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10 Best Substitutes for Milk in Frying Batter

Milk is a staple in most kitchens because it can be used in many different sweet and savory applications. In frying batters, milk helps give the final product the characteristic golden hue that we all love in our fried products. 

But what if you find that there is no milk in the kitchen, or what if you are cooking for someone who can’t have milk? What are the best substitutes?

In this article, we’ll discuss the 10 Best Substitutes for Milk in Frying Batter.

Best Substitutes for Milk in Frying Batter

Milk is often used in frying batters but if you find that you do not have any on hand, you can successfully substitute it with several different liquids: buttermilk, thinned-out heavy cream and yogurt, eggs, plant-based milk, coconut milk, beer, apple cider, soda water, and even plain old ice-cold water.

10 Best Substitutes for Milk in Frying Batter
10 Best Substitutes for Milk in Frying Batter

What is A Frying Batter?

People love crispy stuff. Crispy stuff usually come about through the process of frying, and it is more easily achieved through coating the food in frying batter.

So what is a frying batter?

Frying batter is basically a mixture of starch, such as flour, and a liquid, such as milk, water, eggs or beer, or any combination of those things that are mixed together to form a mixture with a consistency thick enough to coat pieces of the food before they are fried in hot oil.

This coating reacts with the hot oil and due to several chemical reactions taking place in the process of frying, is what forms the crispy, indulgent external crust that most people go crazy for.

As with baking, leavening agents such as baking powder or baking soda may also be added to the mix to incorporate air and make the batter lighter. Binding agents like eggs may also be used. 

Frying batters are so versatile and can be used for chicken, fish, pork, and other types of meat, as well as vegetables and fruits (hello fried watermelon and fried bananas!).

The existence of so many variations and uses just shows much we love fried food.

Purpose of Frying Batter

Frying batter allows us to achieve that crispy, external crust in fried foods, but it is not its only purpose. Below are some reasons why frying batters are extremely important in the process of frying.

1. Protects Food from Burning

Frying is a process that happens at extremely high temperatures (between 350-375°F), and having a coating of batter protects the food from being in contact with the extremely hot oil and burning before it is cooked on the inside.

 2. Prevents More Delicate Food from Falling Apart

Having a coating of batter protects more delicate food, such as fish or fruit from falling apart while they are being fried. The crisp external crust that is formed helps to “hold” the food together. 

Granted, delicate foods will fall apart after some time when subjected to those agitating temperatures but the batter helps protect them for longer.

Frying batters prevents delicate food like fish from falling apart.
Frying batters prevents delicate food like fish from falling apart.

3. Helps Food Retain Their Moisture

Frying cooks and dries out food very quickly. Having a coating of batter helps food retain its moisture and keep those juices inside. It helps keep the flavor of the food intact.

Aside from the crispy crust that can be so addictive, frying batters also help ensure that the integrity of the food we are frying remains intact and ensures that it retains its flavor and moisture.

Why Put Milk in Batter?

What does milk do for frying batter? Aside from flavor, the proteins in milk help the batter come together and adhere to the food you are coating. 

The natural sugars in milk also help to achieve the desired golden hue in frying. This browning is caused by a process known as the Maillard reaction.  

While milk produces all these desirable effects in frying batter, it does not mean that it cannot be substituted for other liquids if you find that you have none on hand, or if you simply want to explore a different type of frying batter.

10 Best Substitutes for Milk in Frying Batter

So, what else can you use aside from milk in making your frying batter?  We’ll look at 10 great substitutes below.

1. Buttermilk

Buttermilk is a great substitute for milk in frying batter. Buttermilk is a fermented dairy product that is slightly acidic due to the presence of bacterial cultures.

This means that if your batter contains baking soda, for example, they will react together and create more air in your frying batter. More air means a lighter batter that will puff up and crisp up more.  It also produces a nice, flaky crust.

Soaking in buttermilk for a couple of hours also tenderizes the proteins in the meat, especially chicken, and leads to moist, flavorful meat. Most cooks swear that buttermilk makes fried chicken infinitely better!

Buttermilk and yogurt make excellent substitutes for milk in batter, and also an excellent marinade for meats.
Buttermilk and yogurt make excellent substitutes for milk in batter, and also excellent marinades for meats.

2. Heavy Cream

If you don’t have milk, you can use heavy cream in place of it for use in your frying batter. Heavy cream is thicker than milk so prior to substituting, it needs to be diluted and thinned out with water. For every cup of milk, you need, you may use ½ cup heavy cream and ½ cup water. 

Aside from fried chicken batter, heavy cream also makes a good substitute for milk in mac and cheese. Read all about it: “Can I Substitute Heavy Cream for Milk in Mac and Cheese?

3. Yogurt

Like buttermilk, yogurt is a fermented dairy product that is great for marinating meat to make it more tender and moist prior to frying. Like buttermilk, it also has a slightly tart taste, due to lactic acid fermentation. (Read: What Does Plain Yogurt Taste Like?)

If adding it to your batter, you can use it as you would milk but if using a thicker yogurt like Greek yogurt, you may need to thin it out a little bit with water.  Also, make sure to use plain yogurt for it to work. 

4. Eggs

Depending on the recipe you use, frying batters would often contain both milk and eggs. However, it is possible to just use eggs and seasoned flour or breadcrumbs in frying food. The eggs in this case would double as the liquid and the binding agent. 

One of my favorite boneless fried chicken recipes is made with just three ingredients: flour, eggs, and bread crumbs.

First, I make sure that my chicken breast or chicken thigh fillets are dry and seasoned with salt and pepper. 

