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How Long Does Buttermilk Last?

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. Many of us it sparingly, sometimes only for pancakes or baking.

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.

No matter what you’re looking for, we’ve got you covered.

Buttermilk straight from the glass
Drinking buttermilk straight from the glass is an option

Can Buttermilk Go Bad? How Do You Know When Buttermilk Is Bad?

Even though buttermilk is technically fermented milk, it can still go bad.

To tell if buttermilk has gone bad, there are four things to check: texture, color, smell, and taste. If it’s very thick, has any signs of mold or other discolorations, smells funny, or tastes off, discard it.

Let’s expand on each of those a bit.

The texture of buttermilk is fairly smooth. If you notice that your buttermilk has thickened or is super lumpy, discard it. When it’s difficult to pour, you know it’s spoiled.

Is buttermilk supposed to be lumpy? Yes, some small lumps here and there are normal, and you can stir them away if needed. But if it consists of a bunch of clumps, it’s bad.

If the buttermilk sits open in the fridge for more than a few days, 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.

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 your buttermilk is open for longer than recommended, err on the side of caution and throw it out.

Buttermilk pancakes for dinner

How Long Does Buttermilk Last?

Before we cover the shelf life of this fermented 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 in the refrigerator. Speaking of which, the door is where the temperature changes the most, so if you can, keep the opened buttermilk in the far corner.

Don’t keep buttermilk on the counter while making pancakes. Just pour as much as you need in a glass, and put the carton back in the fridge.

Once you open the container, remember to always keep it sealed tightly.

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 week or so past that date, but that’s about it.

Once you open the container, it’s best to use its contents within about a week. Some sources mention two weeks, but I wouldn’t stretch it that far.

If you open the container on the last day, finish it within a couple of days tops.

If you aren’t able to use the leftovers within that period, freeze them.

Prep for buttermilk pancakes
Prep for buttermilk pancakes

Can I Freeze Buttermilk?

If you’re buying buttermilk only for pancakes, and you often discard the leftovers, 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” label on the container.

That’s for a reason: frozen and thawed buttermilk changes in texture. Milk solids separate, and the whole thing is somewhat lumpy. That’s definitely a no-go if you plan on drinking the buttermilk as-is.

But if you’re using it in a cooked dish, like pancakes, that slightly altered texture doesn’t matter that much. You mix in a bunch of other ingredients anyway, so there should be little to no difference in how your delicious breakfast turns out.

Pile of buttermilk-based pancakes
Pile of buttermilk-based pancakes

How To Freeze Buttermilk

You can freeze buttermilk in a muffin tin. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Pour as much as you need for a single batch of pancakes into each cup.
  2. Put the tin into the freezer and leave there until the liquid freezes.
  3. Transfer the frozen blocks into freezer bags, so they don’t take as much space.

If you don’t have a muffin tin, use a a bunch of small freezer-safe containers or freezer bags.

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.

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.

Pancake batter with buttermilk
Pancake batter with buttermilk

How To Substitute Buttermilk?

So your buttermilk is old or frozen, but you’d 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.

Buttermilk-based pancake
Buttermilk-based pancake

“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.

Clabbered milk won’t thicken as much 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.

Summary

  • 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

References