The Virginian-Pilot
                             THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT 
              Copyright (c) 1996, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: Wednesday, April 10, 1996              TAG: 9604090036
                                             LENGTH: Long  :  168 lines


WHAT'S THIS? Buttermilk in a recipe for low-fat mashed potatoes? And here's one for skinny buttermilk pancakes. Another substitutes buttermilk for whole milk and egg yolks.

Books and magazines everywhere are churning out tasty, low-fat recipes using buttermilk.

But how does a product made from butter fit into our reduced-fat, low-fat, nonfat, we-want-nothing-to-do-with-fat obsession?

Well, for one thing, buttermilk is not made from butter.

Commercial buttermilk is ``cultured,'' much like yogurt, sour cream and cottage cheese. Dairies most often make it with low-fat or skim milk, though some use whole milk. (Check the label for ``nonfat'' or ``low-fat'' above the word ``buttermilk.'' These products contain no more fat than do skim or low-fat milks.)

``Originally, buttermilk was the fluid remaining after cream was churned into butter,'' reports Dairy Management Inc., a group serving America's Dairy Farmers, in Rosemont, Ill.

Despite its name, and though often flecked with butter granules, buttermilk was relatively low in fat.

In the 1930s and '40s, small farms faded and pasteurization and sanitation standards became more regulated. Dairies began producing ``buttermilk'' by culturing.

Cultured buttermilk gets its characteristic tang from ``friendly'' bacteria that ferment, or adicify, the milk under controlled times and temperatures. Before the milk sours, the fermenting is stopped, resulting in a creamy beverage that's thicker than whole milk but tart like plain yogurt.

Buttermilk, yogurt and other cultured dairy products each contains different bacteria, which help determine taste and texture. Some bacteria, such as the Lactobacillus bulgarius in yogurt and some yogurt drinks, are believed to ease digestion, ward off yeast infections and lower cholesterol.

Some researchers even think buttermilks of the near future will be made with bacteria that boost the immune system and help prevent cancers.

``Organisms used in cultured products including buttermilk are reputed to have some health benefits,'' says Dr. Todd Klaenhammer, a professor of food science and microbiology at North Carolina State University and director of the Southeast Dairy Foods Research Center in Greensboro.

In Japan and Europe, makers of yogurt beverages tout their products' therapeutic values. In the United States, Klaenhammer says, researchers hope to one day ferment products like buttermilk with ``the right strain'' of bacteria.

So far, the bacteria in buttermilk - Streptococcus lactis - have not proven as helpful as those in yogurts. They are, however, a reason to drink buttermilk if you are lactose-intolerant and cannot digest the milk sugar, or lactose, in certain dairy products.

Because the bacteria in buttermilk partially break down milk sugar, buttermilk may be more easily digested. Klaenhammer suggests trying it in small quantities.

In yogurt, active cultures break down milk sugar in the product and, after it is eaten, in the digestive tract. So health experts often recommend yogurt to people who suffer gastrointestinal distress when they eat other dairy products. Buttermilk at its best

In cooking and baking, buttermilk moistens pancake, cake and muffin batters and adds zest to dressings and sauces. Its thickness helps coatings stick. And because it is acidic, a marinade of buttermilk tenderizes beef and poultry.

``I like it best in cornbread,'' says Janie Jacobson, a cooking teacher at the Kitchen Barn in Virginia Beach. ``It gives a nice texture.'' She also makes a marinade of buttermilk, lemon and lemon rind to tenderize chicken.

Linda Barnes, a registered dietitian in Virginia Beach and president of the Tidewater Dietetic Association, uses buttermilk to replace egg yolk and whole milk in a zippy meatloaf and in banana bread. ``It adds moisture without fat,'' she says.

But you can't have your cultures and cook them, too: Heat kills buttermilk's friendly bacteria.

Jane Brody, The New York Times health columnist and author of ``Jane Brody's Nutrition Book'' (Bantam, 1987), suggests blending low-fat or nonfat buttermilk with fresh fruit, a little sugar and vanilla and some crushed ice for ``a refreshingly delicious and nutritious low-calorie, low-cholesterol milk shake.''

Of course, some folks already drink their buttermilk cold - straight from the carton, bottle or glass.

``I drink a glass the first thing every morning, just like some people drink tomato juice,'' says Clarence Sasse of Norfolk.

