So you’ve bought a quart of buttermilk for your pancakes, and wonder how long is the buttermilk good for once opened. Or maybe you have a carton that sits in the fridge for a few days already, and you need to know if unopened buttermilk can go bad.
Buttermilk isn’t one of those dairy products like milk or butter that we use daily. Quite on the contrary, many of us it sparingly, and in many cases only as an ingredient for pancakes. Because of that, you might be looking for ways to preserve the product once it’s opened, or maybe even substitute it whatsoever.
In this article, we talk all about buttermilk. We go through things like spoilage, shelf life, freezing, and even buttermilk substitutes. So in either case, we got you covered.
Can Buttermilk Go Bad and How Do You Know It Is Bad?
First of all, all dairy products go bad at some point, even aged cheese. And buttermilk definitely isn’t one of those long-lasting milk-based products.
When it comes to how to tell if buttermilk is spoiled, there are a couple of signs. Some of them are obvious, others not that much.
The texture of buttermilk is smooth, and it’s by no means supposed to be lumpy. So if you noticed that your buttermilk has thickened or has any lumps in it, discard it. If it’s difficult to pour, you know it’s spoiled. Sour smell or taste is another sure-sign of spoilage. I mean you almost certainly won’t be sick from drinking sour buttermilk, but that’s not how it’s meant to be enjoyed. And definitely not good for your pancakes.
If the buttermilk sits in the fridge for a few days already, check for mold growth. If it comes in a paper carton, cut it open to see if there aren’t any growths on the sides or the neck.
Last but not least, if you open the buttermilk for longer than recommended, err on the side of caution and throw it out. Speaking of storage periods…
How Long Does Buttermilk Last?
Before we cover the shelf life of this dairy product, let’s talk about how to store buttermilk. Like pretty much all dairy products, like butter or feta cheese, it needs to be refrigerated. Once you open the container, remember to always keep it sealed tightly. And don’t keep it on the counter while making pancakes. Just pour as much as you need in a glass, and put the carton back in the fridge. Speaking of which, the door is where the temperature changes the most, so if you can, keep the opened buttermilk in the far corner.
Each container comes with a use-by date on the label. And that date is a reasonably good indicator or how long, at the very least, the product should keep quality. You can often get away with keeping it a few days past that date, but that’s about it. Once you open the container, it’s best to consume its contents within about a week. Unless, of course, you begin it on the last day, then you should finish it within a couple of days tops. If you aren’t able to use the leftovers within that period, you can freeze them.
Can I Freeze Buttermilk?
If you’re buying buttermilk only for pancakes, and you often discard the leftover dairy product, freezing is definitely worth trying out.
The first thing you should know is that most producers advise against freezing buttermilk. You can often see a “Do not freeze” sign on the label. And that’s for a reason: frozen and thawed buttermilk changes in texture. Milk solids separate, and the whole thing is somewhat lumpy. So that’s definitely a no-go if you plan on drinking the milk-based product on its own. But if you’re using it in a cooked dish, like pancakes, that slightly altered consistency doesn’t matter that much. You mix in a bunch of other ingredients anyway, so there should be little to no difference in how the crêpes turn out.
When it comes to how to go about freezing, you can freeze the liquid in a muffin tin. Pour as much as you need for a batch of pancakes, and put the tin into the freezer. Once the buttermilk freezes thoroughly, you can transfer the blocks into freezer bags, so they don’t take as much space. And whenever you plan on making pancakes, just put a single block in the fridge the night before. It requires some planning ahead, but thawing in the refrigerator is definitely the best option. Plus you can refreeze the leftover buttermilk if need be. Please note that the refrozen buttermilk will be even worse in terms of texture, so you should avoid it if you can help it.
If you have frozen buttermilk, but no time to thaw it, you can still make your pancakes if you can substitute the dairy product.
How To Substitute Buttermilk?
So your buttermilk is old or frozen, but you’d still kill for a batch of delicious pancakes. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to substitute this dairy product. You see, we use buttermilk in pancakes for its acidity. The acid is required to activate baking soda, so any other acidic substance should help you with that. The first acidic food that comes to mind is vinegar, but I don’t think you’re interested in tasting pancakes with vinegar. The second option is lemon juice, and that’s our winner. Enter “clabbered” milk.
“Clabbered” milk is dairy milk with lemon juice added. The proportion is 1 tablespoon of lemon juice per 1 cup of milk [CI], and that’s what you use instead of the buttermilk. Adding the acidic substance to milk causes the proteins to coagulate and form clumps. Please note that the whole thing won’t thicken a bit as buttermilk does so you might need to reduce the amount of clabbered milk you use in your recipe. Once you make the mixture, it’s ready to be mixed into your batter immediately [CI].
If the clabbered milk doesn’t quite cut it for you, there’s another option available. And one that doesn’t make your pancakes lemony.
Dry Buttermilk Powder
If you don’t use buttermilk that often and usually need just half a cup of it for your pancakes, try using dry buttermilk powder instead. The powder lasts around a year [KA], and you can store it at room temperature. Like with other powders such as baking powder or baking soda, make sure it’s away from moisture, and that’s it. With buttermilk powder, you can make pancakes all year round without buying quarts of buttermilk only to discard the leftovers a couple of days after opening the container.
In a Nutshell
- If buttermilk turns lumpy, thickens, or becomes sour, discard it
- Keep it refrigerated and observe the date on the label, it lasts only a few days past it
- If you aren’t able to use the leftovers within about a week, freeze them in a muffin tin
- Substitute buttermilk with “slabbered” milk or dry buttermilk powder if you like