Buttermilk vs Half and Half: What’s the Difference?

You have probably come across various dairy products in your cooking and cooking recipes. Milk, sourcream, heavy cream, buttermilk, half and half… the dairy list goes on. Specifically looking at buttermilk side by side along with half and half, these two dairy products are very different. 

Buttermilk offers a slightly sour smell and taste, along with a higher acidity than half and half. Buttermilk is a fermented dairy product, so it also acts as a tenderizer in baked products. Half and half is creamier than buttermilk and has a higher fat content. 

Buttermilk and Half and Half Overview

While buttermilk and half and half both share a common bond of being a product from cow’s milk, they are very different. They both provide great qualities to certain dishes, but they have different tastes, smells, textures, and reactions to your food. Knowing the difference between both of these dairy products will be useful. 

What is Buttermilk?

Buttermilk was originally made by using the liquid separated during the churning process of making butter. The liquid was reserved and fermented making the soured milk. It was a way of not wasting any of the milk product and also served as a great solution to warmer climates where unrefrigerated milk soured quickly. 

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Today, buttermilk is made by chemically fermenting the milk, but adding cultures to it. The acid in buttermilk helps in baked goods by reacting to other ingredients, making a great leavening agent. 

Hoosier Hill Farm Buttermilk Powder, 1LB (Pack of 1)
  • Sweet and creamy Buttermilk Powder is the perfect pantry staple for pancakes, biscuits, and recipes calling for buttermilk.
  • Keep real buttermilk on hand without worrying about refrigeration or waste.
  • For one cup of liquid buttermilk, mix 3 Tbsp Buttermilk Powder to 7.5 oz. water.
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The smell and taste of buttermilk can be unappealing to some, as it has a sour or spoiled flavor. Ironically, even though buttermilk tastes and smells sour, it lasts longer than most milk products because of the added cultures.

Buttermilk also contains less fat than other milk or cream products and is rich in other vitamins and minerals. Another benefit to buttermilk is that people that are normally lactose intolerant, may be able to digest buttermilk with no issues. This is due to the lactic acid that breaks down the lactose in buttermilk. 

What is Half and Half?

Half and half is just what it sounds like: half whole milk and half cream. Both whole milk and cream have a high fat content and are thicker than lower fat milk products. By combining the two, you are left with the perfect balance of a not too thick but very creamy milk product. 

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Half and half is a great option for people who are wanting the richness of cream but with less fat. Half and half is great in both sweet and savory recipes, but cannot be whipped like heavy whipping cream

Half and half contains less fat than cream but all the same vitamins and minerals of both cream and whole milk. 

Is Half and Half the Same as Buttermilk?

Half and half is not the same thing as buttermilk, even though both are made from cow’s milk. Buttermilk is lower in fat and has added cultures to it, making it more acidic and slightly sour tasting. Half and half is a creamy milk that is slightly less thick than heavy cream. 

Bob’s Red Mill Sweet Cream Buttermilk Milk Powder, 22 Oz
  • One, 22 oz. Resealable stand up bag (1.375 lbs.)
  • Vegetarian; Kosher Dairy
  • No added hormones
  • Easily reconstitutes with water for liquid buttermilk
  • Stores up to two years

What’s the Difference Between Buttermilk and Half and Half?

Although both are dairy products, half and half is very different from buttermilk. From different uses in: recipes, taste, nutrition information, and consistency the my are different. For the nutritional information, let’s compare buttermilk to half and half per one cup of each.


Buttermilk has fewer calories than half and half with only 99 calories per cup, compared to the 315 contained in half and half. 


The lactose, or milk sugar in dairy products make carbohydrates. Buttermilk has a little more carbs at about 12 grams per cup compared to the 10 grams found in one cup of half and half. 

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Both half and half and buttermilk contain a small amount of sugar at about 10 grams and 12 grams per cup, respectively. Remember the sugar in these dairy products is natural and not added. 


The texture of both milk products are very different. Buttermilk has a thinner consistency while half and half is much thicker and creamier.


The flavor difference between buttermilk and half-and-half is great. Well, half and half has a rich milk flavor, buttermilk has a fermented and almost spoiled taste to it.


Both buttermilk and half and half can be used in cooking and baking recipes, However, their effect in various recipes varies greatly. Because of the added cultures in buttermilk and the high acidic level, it is often used in baking as a tenderizing agent. 

Half and half is commonly used as a coffee creamer or in other recipes that call for cream, but the user is wanting a less fattening choice.

Can You Substitute Half and Half for Buttermilk and Vice Versa?

You can substitute buttermilk for half and half and vice versa, depending on how you are using each. For example, if you are needing creamer in your coffee, you may not want to use buttermilk as a substitute for the half and half. 

If your muffin recipe calls for the use of buttermilk, but you just have half and half, you can simply add vinegar or lemon juice to the half and half, and it will have the same effect as the buttermilk.

Learn more on Sour Cream vs Buttermilk: What Are the Differences

Final Thoughts

Even though buttermilk and half and half are both dairy products made from cow’s milk, they are quite different. Buttermilk has a sour taste with added cultures to it and has a thin consistency. Half and half is much thicker and creamer and is a richer milk product.