Everything You Need To Know About Dairy Free Alternatives
Be it for lactose intolerance, arthritis, weight loss, sodium reduction, inflammation, allergies or other reasons, giving up dairy can make a big difference in overall health. Just remember to get calcium from other sources such as leafy green vegetables, and if you are not getting at least 15 minutes of direct sun on your arms and face a day, vitamin d supplements and your golden. American and European cooking make heavy use of milk products that can make transitioning to a dairy-free lifestyle especially jarring. People who develop alpha-gal syndrome (AGS), an allergy to all mammal meats, become sensitive enough to have to give up some or all milk products around 50% of the time. Since this allergy is triggered at any age (usually after a tick bite), the sudden radical diet change can be especially unsettling. Those who have children who are born with or suddenly develop severe milk allergies have similar struggles. This list is for people with alpha-gal syndrome, but it may hold suggestions suitable for those who need or choose to give up dairy milk products for other reasons. It is not specifically vegan, but many of the items listed are. Those with AGS may also react to other mammal by-products and derivatives such as vitamin D3 and some even cross-react with carrageenan, a vegan ingredient frequently found in dairy-free alternatives. If you have sensitivities to trace mammal sources, or other allergies remember to always closely inspect any commercial product each time you buy it to ensure nothing has been changed that could give you trouble.
Have you tried making schmaltz frosting? How did it go? Tell us about it in the comments section below.
Milk and Cream ReplacementsMilk is usually the last dairy source that people with alpha-gal syndrome start reacting to, but sometimes the vitamin D3 made from lanolin can be an issue. Trying a different brand of milk could help, but at some point enough is enough and it's time to try something new. A plethora of milk substitutes exist, with most of them targeting the specific use of being put on breakfast cereal or poured in coffee/tea, but ones that work in soups, sauces, puddings and baked goods are also readily available. In fact, during our research, we were surprised to learn that in many popular recipes, milk alternatives actually work better than dairy milk. A little further research revealed that most of them started out using other ingredients and were converted to use cows milk when brought to Europe. Who knew?
Cold WaterYeah. We know that sounds silly, but if you have a baking recipe that uses a very small amount of milk, especially one that calls for skim milk, there is a good chance it's just there as a token. We were surprised to find that quite a few cake recipes seem to do this. All that was really needed was a chilled liquid, so water worked just fine. In the few cases where the recipe felt lacking, a tiny pinch of sugar, salt, and nutritional yeast added enough flavor to make up for the water replacement. Some people also use water on cereal, but success in that department is going to depend a lot on the cereal in question. When we tried it, only the granolas and hot cereals like oatmeal held up.
Plant/Nut MilksThis is a catch-all term used for a variety of products intended for drinking, pouring on cereal or adding to coffee. We will cover many of them in detail later in this list but wanted to give a shout out to the group as a whole since new members are still be added. Plant "milks" are generally made by grinding a raw or roasted plant seed of some kind, and then soaking it in in cold or boiling water. The liquid is then strained and the resulting "milk" is ready. Dozens of commercial producers of plant milk beverages have a variety of formulations on the market with the goal of covering different preferences, rather than allergies as plant milks are often used and appreciated for their own properties rather than as substitutes. A fact made especially evident by needlessly mixing soybeans, sunflower lecithin, corn syrup, sugar cane, carrageenan, and 3 other thickeners in one product we found. Another had sunflower seeds as the main milk and used soy lecithin. Most of them will avoid the use of vitamin D3 in order to keep their product vegan, but like any commercial substitute dairy product, always check the ingredients, formulations change constantly. Unfortunately, right now quite a few of these plant milks are thickened with carrageenan. Currently on the market one can find plant milk beverages made from oats, rice, hemp, soy, yellow peas, sunflower seeds, cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, coconut or any combination thereof and the list keeps on growing. Most plant milk beverages come in several forms as well: sweetened, unsweetened, vanilla and chocolate are common. Unsweetened is usually intended for cooking while the others are for drinking, putting on cereal, adding to coffee etc.
