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What is buttermilk syrup made of?

Buttermilk syrup is a sweet, thick syrup made by boiling buttermilk down to reduce the water content. It has a tangy, buttery flavor thanks to the buttermilk used as the base ingredient. Buttermilk syrup is popular in the Southern United States as a topping for pancakes, waffles, and biscuits.


The main ingredients in buttermilk syrup are:

  • Buttermilk – This provides the tangy, sour flavor. Traditional buttermilk is best, but cultured buttermilk or kefir can also be used.
  • Sugar – Granulated white sugar sweetens the buttermilk. Brown sugar or cane syrup can also be used for more flavor.
  • Spices – Cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and lemon zest are commonly added for extra flavor.

That’s it – buttermilk and sugar are the two essential components. The resulting syrup is a thick, sweet and tangy topping. Some recipes also add a pinch of baking soda, which helps react with the buttermilk acids to produce a thicker syrup faster.

The Buttermilk

Buttermilk gives this syrup its signature tangy flavor. Traditional buttermilk is best to use. This is the liquid left over after churning butter from cream. The process of churning causes the milk proteins and fat to separate into butter grains and buttermilk.

Modern commercial buttermilk is not the same as traditional buttermilk. Most store-bought buttermilk is made by adding bacterial cultures to low-fat or skim milk. This creates a thicker, tangier milk product. But it still does not have the same buttery, complex flavor of true buttermilk.

If you don’t have traditional buttermilk, you can use cultured buttermilk or even kefir. While not exactly the same, they will still provide plenty of tangy flavor to the syrup.

Amount of Buttermilk

A good rule of thumb is to use 4 cups of buttermilk for every 1 cup of sugar. So for 1 cup sugar, use 4 cups buttermilk. For 2 cups sugar, use 8 cups buttermilk, and so on.

You can play with the ratios slightly based on how thick and sweet you want the end syrup. More buttermilk will create a thinner, more pourable syrup. Less buttermilk makes a very thick, spoonable syrup.


Regular white granulated sugar is the standard for sweetening buttermilk syrup. About 1 cup sugar is used for every 4 cups of buttermilk.

Brown sugar or cane syrup can also be swapped in for more flavor. Brown sugar will give the syrup a hint of molasses flavor. Cane syrup has an even stronger, maple-like flavor. Use about 3/4 cup of brown sugar or 1/2 cup cane syrup for every 1 cup of granulated sugar.

Corn syrup is sometimes added as well to help prevent crystallization and give a smooth texture. Up to 1/4 cup corn syrup per 1 cup white sugar can be used without making the syrup overly sweet.

Sweetness Level

The sweetness of the finished buttermilk syrup can be adjusted to taste. For a rich, very sweet syrup use around equal parts buttermilk to sugar. A thinner, less sweet syrup can have twice as much buttermilk as sugar.

Keep in mind the syrup will thicken up and become sweeter as it cooks down, so taste near the end of cooking and adjust if needed. More sugar or buttermilk can be added to reach the desired sweetness.

Spices and Flavorings

Spices, extracts and zests are added to buttermilk syrup for extra flavor. Some options include:

  • Cinnamon – 1-2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • Nutmeg – 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • Vanilla – 1 to 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Lemon zest – Zest from 1 lemon
  • Orange zest – Zest from 1 orange
  • Maple extract – 1 teaspoon for maple flavor
  • Honey – 2 to 3 tablespoons for floral sweetness

Start with about 1 teaspoon per cup of buttermilk, then adjust to your taste preferences. The flavors will become more concentrated as the buttermilk reduces.

Process for Making Buttermilk Syrup

Making buttermilk syrup just takes a few easy steps:

  1. Combine the buttermilk, sugar and any spices or flavorings in a saucepan.
  2. Heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring frequently, until it comes to a simmer.
  3. Once simmering, reduce heat to low. Let the syrup cook at a gentle simmer, uncovered and stirring often.
  4. Allow the syrup to simmer for 45-60 minutes. It will slowly thicken up and reduce to about 1/3 of the starting volume.
  5. When the syrup coats the back of a spoon and has reduced significantly, it is done. Remove from heat and let cool before serving.

The constant gentle simmering evaporates off water content and concentrates the syrup. Frequent stirring prevents scorching or burning on the pan bottom.

Tips for Making Buttermilk Syrup

– Use a large, wide saucepan. This allows for faster evaporation and reduction.