Sasse and wife Alma, both 83, order 7 quarts buttermilk a week, from Yoder Dairies in Virginia Beach.

``We drink a quart a day,'' Clarence Sasse says.

They developed early tastes for the cool, creamy milk, while growing up on farms in South Dakota.

``We raised our own beef, churned our own butter, gathered our own eggs,'' Clarence Sasse says. Helping make butter while his mother prepared dinner ``was one of those time-consuming chores.''

It took an hour or two to make about 2 pounds of butter and about a gallon of buttermilk from a couple of gallons of milk, Sasse says.

``You sat on a chair with a churn - a plunger with a wooden barrel - between your legs.'' The plunger was attached to a 4-inch crossboard; when moved up and down, the agitation created a solid ``butter'' on the bottom of the barrel and a liquid ``buttermilk'' that rose to the top.

The buttermilk was held at room temperature for a day or two to ferment, Sasse says. Then it was cooled in a basement or cistern.

The buttermilk often contained butter flakes ``about the size of a kernel of wheat,'' Sasse says. Still, it was relatively low in fat.

Cultured buttermilk isn't quite the same as the original, he laments. ``It was thick. It wasn't sweet nor was it sour. . . but it sure was good.''

The Sasses prefer whole-milk buttermilk, the only buttermilk Yoder Dairies makes.

Francis Miller, Yoder's general manager, says buttermilk sales are ``not as high as years ago.'' The dairy delivers about 2,400 half-gallons of skim, low-fat and whole milk daily, but only ``a couple of hundred quarts buttermilk a week.''

He attributes that to changing tastes and says skim and low-fat milks now outsell whole.

Nationwide, we drank about 116.7 pounds of whole milk per person in 1985, according to figures from the Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service. In 1995, we drank only 8.4 gallons per person.

But we raised our low-fat milk consumption, from 9.7 gallons per person in 1985 to 11 gallons each a decake later. Skim-milk consumption rose from 1.5 gallons per person in 1985 to 3.6 gallons in 1995.

At Bergey's, a family owned dairy founded in Chesapeake in 1931, buttermilk sales are about an eighth of whole-milk sales, says vice president Leonard Bergey. ``And now, our largest volumes are in skim and low-fat.''

The dairy processes and bottles about 600 gallons a day for milk and ice cream, Bergey says. About 10 to 15 gallons a day go toward buttermilk.

Bergey's also sells only whole-milk buttermilk. ``We very definitely cater to those people who have in mind the old-time buttermilk,'' Bergey says.

Though some people have requested low-fat and skim buttermilks, Bergey says the dairy will continue using whole milk. He doesn't think sales would support both.

But, acknowledging the trend toward low-fat, Bergey says the dairy may one day market a sweetened, flavored buttermilk similar to cultured beverages sold in Europe, and with the ``mouth-feel'' of a fattier drink.

``The culture does make a richer-tasting product out of skim milk,'' he says.

With some help from a few friendly bacteria and researchers like North Carolina State's Klaenhammer, a therapeutic buttermilk may be on the shelf in as little as five years.

``There certainly are some provocative suggestions,'' Klaenhammer says. ``We're trying to make the connection.'' MEMO: BUTTERMILK BASICS

Here are some tips for using buttermilk, from the Southeast United

Dairy Industry Association:

Before heating any cultured food, allow it to reach room temperature.

Use low temperatures and brief cooking times to avoid separation. Never


To keep buttermilk fresh, close and refrigerate unused portions.

Store at 40 degrees or less. Opened buttermilk will keep about one week;

unopened will keep about two weeks.

Freezing is not recommended for buttermilk or yogurt, sour cream or

cottage cheese. But you can freeze dishes prepared with these cultured


For a fast breakfast drink, combine 8 ounces low-fat or nonfat

buttermilk and 1 egg with 1/2 ounce honey and 1 1/2 ounces

pineapple-juice concentrate. Blend until frothy, and serve.

If you don't have buttermilk, make an easy substitute. For each cup

of buttermilk called for in a recipe, place 1 tablespoon lemon juice or

vinegar in a glass measuring cup and add enough milk to make 1 cup

liquid. Stir and allow to stand for 5 minutes. ILLUSTRATION: Color photo by BETH BERGMAN, The Virginian-Pilot

Buttermilk pie...

Color photo by LAWRENCE JACKSON, The Virginian-Pilot

Commercial buttermilk is "cultured"...

by CNB