|Buttermilk right compared to fresh milk left|
The term buttermilk also refers to a range of fermented milk drinks, common in warm climates (e.g., the Balkans, the Middle East, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Nicaragua and the Southern United States) where unrefrigerated fresh milk sours quickly, as well as in colder climates, such as Scandinavia, Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia and the Czech Republic. This fermented dairy product known as cultured buttermilk is produced from cow's milk and has a characteristically sour taste caused by lactic acid bacteria. This variant is made using one of two species of bacteria—either Lactococcus lactis or Lactobacillus bulgaricus, which creates more tartness.
The tartness of buttermilk is due to acid in the milk. The increased acidity is primarily due to lactic acid produced by lactic acid bacteria while fermenting lactose, the primary sugar in milk. As the bacteria produce lactic acid, the pH of the milk decreases and casein, the primary milk protein, precipitates, causing the curdling or clabbering of milk. This process makes buttermilk thicker than plain milk. While both traditional and cultured buttermilk contain lactic acid, traditional buttermilk tends to be less viscous, whereas cultured buttermilk is more viscous.
Buttermilk can be drunk straight, and it can also be used in cooking. Soda bread is a bread in which the acid in buttermilk reacts with the rising agent, sodium bicarbonate, to produce carbon dioxide which acts as the leavening agent. Buttermilk is also used in marination, especially of chicken and pork, whereby the lactic acid helps to tenderize, retain moisture, and allows added flavors to permeate throughout the meat.