Buttermilk is a dairy ingredient widely used in the food industry because of its emulsifying capacity and its positive impact on flavor. Commercial buttermilk is sweet buttermilk, a by-product from churning sweet cream into butter. However, other sources of buttermilk exist, including cultured and whey buttermilk obtained from churning of cultured cream and whey cream, respectively. The compositional and functional properties (protein solubility, viscosity, emulsifying and foaming properties) of sweet, sour, and whey buttermilk were determined at different pH levels and compared with those of skim milk and whey. Composition of sweet and cultured buttermilk was similar to skim milk, and composition of whey buttermilk was similar to whey, with the exception of fat content, which was higher in buttermilk than in skim milk or whey (6 to 20% vs. 0.3 to 0.4%). Functional properties of whey buttermilk were independent of pH, whereas sweet and cultured buttermilk exhibited lower protein solubility and emulsifying properties as well as a higher viscosity at low pH (pH <or= 5). Sweet, sour, and whey buttermilks showed higher emulsifying properties and lower foaming capacity than milk and whey because of the presence of milk fat globule membrane components. Furthermore, among the various buttermilks, whey buttermilk was the one showing the highest emulsifying properties and the lowest foaming capacity. This could be due to a higher ratio of phospholipids to protein in whey buttermilk compared with cultured or sweet buttermilk. Whey buttermilk appears to be a promising and unique ingredient in the formulation of low pH foods.