We're absolutely crazy about tart, creamy buttermilk. It's our Test Kitchens' favorite surprise ingredient.
A Southern Secret Ingredient
Credit: Jennifer Davick / Styling Buffy Hargett / Food Styling Angela Sellers


It's probably the most misunderstood item in the dairy case. With flecks of butter punctuating its smooth texture, buttermilk as a beverage lacks a certain appeal. But as an ingredient, it's a Southern superstar. It enhances baked goods, adds richness to gravies, and offers a creamy base for salad dressings. Want light, tender biscuits or cake layers? Substitute buttermilk for some of the milk. Need a good soaking liquid for that chicken you're planning to fry or bake? Buttermilk not only boosts the flavor and tenderizes the meat, but it also helps the breading cling to the chicken.

Past generations crumbled cornbread into the tangy beverage as a light meal. While today we enjoy buttermilk in the cornbread, rather than the other way around, we still know a good thing when we taste it. Try these splendid recipes, and you'll want to adopt buttermilk as your own secret ingredient. But don't worry. We won't tell a soul.

A Not-so-Buttery Product
Though buttermilk seems richer and creamier than regular milk, it actually contains the same fat content as the whole, low-fat, and nonfat milks from which it is made. Originally, it was the liquid that remained after churning butter. Today's commercial buttermilk is made by adding lactic acid to pasteurized, homogenized milk, causing it to thicken and sour. (The process is similar to the one used to make sour cream and yogurt.) Some producers add a few flecks of butter for color and richness. The acid makes buttermilk a prized ingredient in baked goods―it tenderizes them and lends depth of flavor. It also makes this milk a long-lasting staple that will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week past its sell-by date.

"A Southern Secret" is from the May 2008 issue of Southern Living.