deep-dish creation of ripe summer tomatoes topped with a stunning parmesan drop-biscuit dough, has become my go-to main-meal cobbler.

Lemon buttermilk pound cake with lemon curd

A heavenly layering of mouth-puckering lemon pound cake, curd and syrup, teamed with summer fruits and ‘soured’ cream, this dessert is one for lemon-lovers. The cake is just as delicious served either plain, toasted or chargrilled – just take your pick! 

Buttermilk-poached snapper with spring herbs

Buttermilk is very easy to make at home, a delightfully milky product that has a slight tang. Its delicate nature makes it perfect for gently poaching fish and you are left with a lovely subtle dish celebrating the flavour of your seafood and the fresh spring herbs.

Minted peas with chargrilled baby cos and buttermilk dressing

At Berta, we use a lot of buttermilk and whey in various preparations; these by-products from making cheese and butter are very tasty and have a nice tang to them. It also makes me happy when I get to use the whole of a product and have no waste left over. I love the flavour of chargrilled lettuce and the smokiness of it goes really well with the sweetness of the peas and the slightly sour flavour of the buttermilk dressing. This recipe serves 4 as a side dish.