Friday, March 23, 2012

The Buttermilk Challenge

So.  The most interesting dairy substitution for me is buttermilk.  Normally, one would take regular ol' cow's milk, ferment it a bit, and whammo, out comes buttermilk.  That's the easy way to make it.  The traditional method involves churning butter out of cream, and well, let's just say that I am very glad we are dairy free. The best thing is that a surprisingly suitable substitute can be made easily. The problem is that with so many dairy alternatives out there, how would I know which is the best one?  Every single book I have read on living dairy free says to use whichever dairy alternative you like and mix with vinegar.  I didn't buy it.  I wanted to find out for myself which was the best.  I had tried a couple of milks prior to The Challenge, and I have to admit, I did have a favorite.  But I still had to know...

I took five milks: almond, rice, oat, hemp, and soy.  I mixed each milk with three fermenting agents: white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, and fresh lemon juice.  The first thing I looked for was consistency; which milks would thicken up to a buttermilk standard.  The second, of course, was the taste; I really wanted to see which milks best replicated buttermilk's distinct tanginess.  After letting them sit for several minutes, I had a little taste test.  Here are my results!

Right off the bat, almond milk curdled and separated and got really gross.  I had gotten this reaction before, which was the main reason why I wanted to do this challenge.  I knew that not all dairy alternatives were created equal.  Having said that, I want to state that almond milk is one of my favorites.  It just doesn't ferment well.

The rice milk did not change consistency at all, but it did have a nice flavor.  It wasn't buttermilky, but it was light and fresh.  It is inherently sweet, rice milk, which unfortunately just diluted the tanginess right out.  It really just tasted like watered down white vinegar and watered down lemon juice; not so much in a bad way, but not in a buttermilky way. The cider vinegar mix was surprisingly bland.  I might use the rice milk/white vinegar combo mixed with some honey for a salad dressing...

Oat milk starts out thicker than rice milk and almond milk, and it has a very oaty flavor.  I was surprised to find that it did not thicken at all when the acids were added.  The only real passable combo here was with the cider vinegar; it had a nice sourness to it. The white vinegar tasted too oaty and sweet, and the lemon juice was ok.  It wasn't as oaty as the others, but it really just tasted like lemon.

The hemp milk thickened ever so slightly, but when I tasted the first mixture with the white vinegar I actually got kind of grossed out.  It tasted so grainy and sour.  It was really terrible.  The cider vinegar was loads better, and it had a very nice clean tang to it.  The lemon was also passable.  Not as good as the cider vinegar, but it wasn't bad at all.

The only milk that actually thickened nicely was the soy milk.  The texture was instantly velvety and gorgeous.  When mixed with the white vinegar, one could probably confuse it with dairy buttermilk.  The texture was perfect and the tanginess was just right.  The cider vinegar on the other hand, was surprisingly bland. The lemon juice produced another successful pairing.  It had a nicely sour lemony tang, and would do well in blueberry muffins.  This, too, I had known before...

Before this test, soy milk had been my go-to buttermilk, so I wasn't really that surprised with the results.  I was happily surprised that there are so many different options in the bunch.  But The Challenge isn't actually over...  Step two involves using the successful buttermilks in a control recipe to see how they really measure up in "the field" as it were....  I'll keep you posted!


I did not include coconut milk in this challenge, but I have since tested it.  As with the almond milk, the coconut milk instantly curdles when the acids are added.  But, the great thing about coconut milk is that it can be substituted directly.  It doesn't have the same type of tang as dairy buttermilk, but it certainly tastes delicious!

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