A guide to how to use dairy substitutes in cooking and baking. Find out which dairy free substitutions will work best for you!
Dairy substitutes – what’s available? How do they taste? Do they work well in cooking and baking? We’re going to tackle these questions together today and take some of the mystery out of dairy substitutes.
Three and a half years ago I removed dairy from my diet to help soothe Baby Bee’s reflux. I remember being so confused about how to replace all the milk, ice cream, cheese, and butter that I loved so much. To be honest, I was in love with dairy, and I was frightened at the idea of living without it. I thought non-dairy products would be yucky.
I think the first dairy substitute I bought was a pint of coconut milk ice cream…priorities, right? ;) As I got used to the idea of no dairy, I ventured out and started trying different products. First non-dairy milks, then non-dairy butter, and then eventually non-dairy cheese.
Since Baby Bee’s reflux got SO much better once I eliminated dairy, it was easy for me to stick to my new diet. I got comfortable cooking and baking without dairy, and now I don’t miss dairy at all. There are so many wonderful dairy substitutes on the market today. You don’t have to feel deprived.
You can make delicious dairy free meals and baked goods that both you and your family will enjoy – you just need to use the right dairy substitutes.
Let’s start at the beginning with non-dairy milk. There are a lot of options when it comes to non-dairy milks. There’s coconut milk, almond milk, cashew milk, hazelnut milk, soy milk, rice milk, oat milk, hemp milk, and more.
Best for drinking: I personally preferred almond milk for drinking, but we don’t keep any tree nut products in our house anymore due to Baby Bee’s allergy, so now I drink unsweeteened coconut milk from SO Delicious. But I think that Almond Breeze Original almond milk is the closest thing to dairy milk. I loved it for drinking and for pouring over cereal. I was also a fan of Califia Farms Unsweetened Almond Milk.
For cooking and baking, you will want to use non-dairy milk as an equal replacement for dairy milk. Just substitute whatever milk you choose in in the same amount required in your recipe.
As far as consistency goes, nut milks and soy milks are the creamiest. They are great for making sauces, and they work very well in baking, too. Coconut milk is another good option, and has the benefit of being very white in color, which is great if you are using it to make a white frosting.
Some non-dairy milks have unusual colors which look different from dairy milk. Nut milks are often a creamy pale color, and oat milk is more of a yellow color. Hemp milk is a beige shade and has a very earthy flavor that takes some getting used to.
Rice milk is very non-allergenic, but can contain arsenic, so rice milk products are best avoided for children under age five. Rice milk is also the thinnest of the non-dairy milks, so it’s not the best choice for a cream sauce or creamy soup.
If you are replacing heavy cream in a recipe, then you’ll want to use canned, full-fat coconut milk. It is super thick and creamy and adds a lot of richness to the recipe. I love it for making curries. You can also use it to make coconut whipped cream.
If you’re really adventurous, you can also make your own non-dairy milks. This guide has some great tips for getting started.
Butter: I personally think that butter is the easiest thing to replace. I have always purchased the Earth Balance Soy Free Buttery Spread because it tastes great and works really well. It is easy to spread and has a wonderful buttery flavor.
If you prefer sticks for baking, Earth Balance makes those as well. Some people like to make their own dairy free butter – I haven’t tried that yet. It’s a great option especially if you can’t find Earth Balance products near you.
Another brand of non-dairy spread is Melt. There are several different flavor options, including chocolate and honey.
Yogurt: There are so many non-dairy yogurts available these days – even in regular grocery stores! Soy milk yogurt, coconut milk yogurt, and almond milk yogurt is easily found in many stores. I find that the taste is very similar to dairy yogurt. Non-dairy yogurts contain healthy probiotics just as dairy yogurt does. If you are using it in a recipe and are looking for that tangy yogurt quality, unsweetened coconut milk yogurt is probably the best choice.
Cheese: There are a ton of vegan cheeses available these days. Many of them are nut based, so they will not work for those who have nut allergies. This is a good guide to vegan cheese.
We use Daiya cheese because it is made in a nut free facility. We love the Daiya shreds and the blocks and slices as well. One thing that is really great about Daiya cheese is the fact that it stretches when it melts. If you put it on a pizza, it gets all stretchy and gooey. If you make mac n cheese with it, it becomes a super creamy, cheesy, melty sauce. We’ve been very happy with all of their products, but our favorites are the mozzarella shreds, the cheddar slices, and the cheddar block and the jalapeno havarti block.
Another easy cheesy substitute is nutritional yeast. Nutritional yeast is full of vitamins and minerals and is an excellent source of B12. It comes in flakes and you can either sprinkle it on your food (like on top of pizza popcorn or pasta) or use it to make a cheesy sauce.
Cashews can also be soaked and ground up to make a vegan “cheese.” There are a lot of vegan cheesecake recipes that are cashew based.
We love to buy non-dairy ice cream at the store, but there are a lot of great recipes available for making your own non-dairy ice cream. The easiest way is to make “nice-cream” which just involves the use of frozen bananas and a good food processor. Our favorite store-bought dairy free ice cream is SO Delicious brand coconut milk ice cream – it’s available by the pint and they also make yummy ice cream treats like chocolate coated bars and ice cream sandwiches.
If you are new to the allergy friendly diet, you may want to read these tips about cooking for food allergies.
Baking without eggs can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be! Read my post on egg replacers and find out what kind to use and when to use them.