How to Substitute Cultured Dairy Products

By Cook's Illustrated Published May 2005

Everybody does it (even though they shouldn't). Here are some tips for doing it well.


Regular milk can be "clabbered" with an acidic ingredient such as lemon juice, vinegar or cream of tartar; the acid will react with the baking soda to produce leavening and will approximate the tang of buttermilk in most pancake batters and baked goods. This substitution is not suitable for raw applications, such as buttermilk dressing.

To Replace: 1 cup buttermilk

  • 1 cup milk + 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 cup milk + 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 cup milk + 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
Let stand to thicken, about 10 minutes.

Sour Cream and Plain Whole Milk Yogurt

These can be swapped for each other in equal measures in most baking recipes with good results, but since sour cream has more than four times the fat, expect cakes and muffins baked with yogurt to have a slightly drier texture. Flavored yogurts such as lemon or vanilla can be substituted for plain in recipes where the flavors won't clash.

To Replace: 1 cup sour cream

  • 1 cup whole milk yogurt

To Replace: 1 cup plain yogurt

  • 1 cup sour cream

Lemon juice is our first choice in our buttermilk substitute. Some sensitive tasters detected off flavors from vinegar and cream of tartar.

Caution- Nonfat and low-fat yogurts are too lean to use in place of sour cream.