Can You Use Buttermilk Instead of Heavy Cream?

Can You Use Buttermilk Instead of Heavy Cream?

Have you run out of heavy cream? Do you have some buttermilk at home but are you hesitant to use it? Read on to find out if it is suitable for your recipe. 

Can you use buttermilk instead of heavy cream? In most cases, the answer is yes. Feel free to replace heavy cream with buttermilk but you might need to make certain adjustments to your recipe. If you need to make whipped cream, buttermilk is not an ideal substitute. 

Let’s compare these two ingredients to see exactly when they are interchangeable and when they aren’t. 

What’s the Difference Between Heavy Cream and Buttermilk?

Heavy Cream

Heavy cream is also known as heavy whipping cream. It is 36-40% fat and the rest of it is liquid milk. Its fat content causes heavy cream to rise to the top of milk then it gets scraped off. Heavy cream adds a creamy texture to ice cream, soups, and sauces. In addition, it is used for decorating cakes and pies.    

Heavy cream has a much higher fat content compared to other dairy products such as half-and-half and buttermilk. It is important to note that there is a significant difference between the fat content of heavy whipping cream and whipping cream in spite of their similar names.

Heavy cream can be whipped for ice cream and other treats. It can get lumpy easily if you whip it too hard or too long because the butter begins to separate from the cream. If this ever happens, remove the lumps with a spoon.    


Buttermilk has a somewhat misleading name. Even though its taste is creamy and buttery, it does not contain any butter. Buttermilk is actually made of the leftover liquid of churned butter. 

When homogenization was not yet an option, the leftover liquid was left to sit so that bacteria could naturally produce lactic acid in it. This method induced the process of fermentation.  

The traditional way of making buttermilk is still used in some Asian and European countries. However, it has become a lot more common to produce buttermilk by adding lactic acid to milk and heating up this mixture. The process of fermentation makes this into buttermilk.  

Buttermilk’s acidity reacts well together with leavening agents for moist and fluffy pancakes, waffles, muffins, and cakes. Buttermilk activates baking soda in recipes. Unlike heavy cream, it contains lactic acid. This is important to bear in mind when you want to swap heavy cream for buttermilk. Expect a tangier flavor when using buttermilk instead of heavy cream. 

Is Buttermilk Healthy?

Buttermilk can keep you full and energized. It is a healthy option with probiotics, vitamin D, and calcium unless you have certain dietary restrictions to follow.  

The high-fat content of milk is what becomes butter. As a result, very little fat remains in buttermilk. This makes buttermilk perfect for low-calorie and low-fat diets. 

If you are on a keto diet, you might use heavy cream and butter due to their low carb and high fat content but buttermilk has too many carbs to be considered keto-friendly.   

As a fermented dairy product, buttermilk is neither dairy-free nor vegan. If you want to make a dairy-free and vegan-friendly version, purchase dairy-free milk such as almond milk. Whisk the dairy-free milk together with lemon juice and let it stand for a few minutes before use. It’s a good idea to prepare it in smaller batches because it does not remain fresh for long.  

You may wonder if you can drink buttermilk. It is absolutely fine to drink it because buttermilk has many health benefits such as lowering cholesterol and improving digestion. It is healthy unless you have lactose intolerance or you are allergic to milk protein. 

You need to be aware of buttermilk’s sodium content if you have high blood pressure. Lower-fat buttermilk may have more sodium than the one with a higher fat content.

In What Recipes Can You Use Buttermilk Instead of Heavy Cream?

There is a wide variety of recipes for this dairy product. Here are some recipe ideas for you so that you could start using buttermilk with confidence. 

Buttermilk is a great low-fat substitute for heavy cream in milkshakes, coleslaw, and salad dressings. You just need to make sure to adjust the amount to your recipe because buttermilk is not as thick as heavy cream.  

Did you know buttermilk is perfect for marinating fried chicken because its acidity makes it a meat tenderizer? When you use a probiotic marinade like buttermilk, your chicken can marinate in it for up to 12-24 hours.  

For creamy mashed potatoes and alfredo sauce, you may use buttermilk, milk, or regular whipping cream instead of heavy cream. If you let your alfredo sauce cook longer, it can reach a thicker consistency with these substitutes. If your sauce gets too thick, stir in a little water. 

Buttermilk is an excellent substitute in cakes, biscuits, pancakes, or scones.

If you use it with chemical leavening agents, carefully look at all the ingredients in the recipe. Buttermilk is acidic while heavy cream isn’t. This makes a notable difference when the recipe calls for baking powder or baking soda. Baking soda can only react with buttermilk.

Baking soda can also be activated by using lemon juice. Lemon juice could make your recipe taste less sweet and you might need to use some sweetener to achieve the right flavor.

As buttermilk does not have the right consistency for whipping, you could consider some of the alternatives below.       

What Other Alternatives Can Replace Heavy Cream? 

Our best substitutes for heavy cream are other dairy products except for vegan options. Let’s see the list of possible alternatives. 

If you need to make whipped cream, half-and-half is a suitable replacement. Half-and-half is one part milk and one part cream. Mix it with butter because butter increases the fat content of half-and-half so that it would whip more easily. 

You can try yogurt or sour cream as a replacement in dips and creamy soups.  

Buttermilk powder is made with low-fat buttermilk. The use of this excellent substitute can go beyond baking because you could also add it to dips and marinades. 

Evaporated milk is a canned dairy product. Even though it cannot whip well, it can be considered in place of heavy cream for certain recipes. Evaporated milk is similar to condensed milk but they are different products. Condensed milk has added sugar and could make your recipes too sweet when you need a substitute for heavy cream.    

If you thicken milk with cornstarch or Greek yogurt, you can get a similar consistency to heavy cream. Since this mixture does not whip as well as heavy cream, only use it for recipes that do not require whipping. If you opt for yogurt, Greek yogurt is a much more ideal alternative than regular yogurt due to its thickness.  

If you are looking for a vegan substitute, coconut cream could be your best choice. 

If you do not find your substitutes sweet enough for baking, you can sweeten them with a little bit of vanilla extract, honey, or jelly instead of sugar.  

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, the key differences between heavy cream and buttermilk are acidity and consistency. These play a role in necessary recipe adjustments especially when leaveners are involved or when you want to make whipped cream.

If you keep these in mind, your recipe will turn out great even with buttermilk.