Because of spam, I personally moderate all comments left on my blog. However, because of health issues, I will not be able to do so in the future.

If you have a personal question about LI or any related topic you can send me an email at I will try to respond.

Otherwise, this blog is now a legacy site, meaning that I am not updating it any longer. The basic information about LI is still sound. However, product information and weblinks may be out of date.

In addition, my old website, Planet Lactose, has been taken down because of the age of the information. Unfortunately, that means links to the site on this blog will no longer work.

For quick offline reference, you can purchase Planet Lactose: The Best of the Blog as an ebook on or Almost 100,000 words on LI, allergies, milk products, milk-free products, and the genetics of intolerance, along with large helpings of the weirdness that is the Net.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Cultured Buttermilk Is Low Lactose

Yesterday I warned you about fermented products that weren't cultured and therefore probiotic. Today I'll tell you about one that is.


An unsigned article on the Tuscaloosa News website gives the best summary of today's buttermilk I've seen in a long time.

[W]hat the heck is buttermilk?

It’s not what it used to be, that’s for sure. In bygone days, when dairy products were made on small farms, buttermilk was the byproduct of butter making. Great grandma would leave pans of fresh, raw milk in the cool of the cellar for a day or so, waiting for the cream to rise to the top. Then she’d skim off the cream and churn it until the butter formed. The thin, slightly soured liquid left was the original buttermilk. It was prized for baking because, being acidic, it reacted with baking soda to make biscuits, muffins, pancakes and other quick breads rise. Many people also enjoyed it as a beverage.

With the advent of huge commercial dairies, mechanical cream separators and pasteurization, traditional “churn” buttermilk went the way of — well, of fresh, raw milk....

So what’s in those cartons labeled “buttermilk” in your grocery store? Pasteurized milk that’s been cultured with bacteria, just like yogurt. This process yields a product which, unlike traditional buttermilk, is consistent in flavor, texture, nutritional value and cooking properties. Cultured buttermilk is thicker in texture than the watery traditional buttermilk.

What buttermilk doesn’t have in it is butter. Many people assume from the name “buttermilk” that the stuff is quite rich. Not so. Cultured buttermilk is usually made from fat-free milk. I’m no fan of a fat-restricted diet, but if you’re watching your fat, buttermilk is friend, not foe.

Buttermilk also doesn’t have much lactose. Just as in yogurt, the bacteria have digested the lactose, yielding the lactic acid that gives both products their tangy flavor. This means that buttermilk is far easier than sweet milk on the guts of those who are lactose intolerant. It also means that buttermilk is suitable for those of us who watch our carb intake.


Cultured buttermilk is great for baking, adding moisture, tenderness and lightness to everything from pancakes to cornbread. Still, once buttermilk is cooked, the cultures are no longer active. How can you use buttermilk without cooking it?

When I was a kid, it wasn’t uncommon for people to simply drink the stuff. I have a book from the 1960s that recommends drinking buttermilk as a delicious and filling pick-me-up. If you’re fond of plain yogurt, try a glass of buttermilk. Or you can run chilled buttermilk through the blender with a handful of fruit and a little sweetener for a healthy fruit smoothie.

David B. Fankhauser, of the University of Cincinnati Clermont College, has a great Making Buttermilk page.

There's even a specialty buttermilk cookbook, Better With Buttermilk: The Secret Ingredient in Old-Fashioned Cooking, by Lee Edwards Benning.

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Anonymous said...

Actually, anyone who has lactose intolerance will tell you that buttermilk is a real pain in the gut. Yogurt, referred to in the article, has some bacteria that neutralize or mask the lactase, but it is still there. Buttermilk doesn't have them. Also, fats seem to block lactose in milk products, which is why I can drink half and half or cream but not regular milk.

Steve Carper said...

The lactic acid bacteria that are added to make cultured buttermilk sour the milk by converting some of the lactose to lactic acid. This makes it a low-lactose product. Whether LI individuals will tolerate it depends entirely upon the individual. Some people claim not to be able to tolerate yogurt, either.

However, there is no evidence at all that fats block lactose or do anything whatsoever to the lactose in them. The only difference is that high fat products may be somewhat lower in lactose than regular fluid milks, although not notably so. Actually, their range of lactose percentages is remarkably similar to that of buttermilk. See my list of lactose percentages.

What is likely is that you have far less of a high fat product like half-and-half than you would of regular milk. Quantity is everything for such foods in regards to symptoms.

Anonymous said...

