So you just found out that you can no longer digest dairy or you have given it up for various reasons that remain personal and your very own. Where do you go from here? First off, a very warm non-dairy welcome is in order so…Welcome!! The world of dairy-free cooking and baking can be a very creative and delicious one, it just takes time to acquaint yourself with what is out there and how to substitute them. It is my intention to help simplify dairy substitutions and make it less overwhelming, especially if you are just a beginner. For those who are a little more seasoned, it might help you find new recipes to match your dairy-free life. (Hooray! Something for everyone) So without further ado, help is on the way with this Dairy Substitutions Guide to take the mystery out of the confusion.
If you missed the first conversation to the baking series, we discussed egg-free baking and you can find the post here.
The easy part: milk. Milk is very simple to find substitutions. You have several choices to choose from: Coconut, Rice, Soy, Oat, Hemp, and all Nut Options. Part of your choice will be dependent upon personal preference and taste, the other part will be the desired results in your baked goods. The rule of thumb is the more fat in the non-dairy milk the better for baked goods. Not only does it help with texture and flavor, it also enables with rise (and you need all the help you can get with gluten and egg-free baking). This is why coconut milk can be an easy go-to choice for some. I’m not a big fan of coconut typically (unless it’s an Almond Joy or Pina Colada) and I don’t like the flavor it imparts in my baked goods BUT I will say that it truly does give beautiful results.
Having said that, 2 of my favorite milk choices are unsweetened almond milk and vanilla soy milk. Now before you start to judge me for choosing soy (I hear the grumbling) I must say that soy milk really does create beautiful baked goods–its creaminess is wonderful. I also choose almond milk (Original Unsweetened Blue Diamond is my favorite brand) for baking (it’s my primary go-to). It also is by far the best tasting non-dairy milk to drink by the glassful to wash down cookies. The closest to milk in taste in my opinion. Test around to see which flavors you like the best. I like the flavor or hemp milk but I know it’s an acquired taste
It starts to get a bit trickier from here.
Creams, both savory and sweet, require a little more creativity. Think of foods that have a naturally creamy taste that blend well. You narrow it down (though not limited) to: squash, cauliflower, avocado, white beans, cashews, and coconut milk. You will not believe the incredible things you can make from cashews! Allergic to nuts? Give cauliflower or a butternut squash (think nacho sauce) a chance. You will be surprised at how creamy a cauliflower puree can be with just the right blend of flavor. Throw some nutritional yeast in there–the perfect cheeze sauce alternative.
Here are some recipes that uses alternatives to the typical dairy fare:
(with Plain, Strawberry and Chocolate options)
Cauliflower “Risotto” (thickened with a white bean puree)
(the sauce is made from a cauliflower puree)
Raw Vegan Cilantro Lime Dressing
(made from cashews as the cream base)
(creamy mousse filling created by soaked cashews)
Butter is another fairly easy thing to substitute in a recipe. There are very good substitutes these days that continue to get better in baked goods and in flavor. Do keep in mind that non-dairy butters tend to have more water in them so sometimes when you are replacing it in a heavy butter recipe, the results might differ (ie: cookies might spread when the recipe calls for the cookies to keep their shape).
Coconut oil can be a very good substitute. Be sure to get the refined version if you do not like the flavor of coconut. Earth Balance carries a good butter alternative that tastes great spread over a slice of gluten-free bread or even used in sautéing or baking. It is made from various oils, including soy. Avoiding soy? They have a soy-free version too! Trying to stay away from palm oil? No problem! Here is a very comprehensive guide on making your own butter. As if that wasn’t enough, here are 2 more fabulously homemade butter recipes here and here. See now? The possibilities are endless…
A few examples of using vegan butter in lieu of dairy-filled butter. It yields beautiful results:
Rich, Buttery Trefoil Girl Scout Cookies
(made with Earth Balance vegan butter)
(Earth Balance gives this sauce it’s buttery flavor)
And then we get to one of the most difficult aspects to non-dairy eating/baking: Cheeses. In all forms. It’s the hardest thing for most people to give up. This is not the place to debate why this is or to shame anyone for it–this is a judge-free zone and the truth is for most of us, it truly is so difficult to find something that tastes remotely like it. Thankfully, the creativity abounds in this area to create great alternatives to this often missed item in our diet.
Again, cashews (or even other nuts) provide a level of creativity that you wouldn’t believe. Raw cheeses are possible due to heavily soaked nuts blended smooth and chilled until set which imparts a wonderful spreadable cheese of all types and flavors. Buy this book if you really want your mind blown. Visit this site for some incredible creative (and tasty) recipes on vegan cheeses. Can’t have nuts or don’t have the time to make your own? There are also some great cheese substitutes that you can buy at the store–Daiya being the more popular of brands. The great thing is that they provide their cheese in a variety of forms: shredded, wedges, slices for sandwiches, etc.