Soy/Soya MilkThe traditional plant milk beverage on the American market, soy, is chemically, mechanically and nutritionally similar to dairy milk and was already in use in parts of the world as a staple, which is likely why it was favored initially. Unfortunately, it also has a very strong, distinctively soy flavor. If you like the flavor of soy milk, then it is great on cereal. If you don't, it's terrible on cereal. In most other uses, the flavor of soy milk is simply too strong to work in recipes meant for dairy milk, but it does have a few unique culinary uses. Unlike most other plant milks, soy can support the exact same microbes that are used in producing dairy yogurt. It will also thicken in the same way as dairy milk when cultured. If you like to make your own yogurt, then soy is the easiest option, just be cautious about what the starter culture was grown on if you're sensitive. Soy can even make curds like dairy milk, but it won't make cheese; instead, you'll end up with tofu! Unfortunately, the curdling is also one of its shortcomings. Soy Milk is more sensitive to ph and temperature than dairy milk and can easily curdle, thus making it less than stellar in fancy coffee drinks. Interestingly, soy beans are not the only beans that can make a soy milk like product. It seems that most beans will produce a similar liquid, so if you find a recipe you like for making your own, you could try it with a more mild flavored bean... it just might not be white. Soy milk also has a very short shelf life unless ultra pasteurized, and sadly this process destroys much of the unique properties that make it so milk-like. In the end, soy milk may be better as it's own thing than as a substitute, but one area it can shine in is strongly flavored puddings and custards such as eggnog.
Almond MilkPossibly one of the oldest "plant milk beverages", almond milk has been used as a milk substitute during lent for hundreds of years. It has a mild flavor and is white, but is watery without an added thickener. Be especially wary of carrageenan in commercially produced almond milks. Thankfully, it's fairly easy to make at home, so you could also give that a try. The pulp left at the end can by used as almond flour in other recipes to prevent waste. The mild milky flavor of almond milk along with its decent protein content makes it a good choice as a milk substitute for baking in recipes that are not dependent on the milk as a fat source. In general, if a recipe works with skim milk, it will work with almond milk. Almond milk is also great on cereal, but may not be fatty enough to substitute as a creamer.
Rice MilkRice milk has a mild taste, and it's a good one, but it doesn't have much in the way of protein or fat. Its best use is on cereal, but it can add a little something extra to baked goods that cold water alone can't. While commercial rice milks are around, rice milk is one of the easier plant milk beverages to make at home and recipes are readily available. Like many plant milks, rice milk is far too thin to fill the role as creamer alone, but if thickened it can do a lovely job.
Oat MilkIf you have forgotten to buy milk substitute or the store is out of the only one that meets your needs, and you need milk in a recipe, oatmeal may save you. Oat milk can be made quickly. Dump 1 part oatmeal to 3 parts water in a blender and go. Strain and squeeze the end product through a cloth and you're done. If you want it to thicken, cook it a bit. Oat milk has a mild flavor, but like rice milk lacks fats and proteins. Unlike rice milk, it is high in fiber, which is why it can thicken with heat. It also tastes like... well, oatmeal. It does make a good creamer and general milk substitute though, and a number of recipes that expand on the basic concept to make it even more milk-like by adding a little sweetness are readily available. There are better alternatives for cooking with, but in a pinch oat milk is a miracle worker.
Pea Protein/ Yellow Pea MilkStop right there.... I think we can all see why yellow pea milk is commercially sold as pea protein milk. Regardless of the name, this plant milk is made from yellow peas in the same way soy milk is made. Like soy milk it has a distinct flavor, but some people find it to be more agreeable than soy. Unlike soy milk, it looks nothing like cow's milk. In most other ways, this plant milk is very much like soy milk. Its unique flavor though is more easily masked by the generous use of herbs and spices, which is nice. This plant milk is newer on the market, so less is known about its overall performance
Coconut Milk BeverageKey word: Beverage. Coconut milk can mean not 1, not 2, but 3 different liquids, and they are all very different. In this case we are talking about the coconut liquid that is in the refrigerator next to other plant milks like almond milk. Not to be confused with the liquid you get when you drill a hole in a coconut, or the stuff that comes in a can. Perhaps coconut juice just didn't seem catchy enough. This type of coconut milk is designed to taste like coconut and is a blend of a number of coconut products thinned with water and uses an emulsifier to keep it from separating. If you want a coconut product to put on your cereal, this is the way to go, but for cooking you may be better off using the stuff from the can (see below).
