Carla Hall's Go-To Vegan Buttermilk Substitute

The term "buttermilk" is pretty straightforward — the liquid in said carton or jug comes from a cow and is most definitely not vegan. However, if you're plant-based or shun dairy, there's no reason to throw in the towel on a recipe listing the baking staple in its ingredient section.

A recipe calling for buttermilk is looking for two things: tangy flavor and acidity. Buttermilk is a mixture of milk and lactic acid bacteria and the result of this union is a creamy dairy product with a pungent kick — and an acid that plays an important part in the culinary science that is baking. The acid in the buttermilk will help any baked good rise in the oven when it interacts with the leavener being used. It will also aid in softening the texture as it helps break down gluten, which is responsible for the doughy chew of breads and other baked treats.

To replace this dairy workhorse with something that does not come from an animal but won't sacrifice flavor and texture, Chef Carla Hall has a go-to substitute she prefers to reach for.

A plant-based powerhouse

Texture-wise, Hall tells Essence she finds the thickness of coconut milk a perfect stand-in for buttermilk. Coconut milk is creamy and viscous with a similar mouthfeel to its dairy counterpart.

To make the perfect dairy-free buttermilk sub (remember, it's just milk plus acid), swap in one cup of coconut milk for one cup of buttermilk and add one tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar for the acid. This will provide the tang, tenderizing capabilities, and will activate the leavener in your baked goods.

If going the canned route for coconut milk, be sure to pick up one that contains an emulsifier such as guar gum. Without it, the coconut cream and water separate and will not provide a pourable milk substitute. A simple whirl in the blender or aggressive whisking will solve this, however. Also opt for an unsweetened and unflavored variety if going the way of the carton to ensure a more neutral flavor on par with dairy milk.