I'm totally sold on the idea that grandmas knew what they were doin.'
Sure, they may have not had the science behind it that we have now, but everyone knows: Grandma knows best.
Our Grandparent's generation was a generation of usefulness, wisdom, resourcefulness, and appreciation. And if my dreamy idea of Grandparents is correct, I know that buttermilk was included in that.
While I was whipping up butter the other day, as I do every other day here on the farm thanks to our ‘ol sweet Sal, I really got to thinking about the “waste product” of butter making. And it wasn't until we purchased our own dairy cow and started churning out own butter that it really even came to mind at all.
Isn't that how it goes when food is simply purchased from the supermarket? Out of sight, out of mind.
But here I was, with that beautiful, fresh, raw, cultured pound of butter in one hand. And a quart jar of fresh cultured buttermilk in the other.
I knew what I was going to do with the butter – slather it on my vegetables, mix it up into butter buttons for the kids, use it in a homemade pie crust, smear it on dry skin patches (I'm going to need you to quit judging me now…) or as the starter for sautéing vegetables in any number of dishes. Butter ain't my problem – I love it. It's practically a health food around here. And thankfully, since we adhere to the Weston A. Price Foundation method of traditional eating, we get to eat butter (and a lot of it!) without fear or guilt.
But the buttermilk… well… that's a product that took some getting used to. Not because of it's taste (in fact, that's quite delicious) – but just because I wasn't used to working with it. What was this strange white-ish liquid? And what nutritional value did it offer?
I'm so glad you asked. (Oh wait. That was me? Never mind.)
What is buttermilk?
Butter is made by churning cream which separates the cream into butter solids and buttermilk. So in the simplest terms, buttermilk is the slightly sour liquid byproduct of butter making. As most cream is left to sour for 8 hours prior to butter making, buttermilk is often considered a ‘fermented' or ‘cultured' dairy product.
Is it good for you?
Why yes, yes it is. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that buttermilk is the lost superfood. In reading one of my old, old cookbooks the other day I read that buttermilk was traditionally referred to as “Grandma's probiotic”. It's swimming with microbes that feed one's gut with a variety of healthy bacteria. I know, I know. In our sterile culture, we tend to think of ‘bacteria' as a bad word (“Eek! Bacteria! Won't that make me sick?”) but truth be told, our bodies are like a billion percent bacteria (yes, that's a medically accurate statistic) and our bodies NEED bacteria (and lots of it!) to flourish. Enter buttermilk. Which provides our bodies with said bacteria.
Buttermilk is also high in vitamins, potassium, and calcium and is lower in fat than milk (as most of the fat has been removed in the butter making process).
“Like the process of sprouting grains, fermentation of milk results in numerous beneficial changes. Fermentation breaks down casein, or milk protein, one of the most difficult proteins to digest. Culturing restores many of the enzymes destroyed during pasteurization including lactase, which helps digest lactose or milk sugar, and numerous enzymes, which help the body absorb calcium and other minerals. Lactase produced during the culturing process allows many people who are sensitive to fresh milk to tolerate fermented milk products. Both vitamin B and vitamin C content of milk increase during fermentation.
Research has shown that regular consumption of cultured dairy products lowers cholesterol and protects against bone loss. In addition, cultured dairy products provide beneficial bacteria and lactic acid to the digestive tract. These friendly creatures and their by-products keep pathogens at bay, guard against infection illness and aid in the fullest possible digestion of all food we consume. Perhaps this is why so many traditional societies value fermented milk products for their health-promoting properties and insist on giving them to the sick, the aged, and nursing mothers. In the basic sense of high-technology sanitation systems, lacto-fermented dairy foods, as well as lacto-fermented beverages and vegetables, provide essential protection against infectious disease.” —Nourishing Traditions
Don't just go to the store, pick up a bottle of the cheapest ultra-pasteurized fake buttermilk you can find, and start chugging. Gross. As with all dairy, pasteurization extends shelf life but kills all the present beneficial bacteria. So I'd encourage you to find a source for high-quality, organic, grass-fed milk, or farm-fresh milk, separate the cream, churn the butter and produce the buttermilk yourself.
Ways to use it up
Now that I have a constant supply of buttermilk (I'm talkin' like a gallon a week) I've had to explore and discover all sorts of ways for using it up. It's been fun because I've found that many traditional recipes call for buttermilk – it used to be so common for households to have! When my husband called his Grandmother over Christmas and told her about our cow, she lit up with excitement and began talking about their family cows growing up and the way they utilized all of the dairy products. I'm thankful that knowledge doesn't have to pass with their generation. There are still those of us here who are fighting to learn, master and pass on the skills to our children as well.
1. Use in baking: This is probably the most common way that we know of to utilize buttermilk. Buttermilk pancakes. Buttermilk waffles. Buttermilk biscuits. Buttermilk bread. Buttermilk everything! I've been adapting and experimenting with new recipes these past few months to utilize it in almost all our baked goods. Buttermilk yields a better flavor, better rise, and better texture in baked goods – pure and simple. It can also be used to marinate meat in before gently frying it in home rendered tallow. Just sayin'.
2. Use to soak grains: In the past few months, I've discovered that buttermilk is my favorite acid medium for soaking grains in. It results in a superior product consistently. It can be used in soaking recipes like whole-wheat biscuits, soaked waffles, or soaked bread.
3. Drink it: Yep. Lots of people drink it straight up. I prefer whole milk myself, so instead of drinking it plain, I mix it into our morning smoothies. It's an easy and efficient way to get the benefits of it in our daily routine.
4. Make dressing: If you have kids, I bet their favorite salad dressing is Ranch. Buttermilk is an essential ingredient in homemade ranch dressing. But it doesn't have to stop there! Here's a good recipe to try.
5. Give it to your animals: Animals need probiotics, too! Our dogs and chickens always get a steady supply of cultured dairy – buttermilk included!
6. Use it as a beauty product: Yes, some folks swear by washing their face with buttermilk. Or dumping it over their hair as a conditioning treatment. I can't attest to it's effectiveness in this area, but I may be able to soon…
Or, if you're still at a total loss at how to get more probiotic-rich buttermilk into your life, it may be time to purchase this book and get down to business.
Don't worry, Grandma. We'll be reviving buttermilk before you know it!
Cheers! (If you can't see, I'm lifting up a shot glass of buttermilk for you.)
For other great meal ideas, no matter what your dietary restrictions, check out the meal planning service I use: Real Plans.