Buttermilk is making a comeback. But why? Packed with gut-healing probiotic goodness, and a hugely versatile ingredient in the kitchen, buttermilk adds tang and creaminess to all sorts of dishes. So what exactly is it? Why is it good for you? And what are the best ways to cook with buttermilk? Food writer and cook, Rachel de Thample, guides us through it with her favourite buttermilk recipes.
Beautiful buttermilk pancakes. Recipes: Rachel de Thample. Photography: Natalé Towell
When I growing-up, my granny always had buttermilk in her fridge. She used it to make scones, pancakes, to tenderise chicken before coating it in flour and frying it to a golden crisp. She’d whip it up into creamy salad dressings. She also used to sip it straight. Back then, buttermilk was deemed a health drink, full of vitamins and minerals. My mother didn’t really pick up the buttermilk baton and I think for many of us, it has skipped a few generations. Happily, it seems to be making a comeback and there are many good reasons why.
What are the benefits of buttermilk?
Like kefir, buttermilk is a fermented dairy product, rich with gut-healing probiotic goodness. Probiotics help limit the amount of unhealthy types of bacteria in your digestive tract and may lower your risk for disease and illness, and they’re particularly useful during and after taking antibiotics, as they help repopulate your digestive tract with healthy bacteria. This is the same reason many people are now drinking kefir and other fermented drinks.
What exactly is buttermilk?
Traditional buttermilk is made with the liquid leftover from churning butter. Before the advent of homogenisation, the milk was left to sit to allow the cream and milk to separate. During this time, naturally occurring lactic acid-producing bacteria in the milk fermented it. This facilitates the butter churning process, since fat from cream with a lower pH coalesces more readily than that of fresh cream.
The acidic environment also helps prevent potentially harmful microorganisms from growing, increasing shelf-life. Traditional buttermilk also contains less lactose because of the lactic-acid bacteria present in it.
Tangy buttermilk pairs well in this scrumptious sweet potato soup recipe.
How is buttermilk made?
A lot of the buttermilk you find these days is made by either adding cultures to normal milk. Some simply acidify the milk by adding vinegar or lemon juice, but the latter doesn’t provide the probiotic richness you get with cultured or traditional buttermilk.
Ivy House Farm Dairy, who supply Farmdrop’s organic milk, butter, cream and buttermilk are still honouring such traditional methods and their buttermilk is second-to-none. Adding to its deliciousness is the fact it’s made with rich and creamy Jersey milk, which is naturally higher in essential nutrients, containing more vitamins overall. Especially more Vitamins A and B1 per litre than Holstein milk.
How to cook with buttermilk
Beyond its wonderful health benefits, I think buttermilk is starting to make a comeback because it’s simply wonderful in the kitchen – a hugely versatile and delicious ingredient. It’s thicker and creamier than normal milk, and it’s acidic tang creates a magical culinary chemistry.
A healthier buttermilk chicken recipe, with all the crisp and crunch of fried chicken.
When paired with baking soda, it creates an effective leavening agent without having to add yeast, giving you light and fluffy baked goods. Soda bread is the classic example, but you can also make other quick breads with buttermilk, too. Buttermilk pancakes, of course, being a favourite. Buttermilk also makes a mean chocolate cake.
It’s also a brilliant marinade, especially of chicken and pork, whereby the lactic acid helps to tenderise, retain moisture, and allows added flavours to permeate throughout the meat. This roasted buttermilk chicken recipe, for example, is an easier and healthier way to get deliciously golden and crispy fried chicken, with all the glorious tenderness from using buttermilk in the marinade.
Salad dressings, smoothies, ice cream, soups…
Buttermilk’s body and tang also make for gorgeous salad dressings – it’s lovely simply blended with a pinch of salt and wild garlic. I also love using it in smoothies, just as you would add yoghurt. Or use it to make ice cream for a tangy frozen yoghurt-like treat with added health benefits. Buttermilk offers a wonderful creaminess and tang to soups, too.
You can pretty much use buttermilk anywhere you’d use yoghurt or milk in a recipe. It’s certainly worth adding to your shopping list and hopefully it’s resurgence, especially in its traditional form, will stick for future generations.
Get hold of traditional organic buttermilk made from creamy Jersey milk here at farmdrop.com.
For more gut-friendly recipes, read more on why kefir is good for you and how to cook with it.