When you eliminate dairy from your diet, it can be confusing at first. But don’t despair – you can still enjoy delicious dishes made with creamy, tasty, non-dairy ingredients. Learn which dairy free substitutes will work best for you with this helpful guide.
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.
Several years ago when I removed dairy from my diet to soothe my son’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 my son’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.
Non-Dairy Milk Beverages
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.
I personally preferred almond milk for drinking, but we don’t keep any tree nut products in our house anymore due to my son’s allergy, so now I drink unsweeteened coconut milk from SO Delicious. Coconut milk (especially the unsweetened beverage) has a neutral flavor that reminds me of skim milk.
If you are able to eat tree nuts, 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.
Soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, or unsweetened coconut milk have very neutral flavors. 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.
There are always new dairy alternatives coming out. I know that Silk and So Delicious have recently released plant milks that are combinations of different ingredients, like coconut and oat milk for an extra creamy drink.
Rice milk is a thinner milk, and soy milk and nut milks are creamier. The thickest, richest milk is full fat canned coconut milk or cream. Full fat coconut milk is used in recipes that require richness, like curries and creamy soups. We love the addition of coconut milk to this slow cooker lentil curry.
Many plant based milks are fortified with calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, and vitamin B12. The amount varies depending on the product you use. As always, be sure to read all labels and call the company if you have any questions about whether a product is right for you.
Cooking with Non-Dairy 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. 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.
Dairy Free Butter Substitute
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.
Smart Balance and Country Crock also make vegan butter substitutes. Many of these brands are available in traditional grocery stores.
Dairy Free 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.
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.
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 Violife, 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. Nutritional yeast is also great for adding cheese flavor to homemade kale chips.
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.
Non-Dairy 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.
Dairy Free Whipped Topping
With the holidays right around the corner, you probably will need to find a delicious, creamy topping to go on all your favorite pies. So Delicious makes Coco Whip, which is a topping that is very similar to Cool Whip. Truwhip also makes a similar product.
This post was originally published in September 2015. It has been updated with more information.