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What is buttermilk? Does buttermilk contain butter?

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A glass of milk (left) and a glass of buttermilk (right). Buttermilk is thicker and covers the glass
Ukko-wc/Wikimedia Commons
Question: What is buttermilk? Does buttermilk contain butter?
What is buttermilk? Does buttermilk contain butter?
Answer: Many folks labor under the misconception that buttermilk is basically a buttery, high-fat milk. This couldn't be farther from the truth.

You might be surprised to learn there is no butter, per se, in buttermilk, and it is lower in fat than sweet milk. Old-fashioned homemade buttermilk is the slightly sour, residual liquid which remains after butter is churned, ie. milk from the butter or buttermilk. It was usually flecked with tiny spots of sweet, creamy butter that did not quite make it to the top to be skimmed. The flavor of buttermilk is reminiscent of yogurt and most people prefer it well-chilled. You will find it to be slightly thicker in texture than regular milk but not as heavy as cream. It takes 1 gallon of milk to yield 1/2 pint of true buttermilk.

Nowadays, most commercial buttermilk is made by adding a lactic acid bacteria culture to pasteurized sweet whole milk or, more commonly skim milk or non-fat milk, and it may or may not have added butter flecks. After the addition of the culture, the milk is left to ferment for 12 to 14 hours at a low temperature (optimum 69 degrees F.). It is usually labeled cultured buttermilk and may be salted or unsalted. Most commercial varieties are salted, so check the label if you are on a sodium-restricted diet.

More about Buttermilk and Buttermilk Recipes:

What is buttermilk? Does it contain butter? FAQ
Buttermilk Cooking Tips and Hints
Buttermilk Storage
Buttermilk Substitutions, Measures, and Equivalents
Buttermilk History
Buttermilk Lore and Legends
Buttermilk Health Benefits
Buttermilk Recipes
Buttermilk Photo © 2009 Peggy Trowbridge Filippone, licensed to About.com, Inc.
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