I then dredge them in flour that’s seasoned with salt and pepper too (you can actually add whatever dried herbs you have on hand to the flour, depending on your preference. I just like them plain!), dip them in lightly beaten eggs, and then cover them in seasoned bread crumbs. 

Fry until done and that’s it! Instant boneless fried chicken!

Eggs can double as the liquid substitute and binding agent in frying batters.
Eggs can double as the liquid substitute and binding agent in frying batters.

5. Plant-Based Milks

Plant-based milks like soy milk, oat milk, rice milk, and almond milk can all be successfully substituted for milk in frying batter. However, as they all vary in consistency and flavor from regular milk, it may impart a texture and flavor difference in your fried food. 

In most cases, I find that certain brands of unsweetened soy milk are better substitutes for milk compared to other plant-based milk types, as they are far creamier and would imitate the necessary consistency of milk in batters.

Rice milk and almond milk might be a little too watery in most cases, but with the right adjustment in amount, they may work as good substitutes too.

I like to make vegan calamari using oyster mushrooms and find that soy milk works the best flavor-wise.  I simply dip pieces of oyster mushrooms in soy milk and then dredge them in seasoned cornstarch or tapioca starch, and fry them up to a crisp. 

Just make sure you always choose the unsweetened varieties no matter what type of plant-based milk you are using.

6. Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is another excellent substitute for milk in frying. Using coconut milk from the can might make it a little thicker than milk so thinning it out with some water might be needed to get the proper consistency for batter.

Especially if using regular coconut milk, it may impart a coconut flavor to your recipe, which, in my opinion, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. 

You can also soak your meat in coconut milk, lime, or lemon juice prior to dredging in seasoned flour and frying, and make extremely yummy Coconut Fried Chicken. It just might be the upgrade or variation your fried chicken needs!

7. Beer

Beer is not just for drinking while eating your fried food. It also lends an extraordinary flavor and texture to fried food when used as an ingredient in frying batter. 

We all know about the quintessential British pub food, Beer-Battered Fish and Chips, and how beer figures prominently in how it is made.  Beer makes an excellent liquid for frying batter and achieves light and crispy fried stuff because of three things:

Carbonation

The carbonation in beer aerates the batter and forms bubbles that lead to a light, crispy crust.

Foams

Beer is filled with foaming agents that are either naturally occurring or added by breweries to make the beer last longer.

These foams coat the bubbles formed during carbonation and slow down the rate at which they burst, which means more of them are retained in the batter by the time the food is fried in hot oil, resulting in batter that crisps up nicely.

These foams also act to insulate the food you are frying from the heat, resulting in juicy, moist, and flavorful meat inside, while the crust is nicely browned and crisped up on the outside.

Alcohol

Alcohol dries up and evaporates at a faster rate compared to water, so for food that can’t be cooked for very long, such as fish, this is an ideal liquid to use compared to water or milk as it doesn’t have to be cooked for very long.

Beer batter can be made from a variety of different kinds of beer, but the ones that are usually used are the lighter-colored ones as darker-colored beer would influence the color and flavor of the final product more, but it depends on your preference.

The carbonation in beer aerates the frying batter and leads to a light, crispy crust.
The carbonation in beer aerates the frying batter and leads to a light, crispy crust.

8. Apple Cider

Apple cider is essentially fermented apple juice, and while alcohol content varies depending on the type or brand, it is generally lower than most beers and can be classified as non-alcoholic. 

Like beer, they make a great substitute for milk in frying batters and can add a unique flavor profile to your fried foods, especially when paired with other spices that typically go with the flavor of apples.

9. Soda Water

For a simple, non-alcoholic alternative, soda or seltzer water is an excellent substitute for milk in frying batter. Like beer, its carbonation produces a light batter that cooks up a nice, crispy crust.

10. Ice Cold Water

If you don’t have milk in the pantry and want to keep your batter simple, ice-cold water works as a perfect substitute. Why is it important for it to be ice-cold, though?

First, cold water slows down the development of gluten, which is ideal when you want a light, crispy crust.

Second, cold water makes your batter cold, and the cold batter does not absorb as much oil as a warm batter does. Cold batter dropped in extremely hot oil “shocks” the crust into crisping up, compared to warmer batters which may just absorb more oil and turn soggy.  A perfect example of where this method is used is in making Japanese tempura.

So there you have it, 10 of the best substitutes for milk in frying batter. While some would mimic the action of milk in batter, some would add a different element or flavor into it that when done right, will result in the most amazing fried food you can ever experience.

Frequently Asked Questions to Best Substitutes for Milk in Frying Batter

What Are the Best Substitutes for Milk in Frying Batters?

In frying batters, you may substitute buttermilk, diluted heavy cream, eggs, yogurt, plant-based milks, beer or cider, soda water, or plain ice-cold water for milk.

Can I Substitute Plain Water for Milk?

In making frying batter, plain water may be used as a substitute if you’re out of milk. Using ice-cold water instead of warm water helps in inhibiting gluten formation and helps form a nice, crisp crust.

Is it Better to Soak Chicken Buttermilk or Milk Prior to Frying?

Buttermilk and yogurt are more acidic and can tenderize and make your chicken moister compared to soaking in plain milk. Most cooks recommend soaking in buttermilk or yogurt or if you do not have it on hand, milk with a squeeze of lemon juice.

Conclusion to Best Substitutes for Milk in Frying Batter

Milk is an important ingredient in frying batter but it isn’t the only liquid you can use to produce nice crispy fried food. There are other alternatives that exist that work as a perfect substitute to it and some that elevate your fried foods to a whole different level. 

The next time you want to fry something, it is great to know that there are many other things you can use and many other ingredients you can explore. Who knows, the substitute you use might even end up being your new favorite way to make fried food!