Cashew MilkCashews are a bit on the pricey side, but they have potential to be excellent dairy replacements. Commercial cashew milk is rich and creamy and shines most as a creamer or made into hot cocoa. It is also likely to be excellent in puddings and custards. It's a newer addition to the plant milk beverage collection, so we don't know much about how they hold up in cooking just yet, but it's likely to be somewhere between soy and almond milks.
Culinary Coconut Milk/Cream (The stuff in a can)And here it is, the mother of all milk substitutes (for cooking): Canned coconut milk (also comes in small boxes). Whatever you call it, this product is made by taking the meat and liquid out of a coconut and cooking it in water at simmer, then the leftover fiber is removed. Culinary coconut cream is usually 80-100% coconut extract while culinary coconut milk is around 70%. When selecting a canned coconut milk, look for one that contains only 2 ingredients: coconut extract and water. If it has any additives, it's performance will be unreliable and flavors could be off. The good stuff will separate if you leave it alone for a few days. If you want to use coconut milk in place of dairy cream, let it sit in fridge a few hours and it will be easy to scoop out the solids from the top of the can. The longer it sits, the easier this will be. You can also do this with a change of water to reduce the coconut flavor if you so desire. You can buy coconut cream directly, but it's usually a lot more expensive for the exact same stuff. If your recipe calls for milk, thin your coconut cream to the consistency of milk with warm water before use. One of the things that starts to become noticable when using coconut cream in cooking is how much better it works than dairy cream in a lot of recipes. As it turns out, this is no accident. Many popular recipes today have their roots in recipes that came from regions where coconut milk was the ingredient of choice. They were then modified to use dairy milk in cold climates where coconuts could not be grown! Who knew? The one downside to coconut cream is that it has not been homogenized the way dairy milk is. This means it separates easily, but most of our modern recipes still have holdovers from when dairy milk separated, so they have other ingredients that prevent separation, like egg yolks. But when it comes to cereal, this is not the product you are looking for. For that, try coconut milk beverage (above). Now, let us begin our coconut adventure. First and foremost, coconut cream can be used in place of heavy whipping cream in just about any recipe that calls for it. This includes whipped cream, though for some reason some brands or regional labels whip better than others. This may have something to do with differences in coconut variety, or something about how it's processed. If you find one brand doesn't whip well, try a different one. Many soups and stews depend on heavy whipping cream or milk to be added at the last minute. Coconut cream shines as a superior ingredient in these dishes as it can withstand the heat and not curdle or develope odd texture the way dairy cream can. To get the most out of coconut cream, add it while the soup is still boiling/simmering and let it cook for a few minutes. This will cook off most of the coconut flavor, and any remaining is likely to be lost in the onion or garlic so typical of soups and stews. Interestingly, coconut cream lacks another pitfall that plagues dairy cream in sauces and soups. If dairy milk ever separates, such as after being frozen, it will never come together as a smooth product again and picks up a grainy mouthfeel. This is largely due to the casein molecule and since coconut milk does not contain casein, it can be frozen with no ill effect. Instead, once warm, coconut milk is easily stirred back into a smooth creamy sauce. If you freeze soups and sauces made with coconut milk or cream, and they look terrible, don't panic! Just warm them up, give them a stir and it will be as if they were never frozen in the first place. Cream sauces, sometimes called American alfredos, really shine when made with coconut cream. By combining a can of coconut milk, a fair amount of nutritional yeast, salt, fresh black pepper, garlic powder and some kind of thickener such as tapioca starch or a flour roux (made with coconut oil of course) an incredible sauce is produced. The heat and garlic completely remove all signs of the coconut flavor, and unlike dairy cream it never develops odd gritty textures. Cream of mushroom soup is in a lot of american recipes, and coconut cream comes to the rescue again. Be it cream of mushroom or cream of whatever, an at home version can be made easily using coconut milk, nutritional yeast, chicken stock or vegetable broth, onion powder, salt, a thickener and the "of" ingredient of choice. For a condensed soup, using chicken stock (not broth) or fish gelatin (a specialty product that can be purchased online if nowhere else) work best, but other thickeners can also do the job. While it is cooking down, the coconut flavor compounds will evaporate and any left are canceled out