Buttermilk vs Sour Cream – Taste Differences, Interchanging & Baking

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In many a cake recipe recipes, milk is often a core component of the initial batter. Milk is used as a moistening agent for the batter due to its high content of water. Along with this function, milk will also work in conjunction with flour and sugar to make a cake that is more tender but still solid enough not to collapse. However, many recipes, such as cornbread will recommend you substitute milk for buttermilk or sour cream. This is due to their ability to further moisten the resulting cake batter. If you’re interested in using either though, you may be wondering, buttermilk vs sour cream, which is better? 

What Is Buttermilk?

Buttermilk has two definitions, one popularly used in India and one that originated in America. In this context the American definition of buttermilk is relevant. This version is essentially regular milk fermented by the addition of vinegar or lemon juice. This results in lactic acid bacteria being present. The resulting sour milk is ideal for baking as it helps to create a tender and softer cake. In some cases this cake will have a pleasant yet slightly tangy taste. 

Buttermilk vs Sour Cream - Taste Differences, Interchanging & Baking

Homemade buttermilk is quite simple to make as full-fat milk and lemon juice/vinegar are all you need. Simply mix one liquid measuring cup of lukewarm milk with one tablespoon and leave for ten to fifteen minutes. The resulting mixture will resemble a curdled milk mixture which can be added to any cake recipe in place of regular milk fairly simply. If out of milk, a good buttermilk substitute is to use watered down plain yoghurt instead.

What Is Sour Cream?

Sour cream or soured cream as some people call it works in a similar way to buttermilk. Instead of fermented milk, however, sour cream will use milk-based cream. From here the process is quite similar. The combination of milk cream and lemon juice or vinegar will result in a soured looking cream.

Even the process of making the sour cream is quite similar. Both buttermilk and sour cream are made from an ingredient mixed with lemon juice or vinegar in the same quantities. That being one cup of milk cream and one tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar in this case.

However, the curdling process here will take longer. The bare minimum amount of time required being an hour before it can be added to a cake mixture. Although overnight in the fridge will produce the best results. If wanting to use sour cream but lack the necessary ingredients then you can use greek yoghurt to substitute sour cream substitute.

Buttermilk vs Sour Cream - Taste Differences, Interchanging & Baking

How Are Buttermilk and Sour Cream Different?

As mentioned above, buttermilk and sour cream have a fair few similarities. Most notably they are both fundamentally milk-based dairy products that have been fermented by adding lactic acid bacteria such as those in lemon juice or vinegar. 

Additionally, both substances will replace milk and somewhat act as a leavening agent by reacting with baking soda or baking powder in the recipe. The resulting cakes will also be more soft and tender with a slightly tangy flavour.

So what then actually is the difference between them?

Most fundamentally, the main difference between buttermilk and sour cream is that the former will contain more water content. Meanwhile the latter will contains more fat content. This difference means that whilst a cake with either will be softer, more tender and slightly crumbly, the consistency will be dramatically different.

Buttermilk will make for a lighter cake with a similar consistency to that seen with regular milk. Sour cream on the other hand will make for a particularly dense cake. As a result, most people tend to prefer the results that buttermilk provide. Although if the density is what you/re after then sour cream is what you’ll want.

However, when using either option you’ll want to use baking soda over baking powder due to the additional leavening power. Additionally, you’ll want to be more conservative with your sour cream or buttermilk measurements than you would with regular milk. This is because when used in excess the cake may become too soft and as a result collapse or crumble.

FAQs

Are buttermilk and sour cream interchangeable?

Sour cream can make an adequate buttermilk substitute. However the resulting bake will be denser whilst any mixtures will be thicker.
Likewise, you can substitute buttermilk in for sour cream. However, any mixtures will be more watery whilst any baking attempts will be lighter

What is the difference between buttermilk and sour cream?

The main difference between buttermilk and sour cream is that the former is more watery and will result in lighter bakes. Meanwhile, the latter is fattier and will create more dense bakes.

Is buttermilk better than sour cream in baking?

In most scenarios, buttermilk will be the better choice out of the two as it will produce a cake that is not only soft and tender but also light in texture. Sour cream on the other hand will result in a cake with a heavier texture.

Does buttermilk taste like sour cream?

Both buttermilk and sour cream have a tangy flavour to them. However, whilst sour cream is a thick cream, buttermilk has more of a watery texture.