Why buttermilk, with which most people are familiar, is called so can be a futile task because not much reliable documented information is readily available. One of the anectodes that tries to explain the origin of butter refers to ancient horse riding nomads who hung the milk bags by the neck of their horses and in a few days found it separated into butter and butter milk. Butter was a monetary tool in ancient India 5000 years ago and mention of its association with Lord Krishna is considered proof of its popularity then. Even churning of curd is depicted in ancient epic Mahabharata, Reference to buttermilk also dates back some other civilizations in Asia, Africa and South America. Advent of yogurt made the utility of butter milk some what less with the former being the major fermented milk products from the dairy industry. How ever distinction between yogurt and butter milk is increasingly getting blurred and ultimately it boils down to consistency. While butter milk is more watery yogurt is usually set to different consistency with some versions amenable to clean cut.
The term buttermilk denotes the left over liquid after butter is churned out of fermented milk by traditional process and contains mainly proteins, carbohydrates, less than 1% fat and minerals. Home made buttermilk is obtained after seeding the boiled milk with lactic acid bacteria and subsequent churning to separate butter in granule form from the liquid. Probably the name must have come because it is obtained from the butter churn though it contains only a few specs of butter. Though buttermilk was retained by the families for self consumption as a drink or for making bakery products, after the commercialization of dairy operations, it was being discarded. It was only during the beginning of nineteen fifties that buttermilk started getting importance as a consumer product in the form of beverages and ingredient in baking.
Modern day butter milk products are made by mechanized production facilities with large through put capacities and involves prior cream separation after which the skimmed milk is "fermented" for 12-14 hours with lactic acid bacteria such as Streptococcus lactis, S.cremoris, Leuconostoc citrovorum, L.dextranicum etc singly or in combinations. After the fermentation it is cooled to about 7C for arresting the bacterial growth further and conferring a storage life of about two weeks under refrigerated condition. A typical buttermilk sample has 40 kC energy, 4.8% carbohydrates, 0,9% fat, 3.3 % protein and 116 mg% Calcium.
Indians use yogurt, also called "curd", extensively though commercial versions with reasonable shelf life under refrigerated conditions and diluted buttermilk, salted and spiced, is a drink often preferred during summer months for its cooling effect. Many dairies under the NDDB net work manufacture yogurt and distribute the same in plain LDPE pouches with a couple of days shelf life. In some areas two glasses of dilute plain butter milk is a standard feature of lunch. Amul's efforts to offer a stabilized version of butter milk in tetra packs for drinking as a beverage had limited commercial success, though the product was excellent in terms of quality and acceptability. Many road side vendors, especially in the North, sell buttermilk during hot season. Cost factor plays an important role in the success of any product however good it may be and considering that buttermilk is a highly nutritious beverage, GOI should consider this particular product for promotion by some fiscal incentives to the Dairy sector.
One wonders why the butter milk cannot be called "butterless milk"!