by the onion powder. It is possible to make this ahead and freeze it, though it may separate a bit when reheating, it will stir back together easily. Have we mentioned how much we love this attribute of coconut milk? This basic concept also works for chowders. Home made custard style (includes egg yolks) ice creams made with coconut milk are arguably better than regular ice cream, though you may get a bit of a coconut nip at the start if it isn't strongly flavored. Recipes for coconut sorbet that skip the eggs are also plentiful, though the end product isn't quite as luxurious. In any baking recipe that calls for milk, a spoon of coconut cream in a cup of water usually gets the job done. You can use pure coconut milk of course, but coconut cream is just as high in calories as dairy cream, so that is something to keep in mind before dumping the whole can in. Custards and puddings, muffins and cakes, biscuits and breads, they all turn out great with coconut milk. The one thing culinary coconut milk is a little weak in is when it is used raw. It does have a flavor, and while most of that taste is easily cooked out, when used raw, right out of the can, it may be a bit strong. It can also go rancid, and the resulting flavor is quite unpleasant. Keep you coconut milk stored in a cool place out of sunlight, and taste the can before using it.
Butter ReplacementsButter is the concentrated fat from milk and is commonly used as a spread on bread, for adding flavor to dishes, sauces and soups, for pan frying, for making pie crusts and biscuits, for buttercream frosting, for making cookies and as a general use fat. It's a work horse in the kitchen, and one product may not be able to fill its shoes in all areas, but all of its roles can be covered with a combination. Indeed, it is only recently that butter came back to the american tabel when scientist cross examined margarine and discovered it was a far larger health threat. As such, butter may be one of the easier dairy ingredients to substitute.
ShorteningShortening will not leave a good mouth feel as a frosting or in sauces since its melting point is too high, but works well for pie crusts and biscuits. Shortening originally referred to any fat that is solid at room temperature, usually lard, but in recent times it has become synonymous with hydrogenated vegetable oils. Unlike lard, vegetable shortening does not go rancid, which was its initial appeal. That fact should really have tipped people off that it might not have been the safest thing to eat, but it would take around 100 years before we realized the dangers. During that time, many cook books were written with baked recipes that had 2 versions: one for butter and one that used shortening or margarine. If you have one of these cook books, using vegetable shortening versions of baked goods is still an option, though the health concerns are something to consider. Today, the most dangerous portion of shortening, the partially hydrogenated(trans) fats rather than the fully hydrogenated ones have been significantly reduced in vegetable shortening, but not eliminated. Trans fat free can be claimed as long as each serving contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat, so be wary of small serving sizes on products making this claim.
Margarine/Commercial Butter ReplacementMargarine was originally butter flavored partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (see shortening above). Today, it is a mixture of vegetable shortening, vegetable oils and other ingredients. With the original margarine having a troubled history, most brands will try to avoid the use of that word and prefer to be called butter replacements. If you use margarine, be cautious about flavorings and check for allergy warnings on the label if the product is not labeled vegan. Remember, non dairy is not the same as dairy free and even dairy free products may use mammal flesh derivatives. Always check the full ingredient list to be sure nothing weird was snuck in, even in vegan certified products if carrageenan is a concern. Margarine usually comes in two forms: sticks and spreadable tubs, but some companies also make a liquid spray butter replacement just for flavoring. If you are baking, make sure you get the stick form since they are formulated for that use and will give you the best results. There are dozens of these butter replacements on the market and many brands make multiple formulas to meet a variety of allergy and dietary needs. The only allergen we have not seen formulas tailored to is sunflower, which is unfortunate since that is also an adult onset allergy, this time triggered by pollen exposure. If you happen to have sunflower allergy on top of AGS, you may have luck with soy based formulas by some brands clever enough to minimise ingredient sources in each formula, though the soy and olive oil based sticks may have a little extra "funk" in our experience. Of all the butter substitutes, these may be the best option if you desire to make buttercream frosting. They can also be used for all other butter related needs, but can also be a bit pricey compared to other options.
