I've been looking for a soda bread recipe to try and I notice that most of them contain buttermilk. Buttermilk is not a standard part of my pantry. Part of the appeal of soda bread is that it's quick to throw together, so having to go shopping for a specific ingredient interferes with the spontaneous aspect.

I know there are lots of substitutions for buttermilk (using a bit of lemon juice in regular milk is the one I usually use), but I'm wondering what it is about buttermilk specifically that seems to be a standard part of soda bread. Is it just traditional? Or will it add a particularly noticeable flavour/texture?

Edited to add: I know that its functional purpose is to provide an acid to react with the soda for rising; so is it just that it used to be the most convenient acid?

  • 2
    Not sure about soda bread, but all my sourdough baking is done using buttermilk and it makes such a difference, I cannot imagine not using it.
    – user9515
    Mar 15, 2012 at 21:59

2 Answers 2


Buttermilk has a delicious flavor that is not at all approximated by lemon juice.

It's true that lemon or vinegar with milk will clabber it a little and provide the acid that the recipe needs but the flavor will be distinctly lacking.

Get some buttermilk. It's inexpensive and has a longer shelf life than normal milk. It is also exceptionally easy to make. If you make it a standard part of your pantry you will find yourself enjoying life more (or at least pancakes.)

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    You can also get dried cultured buttermilk that lasts forever in the fridge and gets 99% of the way to the flavor. I highly recommend it if you think you won't use your buttermilk before it goes bad.
    – justkt
    Mar 18, 2011 at 12:33
  • What are some typical users of buttermilk? I don't know if I'd use it all even with a long shelf life
    – nixy
    Mar 18, 2011 at 12:57
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    @nixy - pancakes, quick breads, cakes, an addition to mashed potatoes, and more. If you can bake it, you can bake it with buttermilk, pretty much.
    – justkt
    Mar 18, 2011 at 13:40
  • 1
    @nixy: Especially with southern US cooking (biscuits, pancakes, cornbread), a good attitude is that anything that calls for milk probably ought to have buttermilk. There's even buttermilk pie! On the other side of the world, it's also used a decent amount in various Indian foods.
    – Cascabel
    Mar 18, 2011 at 14:01
  • @justkt- thanks for the reminder about the powdered form. I remember you told me about that a while back but I forgot to pick some up. I'll fix that now. Mar 18, 2011 at 15:21

From what I understand soda bread needs an acid to activate the bicarbonate of soda (otherwise the bread won't rise as easily). It is possible to make soda bread without buttermilk but the flavour will be slightly different and the recipe may just not work as well.

You're absolutely right about adding some lemon juice to milk though as a replacement, that's what I do too.

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