Some out-of-the-box ways to create a smooth, creamy cheese-like deliciousness for desserts, entrees or appetizers:
Gluten-Free & Vegan Mac n’ Cheese
(Daiya shredded “cheese” was used for the cheezy filling)
(created thanks to soaked cashews)
(cashews were used for the cream cheese layer)
(topped with an easy cashew sour cream)
(made from soaked cashews and herbs)
The rest is up to you now. If you have any suggestions on what you like most for certain substitutes, leave it in the comments section. This is not the end-all information to dairy-free baking/cooking and I would love to hear what you favorite go-to’s are. Plus, you never know if it can help someone else out reading this. That is why we are here after all–to help each other!
Thank you so much for this post!! I, like many women, have to go dairy-free due to my newborn son’s milk protein allergy. I had no idea where to start and another mom in a nation-wide support group on Facebook sent me the link to your site. I am so grateful for all the ideas and support I’ve received so far! It’s nice to know I don’t have to go it alone!
Cara, thanks so much for all this info! I currently had to cut out dairy since my breastfed baby seems to have a milk allergy. It’s so nice to find some healthy options that my health crazed hubby would like to try too!
I’m seriously so happy to help, Joan! Glad to hear it’s of benefit to you, xo
Finally! Dairy free subs!
Adrienne @ Whole New Mom
Hey Cara, so can you not use homemade coconut milk for heavy cream? Just the canned? Thanks! Sharing this on G+ today. Shared your egg sub post yesterday. LOVE this.
You definitely can, Adrienne! As long as it is as thick as the canned type. Thank you for the egg sub share!!! xo
Every time I find one one of your emails in my inbox, I am so excited. Your ideas are so creative. What about Ghee?? Would it work it as a replacement? thank you again for all your research and hard work.
Susy, this totally just made my day THANK YOU for this comment! Mean so much to me… xo, Cara
Do you ever use ghee?
Hi Susy! I have tried it but don’t regularly use it. I do have a dairy allergy so I have to watch my dairy intake however lately I have been playing around with raw butters, etc. to see if my body responds nicely towards it. Do you like using ghee?
Cara, Just found you. Thank You sister. You are amazing. Peace and Love to you!
Such a fantastic resource! I love the links to past recipes because I missed some of them – cannot wait to make the cilantro lime dressing, holy hell.
Reading this, I use all of the items you listed for my husband’s dairy ( whey & casein) allergy. My breakfast egg casserole, scalloped potatoes & tator tot casserole are his favorites out of my dairy free revised recipes. Daiya is awesome as it actually melts but the price is bleh. Coconut milk is my best friend in all of those recipes and I cant taste any coconut flavor, even fooling my 96yo G-Gma that my scalloped potatoes were the real deal. Good article.
Christine (The Raw Project)
Such a great guide with recipe inspiration, thanks!
Such a great guide! I’ve made a chicken pot pie using cashew cream and it was delish 🙂
Wow! Thanks for another incredible resource, Cara! Can’t wait to try out some of these options and delicious recipes you’ve included! 🙂
You are so very welcome, the lovely Miss Kat! xo
What a fabulous post! I’m always trying to figure out substitutions and since I’m allergic to nuts and soy (and trying to stay vegan), it can be a bit of a struggle. I can’t wait to try some of these recipes. Thank you so much for sharing this! 🙂
Cattie, that is super hard when you are allergic to both soy and nuts–it must feel like it practically reduces all options! Good thing there are SO MANY creative options out there and we are seeing products continue to become soy-free. So glad that you liked this–I hope it helps you. xo
It is a bit of a challenge for sure. But as you say, there are more and more new options available all the time, and it is a million times easier to find things that work for me now than it was only a few years ago. Love your blog, so glad I found it!
My problem with dairy substitutes is that I have a sensitivity to sunflower and safflower oil and all of them seem to contain that. I have found a rice milk that uses canola oil so that’s what I buy. Unfortunately if I have to travel to the U.S. I can’t find it there so I’ve had to transport my milk. Also with butter substitutes I have a soy sensitivity as well so with the sunflower/safflower and soy as well as many other sensitivities I’m having a difficult time.
Sandra–That seems a bit frustrating to constantly be reading labels and having a hard time finding what is safe for your body 🙁 Do you find yourself making most of your dairy subs at home because of that? And what about coconut oils–are you good with that?
Emily - It Comes Naturally Blog
I’ve had to make my own dairy-free cheeses because the shop bought ones contain carrageenan, and I don’t want that on my ingredients list!
How has your experiences been with homemade cheeses? Any links you wanna put on here? I would love to check them out!