There really is quite a bit of evidence that fats block lactose absorption. The amount of lactose replaced by fats is, like you said, negligible.
It is true that individuals react differently to lactose. In my case I can easily drink a quart of half and half, but a half a cup of regular milk will set me off and low fat milk is worse.
LI, unlike allergies, is affected by quantity. The more lactose you absorb, the more severe the attack will be.
I am not quoting out of some textbook, most are full of errors anyway. I have first hand experience and know quite a few others with the same.

Steve Carper said...

Well, my entire career is built on the fact that anecdotal evidence can't be generally applied. Only solid scientific study can be relied upon for information that can be trusted.

If your "lots of evidence" is one person's experience, then it's not going to change my mind.

If you dismiss textbook information out of hand, then you can claim anything and say anything. The internet is full of people who do in fact claim anything and say anything, and I spend much of my time trying to counter their errors.

I repeat, there is simply no evidence that fats block lactose. Your claim that it does is not evidence. A double-blind study is evidence. No study has ever found that fat content affected symptoms in a measurable and statistically significant way.

It's also wrong that "The more lactose you absorb, the more severe the attack will be." Just the opposite. The more lactose you don't absorb the more symptoms you will get.

Unless you can come up with something better than a personal anecdote, we'll have to go our completely separate paths on this.

intolerant said...

Low fat or skim milks hit you harder, because they are higher in lactose content than regular milks.
Removing the fat does not remove the lactose, hence the proportion of lactose is higher.


Anonymous said...

from wikipedia, Lactose is a water-soluble molecule. Therefore, fat percentage and the curdling process have an impact on which foods may be tolerated. After the curdling process, lactose is found in the water portion (along with whey and casein), but is not found in the fat portion. Dairy products which are "fat reduced" or "fat free" generally have a slightly higher lactose percentage. Additionally, low fat dairy foods also often have various dairy derivatives such as milk solids added to them to enhance sweetness, increasing the lactose content.

---I'VE HAD good luck with Kerrygold butter. The cream is first cultured and then churned. I wonder if that makes for a 'cleaner' separation of fat from milk solids? In any case, when I eat some Kerrygold with my Werthr's caramels I don't have trouble. Now this trick isn't working with my leading grocery store brand of sweet butter .
more from the article...
Butter. The butter-making process separates the majority of milk's water components from the fat components. Lactose, being a water soluble molecule, will still be present in small quantities in the butter unless it is also fermented to produce cultured butter.

Anonymous said...

excuse me, Do you really eat butter with your candy?

Dorie said...

Ok, I am seriously lactose intolerant. Have been since I a child. In those days,if you had a stomach ache after dinner you were given more milk. So between the milk at dinner and after I was always getting sick. Mom not knowing was also buying whole milk from the local dairy. Then their was carvel treats on Friday nights. I was consequently a skinny kid witha noisy unhappy belly. In college on my own, I wound up in thehospital because there didn't seem anything by that time I could eat that I could keep in me. A young resident figured out I was lactose intolerant. By that time I was 30lbs. underweight. I have been through all the lactaid pills, only to find that they didn't work for me. I cannot have yogurt, milk, buttermilk,any soft cheese, cream cheeses, cottage cheeses, ricotta . What I can eat is extra Sharpe cheddars, hard cheeses and shredded mozzarella. I can't touch goat or sheep cheeses. I usually drink Silk soy milk, sometimes almond and will make things with them and lactaid milk. I like the lactose ice cream, but sometimes if my portion is higher than 1/2 cup it will backfire, although they say its lactose free. I used to be able to have alittlebutter in cooked foods. Now that is not working for me. I do use smart balance products with no problems. Almond whip cream is a good substitute for heavy cream in recipes. I also have IBS.......couldn't tell you which came on first. My mom who is in denile, is also lactose intolerant but claims not as bad. My point is there are many degrees to this lactose problem. Some have it like me and don't take too many chances and others can still eat yogurt and ice cream like my mom. I spent so many years getting sick way before soy and lactose products or knowledge of this problem was available that I take very little chances, especially when eating out. The reaction gets worse as you get older. I am 56.

Anonymous said...

High fat foods decrease intestinal motility, allowing whatever residual lactase is still present on the brush border more time to work before the lactose rich chyme reaches the large intestine.

Steve Carper said...

I can't find any studies that discuss the effect of high-fat foods on lactose absorption. It's true that fats slow gastric emptying, but that's not the same as small intestinal transit times. If you can cite studies showing that "High fat foods decrease intestinal motility" I'd appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

I think I am lactose intolerant, not sure yet. I am so glad to see a real scientist who works with facts and not anecdotal evidence. Applause. Keep up the good work.