Traditional Buttermilk vs. Cultured Buttermilk

Did you know there are two types of buttermilk?

The liquid leftover from making butter is known as traditional buttermilk.  Traditional buttermilk is very low in fat (since most of the fat went to making the butter).  It can be consumed as a beverage (try it with fresh ground pepper) or added to recipes in place of water for a nutritional boost.

Cultured buttermilk is generally what is called for in recipes.  It is also the type of buttermilk you find in the store or you can make your own using a Cultured Buttermilk Starter.  Cultured buttermilk is very similar to yogurt in the sense that it is cultured using live beneficial bacteria.  Cultured buttermilk can be consumed as a thick and creamy beverage or used in cooking (pancakes anyone?).

Why Make it Homemade

Sure, you can go to the store and buy a carton of buttermilk to add to recipes.

But there's just something special about making cultured buttermilk at home. Not to mention, when you make it at home, you get to control the ingredients that go into the final product.

So, if you've decided to give culturing buttermilk a try, here are three methods for doing so. We've outlined the pros and cons for each so you can decide which method might work best for your lifestyle.


Option #1: Use a Heirloom Buttermilk Starter

An heirloom variety starter can be perpetuated from batch to batch (a little from each batch is used to make the next batch). This traditional way to make buttermilk is the most economical, as it only requires the initial starter culture and fresh milk. Click here to review our Heirloom Buttermilk Starter.


  • You only need to buy one, once!
  • With proper care, this starter culture can be used for an indefinite period of time to make cultured buttermilk.


  • Must be maintained by making buttermilk (even just a small amount) each week.

Instructions Part One: Activate the Starter Culture


Pour 1 quart of pasteurized milk into a glass or plastic container.

Buttermilk_03_Process_adding starter

Add 1 packet of starter culture.

Buttermilk_04_Process_mixing starter

Mix well.


Cover the container with a towel or coffee filter secured with a rubber band, or put a lid on the container and culture in a warm spot, 70°-77°F.

Buttermilk_06_Process_set buttermilk

Check after 24 hours to see if your buttermilk has set. If it has not set, leave up to 48 hours, checking every few hours.

Tilt the container gently. If the buttermilk moves away from the side of the jar in one mass, instead of running up the side, it’s set.

Once it has set, or at the end of 48 hours, cover with a tight lid and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.

Instructions Part Two: Make Buttermilk!

Buttermilk_07a_Process_starter from previous batch

Start by combining ¼ cup of buttermilk from the previous batch with 1 quart of pasteurized milk in a container.

Buttermilk_08_Process_cover and culture

Cover the container with a towel or coffee filter secured with a rubber band, or put a lid on the container and culture in a warm spot, 70°-77°F, for 12-18 hours.

Buttermilk_01_Process_buttermilk starter in jar

Check every few hours to see if culturing is finished by tilting the jar gently. Once the buttermilk has set, cover it with a tight lid and refrigerate it for at least 6 hours.

After 6 hours, you can eat your cultured buttermilk, but don’t forget to reserve 1/4 cup for culturing the next batch!

TIP: To make larger batches up to ½ gallon per container, use 1 tablespoon of buttermilk per cup of milk

Option #2: Use a Direct-Set Sour Cream Starter

Direct-set starters are one-time use cultures and generally come with several packets to a box, so multiple batches can be made. Our Sour Cream Starter Culture includes 4 packets. Optional instructions for making buttermilk with it are featured below. Click here to view our Direct-set Sour Cream Starter Culture.


  • Very easy to use.
  • No mother culture to maintain.
  • Keep the packets in the freezer and pull one out whenever you are ready to make buttermilk.


  • Direct-set starters can only be used once and can't be recultured, or may only be re-cultured a limited number of times.

Instructions for Making Buttermilk Using a Sour Cream Starter Culture:

  1. Heat 1-4 quarts pasteurized milk to 185°F and hold for 30-60 minutes.
  2. Cool to 77°F.
  3. Add 1 packet starter culture; stir gently until fully dissolved.
  4. Transfer to a glass or plastic container. Cover with a towel or coffee filter, secured with a rubber band, or put a lid on it.
  5. Place in a warm spot, 74°-77°F, to culture for 16-18 hours.
  6. Once set, cover with a tight lid and refrigerate.

Option #3: Use Cultured Buttermilk from the Store


  • Readily available from your local store.


  • Limited use, must have buttermilk on hand to make more buttermilk. (Commercial buttermilk generally can't be recultured multiple times.)


  1. Mix ⅓ cup of store-bought buttermilk with live active cultures into 1 cup fresh milk.
  2. Cover loosely and culture in a warm spot (70°-77°F) for 12-24 hours, until thickened.
  3. Refrigerate.