Monday, April 21, 2014

Buttermilk, It's Not Just for Chocolate Cake

Buttermilk seems to be the most hated dairy product, except for making things like fried chicken and chocolate cake, it doesn't get much use. It's a shame. There was a time when Americans, particularly southerners actually drank buttermilk. My parents and grandparents mixed buttermilk and cornbread for a light "supper". Over time, consumption of buttermilk fell.

When I talk to my students about buttermilk, they immediately turn up their noses. They haven't even tasted it. But I press on. I tell them the original buttermilk was the milk left after churning butter. Since the fat is removed, buttermilk is a low fat product.

Buttermilk is made by adding microorganisms to low fat milk, making it a fermented product, like yogurt. These microorganisms, commonly referred to as lactic acid bacteria, convert lactose into lactic acid and may possess probiotic activity. Because lactose is converted to lactic acid, it is a low lactose product. Good news for those who are lactose intolerant.

Recently, there appears to be an upswing in the consumption of buttermilk and other fermented foods. Research is beginning to show health benefits of consuming fermented products such as yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi. These products may help with digestion, enhance the immune system.

I have always wondered why the dairy industry did not add fruit and sugar to buttermilk like they did with yogurt. After all, Americans did not eat yogurt until we added fruit and sugar.

If you want to make your own buttermilk, add ½ cup of buttermilk and ¼ teaspoon kosher salt to 2 cups of milk. Cover and allow to sit at room temperature for about 24 hours. The milk will thicken and a curd will form. Refrigerate until ready to use.

If you want to try buttermilk, this mango lassi recipe is a good place to start.  Lassi is an Indian beverage made with yogurt or buttermilk and fruit.  If you have leftover lassi, make freezer pops.

Mango Lassi

Serves 4.


2½ cups chopped peeled mango
4 cups (1 quart) buttermilk, shake before using
¼ cup sugar


1.  Purée mango and buttermilk until smooth.  If desired, strain mixture through a fine sieve into a large picture.  Add sugar and stir to dissolve.