Schmaltz/Duck Fat/Chicken ButterSchmaltz AKA rendered poultry fat. Right now it isn't as well known as other animal fats in America, but is likely one of the oldest forms in use and poised to make a major comeback. Made by rendering the fat from any bird (usually chickens, geese or ducks) it has a flavor akin to super concentrated butter with different undertones from one species to the next. Since butter fat is a lot cheaper to produce, schmaltz easily fell out of favor, but for those with allergies or a desire to impart more flavor with less fat, it is an excellent option when seeking to produce buttery goodness. Currently, it is a bit of a "secret ingredient" in the restaurant industry. Schmaltz has a melting point and mouth feel similar to butter, so it is spread on bread in the same way in some parts of the world. It can also be added to a saute pan to add flavor when frying, but its stronger flavor means it can be used in smaller amounts. Alternatively, if melted and combined with refined coconut oil, it makes an excellent direct use butter replacement good for baking or any other way you might typically use butter. Coconut oil melts at a lower temperature than butter, and schmaltz melts at a slightly higher temperature making the combination very close to butter indeed. A ratio of about 1 part chicken schmaltz to 2 parts coconut oil yielded unsalted butter strength flavoring in our experiments with a slightly lower melting point and can be used as a replacement in pretty much anything calling for butter. Just remember to add salt if the recipe calls for salted butter. Schmaltz can be made easily at home in small amounts by saving the fat trimmings, tail, wings and any excess skin from whole chickens that get turned into other meals such as chicken soup. You can also frequently find frozen unrendered duck or chicken fat at small town butchers or may be able to have your store order some in for you. Place the trimming in a pan on low heat until the fat has fried the wings and formed a large pool, then just strain it out into a container and pop it in the fridge. There are other ways to make schmaltz at home and a quick search will reveal a variety of creative methods. Commercial forms of Schmaltz can also be found, but be aware that in Germany the term refers to all rendered animal fats, not just those from birds, and of course, check the ingredient list for any unexpected additions that could pose problems. A product called vegan schmaltz is also sometimes sold, but this is generally coconut oil with artificial flavorings, and may not be as buttery, but is certainly an option in its own right.
Vegetable OilVegetable oil is a combination of one of a number of oils such as corn, peanut, and canola. It is generally low on flavor, but some, such as corn oil, can leave a slightly buttery aftertaste. Oils can replace melted butter in many recipes. In some cases melted coconut oil may be the better choice (see below), but in others, simple vegetable oil will work out just fine. Some cook books may even have oil versions of recipes right in them, such as oil pie crusts or oil cake recipes, completely negating the need for a solid fat at all.
Coconut OilRefined coconut oil is flavorless, has a melting point slightly below that of butter, and a smoke point a bit above butter making it good for pan frying. When kept chilled it can be used in baking recipes that would normally cut in a fat, such as pie crusts or biscuits. It will also work for making cookies, but must be kept cool and the dough must chill fully before baking since the lower melting point makes it a bit more finicky than butter. In recipes that rely on the mouth feel of butter or use it in its melted form, coconut oil is also an excellent choice as its low melting point provides a smooth finish. Chocolate fudge/truffles can be made by adding minute amounts of coconut oil to melted vegan chocolate. Add more coconut oil and you have that chocolate sauce that makes a shell when you dip ice cream in it. Even more and you get fudge sauce, just like you would make with butter. Mechanically, coconut oil is an excellent butter substitute. Unrefined coconut oil is just like the refined stuff but has a lower smoke point and will impart coconut flavor on foods, but it can be a fun option if you are making something that works with the flavor.
Physical Butter Substitutes in a Nutshell(rated by similarity to butter)
|Mouth Feel||Melting Point||On Bread||Pan Frying||Cookies (Creaming)||Crusts (Cutting In)||Quick Breads (Liquid Butter)||Frosting|
|Vegetable Oils||3/5||Liquid||3/5||4/5||0/5||2/5 (freeze)||3/5||0/5|