Does Buttermilk Contain Lactose or Is It Lactose-Free?

Buttermilk Lactose Free

A life without dairy might seem impossible to some, but for those who suffer from severe lactose intolerance, it’s a way of life. Lactose is the sugar naturally found in milk. If you have lactose intolerance, there are varying degrees. That intolerance ranges from those who have very mild lactose intolerance to those who are doubled over with gas pain after consuming only a small amount. People trying to live a lactose-free life can often find it quite challenging, because so many of the foods we enjoy contain dairy products of some type. One dairy product that is often recommended for lactose intolerant people is buttermilk.

Does Buttermilk Contain Lactose?

Yes, buttermilk does contain lactose. Buttermilk is made from cream, or the fatty layer that forms on the top of non-homogenized milk. The cream is separated into the fat component (butter) and the liquid component (the buttermilk.) More of the lactose stays in milk, so buttermilk naturally has a lower amount of lactose compared to whole milk. A single cup of milk can contain between 12 and 13 grams of lactose, while a cup of buttermilk has only 9 grams. One thing that most people will find surprising about buttermilk is that it contains no butter, or even any fat. Buttermilk is naturally fat-free, because it’s the liquid you have left over after you remove the fat. While this is the traditional way to make buttermilk, some dairy producers will use a shortcut; they will simply add lactic acid to regular milk to get a product that’s similar in consistency of buttermilk.

While having only 9 grams vs. 13 grams might be nice for those who are only a little sensitive to lactose, it’s certainly not a lactose-free product. Even those with severe lactose intolerance can sometimes consume a small amount of buttermilk and feel fine, where a tiny amount of whole milk would be quite painful. The reason is most buttermilk sold today is cultured buttermilk, which means there are live bacteria living inside of it. Don’t worry, these are good bacteria. The bacterial cells eat the lactose, and turn it into lactic acid. This acid is what gives buttermilk it’s sour taste, similar to yogurt. It not only gives the buttermilk distinct flavor, but it also is easier on your stomach. Many lactose intolerant people can handle cultured dairy products for this reason. As the buttermilk ages, more of that lactose is turned into the lactic acid which is easier on your stomach, but some lactose will always remain.

If you can tolerate eating milk or other dairy products, you will find that cultured dairy products like buttermilk are more gentle on your stomach, and thus you can consume more. The worst cases of lactose intolerance, though, mean that even a tablespoon of milk will make them feel terrible, so they need to find entirely lactose-free replacements to use in many recipes. Just like milk and ice cream, there are plenty of options to use in place of buttermilk that contain no lactose.

Lactose-Free Alternatives to Buttermilk

Buttermilk Pancakes Lactose FreeMost people don’t have buttermilk on hand, which is unfortunate because it really can make some foods delicious. Pancakes, biscuits, waffles, and other baked goods really taste better when you make them with buttermilk. It’s thicker than normal milk, and has a tangier taste due to the acidity. It gives foods a light and airy texture, and works in conjunction with the baking soda in recipes to give your muffins a better rise. Nearly anything made with baking soda works better if you replace regular milk with buttermilk.

One substitute often used to replace buttermilk is regular milk with acidity added. You can add lemon juice, vinegar, or cream of tartar to turn milk into something similar to buttermilk. If you have lactose intolerance, you should use lactose-free milk for this. It is available in almost every grocery store from brands specialized in lactose-free products like Lactaid, but also from other major brands.

Plant-Based Alternatives Without Lactose

Buttermilk Soy Milk Lactose Free AlternativeIf you love pancakes made with buttermilk but are looking to avoid dairy altogether, you have some options. Many people who are lactose intolerant will keep soy milk in the refrigerator. To substitute for buttermilk, add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to 1 cup of soy milk. Alternatively, you can also add 1 3/4 teaspoons of cream of tartar. The advantage to cream of tartar, or tartaric acid, is that you can add acidity without affecting the flavor like adding lemon juice or vinegar can. If you have tofu available, you can make soy milk with 1/4 of tofu, 3/4 cup of water, with your acid. Put this into a blender, and you’ve got your soy buttermilk.

If you’re not fond of soy milk, you can add the acidity to various other kinds of milk to replace buttermilk. Almond milk, cashew milk, coconut milk, or nearly any plant based milk you can buy can be used in place of buttermilk when you add the acidity you need.

You can also use some dairy-free products available at the store for a buttermilk alternative. You can use vegan sour cream or vegan yogurt and dilute them with water, generally 1/2 and 1/2, to get the correct consistency for buttermilk. You don’t need to add any acid to these, as they already have the acid added.