Here’s Why Buttermilk Should Be Your Secret Holiday Ingredient

'Tis the season for baking, and buttermilk is a baker's best friend. But there are a few extra reasons to keep the stuff around during the holidays—and beyond.

a jug of milk on wooden tablePhoto: Shutterstock / images72

There’s a new secret ingredient in town: buttermilk. And you’d better stock up for the holidays. In cornbread, buttermilk tenderizes and adds depth of flavor. Toss that cornbread in a stuffing, and you might be stuck making it. Every. Single. Year. (You could always leave some out for the Jolly Old Elf, too.)

Why buttermilk?

Why is it so incredible? Here’s the breakdown: Buttermilk’s acidic properties (ahem) break down long strands of gluten and other proteins in baked goods, so when you want something to be tender, buttermilk’s your answer.

Taste of Home Food Editor Rashanda Cobbins is all about this tart ingredient from the dairy case. “I tend to use regular (liquid) buttermilk, and I buy it in amounts as small as 16 ounces.” That’s just a pint, folks. Two cups. If you can’t find a use for 2 cups of buttermilk, head on over to this cinnamon-y quick bread or these divine muffins, or try out these fluffy buttermilk waffles.

“If you have buttermilk left over,” Rashanda adds, “experiment with it in cooking. It adds more flavor and complexity to a dish.” That’s right, play with it!

Swap it in for either water or regular milk, keeping in mind that it adds a yogurt-like tang to foods. And when you’ve used most of that carton already? Pour 1/2 cup into this homemade ranch dressing, or use some in an ultra tenderizing marinade for fried chicken. Of course it’s unbeatable for biscuits, and you can whisk it into a custard for holiday-fancy French toast, too.

Here’s how you can really stock up

If you still aren’t sold on keeping a carton of buttermilk on hand at all times, check out the powdered version. Rashanda says there’ll be no real difference in the finished product.

I’m a mom who shops mostly at warehouse stores, so there are weeks I don’t make it to a traditional grocery store at all. Because picking up a pint or quart of buttermilk isn’t always in the cards, I keep a container of the powdered buttermilk in my fridge—at all times. (The powder should last a long, long while and is perfect for a pancake emergency.) For most baking, you can use the conversion table on the powder package to determine how much to mix in with the dry ingredients, then use water in lieu of buttermilk with the wet ingredients. I may not be a buttermilk connoisseur, but I have never had a bad result. Even gluten-free recipes can benefit from the addition of buttermilk powder.

Psst: Use the powder in this eggnog mix (it lasts six months, so you can work ahead!).

As Rashanda says, “There are more benefits nutritionally than people realize (more calcium than milk, plus other vitamins and minerals), and it also provides an unexpected ‘can’t-put-my-finger-on-it’ flavor in whatever dishes you use it in. It’s also an ingredient that our grandmothers used in the past and it’s sort of forgotten now.” Well, we won’t forget you, buttermilk.

Try These Tasty Uses for Buttermilk
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Elizabeth Harris
Liz is an unapologetic homebody who loves bowling and beers almost as much as food and fitness. The highlight of her week is making cheesy popcorn for her family on movie night. She's been hooked on Taste of Home since interning for the magazine in 2010.