A guide to how to use dairy substitutes in cooking and baking. When you eliminate dairy from your diet, it can be confusing at first. Find out which dairy free substitutions will work best for you!
When you remove dairy from your diet, you may have a lot of questions.
What dairy substitutes are 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.
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.
What is the best dairy substitute for milk?
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.
There are other options of course, like flax milk, or soy milk, or rice milk. You can choose which one works for you based on your dietary needs or allergies. Everyone has a different preference as far as taste and texture goes, too.
Rice milk is a thinner milk, and soy milk and nut milks are creamier.
Which milk alternative tastes the most like milk?
Soy milk, almond milk, or unsweetened coconut milk has a very neutral flavor. If you want a neutral tasting milk, you will want to avoid flax milk, hemp milk, banana milk, or oat milk. Although I haven’t tried it, I know that Ripple makes a pea protein milk that some people love.
What is the best dairy substitute for cooking?
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. Flax milk is also a little bit beige, and tastes like ground flax seeds.
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.
What is a dairy free substitute for 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. There are many different varieties of Earth Balance spreads – you can take a look and see which one works for your dietary needs.
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.
What is a good substitute for 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 dairy free yogurt is probably the best choice.
Look for non-dairy yogurts from brands such as So Delicious, Stonyfield Farms, Daiya, Silk, or Almond Dream.
Is there dairy free cheese?
There are a ton of vegan and dairy free 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.
There are other brands of dairy free cheese as well. You can look into vegan cheese from Trader Joe’s, or So Delicious, or Follow Your Heart. Be sure to read the label and call the company to make sure that all products are safe for you.
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.
Daiya also makes dairy free cheesecakes which are delicious and can be found in the frozen food section of your health food store.
What’s the best dairy free ice cream?
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.
Dairy free ice cream is made by other companies as well, including Rice Dream, Coconut Bliss, Nana Moo, and more. Check your health food store for more options, and be sure to read the labels carefully, as ice cream is often cross contaminated with other allergens.
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.
This post was originally published in September 2015. It has been updated with more information.