– Scrape down the sides of the pan periodically to prevent crystallization.

– Keep heat on low once simmering to prevent boiling over or scorching.

– The syrup will thicken significantly as it cools. Make it a bit thinner than desired while hot.

Storing Buttermilk Syrup

Buttermilk syrup will keep refrigerated for up to 2 weeks. Store in a covered jar or bottle. Reheat gently before serving if necessary. The syrup may separate slightly – just stir to recombine.

For longer storage, the syrup can be frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator before using again.

Canning the syrup for shelf-stable storage is not recommended, as the dairy content poses a botulism risk.

Uses for Buttermilk Syrup

Buttermilk syrup shines when drizzled over:

  • Pancakes and waffles
  • Biscuits or scones
  • Cornbread and muffins
  • French toast
  • Oatmeal or porridge

It can also be used to sweeten beverages like coffee, tea, milk or shakes. The syrup holds up well in hot drinks without curdling.

For a delicious twist on classic Southern desserts, use buttermilk syrup rather than just plain sugar. It’s fantastic on:

  • Pound cake
  • Fruit cobblers
  • Bread pudding
  • Banana pudding

Buttermilk Syrup Nutrition

Buttermilk syrup is high in sugar and calories, since sugar is one of the main ingredients. A 2 tablespoon serving provides:

  • Calories: 160
  • Total fat: 0g
  • Saturated fat: 0g
  • Carbs: 40g
  • Sugar: 40g
  • Protein: 0g

As you can see, the majority of calories come from sugar. But buttermilk syrup does provide more nutritional value than plain white sugar or maple syrup.

The buttermilk gives a boost of calcium, potassium and vitamin B12. There are also traces of phosphorus, riboflavin (B2), vitamin B6 and vitamin A.

Benefits of Buttermilk

Thanks to the buttermilk, this syrup offers some advantages over other sweeteners:

  • Higher protein – Buttermilk contains milk proteins for staying power.
  • Low glycemic – Contains lactic acid, which slows sugar absorption.
  • Probiotics – Live cultures in buttermilk aid digestion.
  • Calcium – Excellent source of bone-strengthening calcium.

The syrup delivers a sweet taste along with nourishment. Enjoy it in moderation as part of an overall healthy diet.

Buttermilk Syrup vs. Maple Syrup

Buttermilk syrup is often compared to maple syrup, another popular pancake topper. Here’s how the two stack up:

Buttermilk Syrup Maple Syrup
Made from reduced buttermilk and sugar Made from boiled maple tree sap
Tart, tangy, buttery flavor Rich maple flavor
Thinner, more pourable consistency Thicker, more viscous texture
160 calories and 40g sugar per 2 Tbsp 100 calories and 26g sugar per 2 Tbsp
Contains some protein, calcium, probiotics Minimal nutritional value
Easier to make at home More specialized process

As you can see, buttermilk syrup provides a tangy flavor and more nutrition compared to maple. But maple has a lower glycemic index and fewer calories for less impact on blood sugar.

Both make delicious pancake toppings! It just depends on whether you prefer the distinct maple taste vs. the buttery buttermilk tang.

Substitutions for Buttermilk Syrup

If you don’t have buttermilk syrup on hand, there are a few good stand-ins:

  • Honey – Replace in a 1:1 ratio. Sweeter with a mild floral taste.
  • Maple syrup – Use 3/4 cup for every 1 cup buttermilk syrup. Less tangy.
  • Brown sugar syrup – Substitute 1:1. Made by boiling brown sugar with water.
  • Molasses – Use 1/2 cup per 1 cup syrup. Stronger flavor.
  • Simple syrup – Use equal amounts and add lemon juice or vinegar for tang.

While not exact flavor matches, these all provide sweetness along with varying degrees of richness. In a pinch, they can stand in for buttermilk syrup.


Buttermilk syrup is an old-fashioned Southern treat that’s delicious drizzled over everything from pancakes to pound cake. It’s easy to whip up at home with just two ingredients – buttermilk and sugar. While high in sugar, the buttermilk provides a dose of protein, calcium and probiotics not found in refined sweeteners. For best flavor, seek out traditional buttermilk. But cultured buttermilk can also be used. Simmer the buttermilk gently with sugar until thickened, then enjoy this specialty syrup on all your favorite baked goods.