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Dairy alternatives: The best dairy substitutes

One of the hardest parts of becoming dairy free is finding alternatives for dairy recipes.

One of the others is all the ridiculous questions you get like you can’t eat eggs because they are dairy… but we won’t go there.

When I started converting my recipe to being dairy free I did hours of research. What could I use instead of cream or heavy cream? Can butter and oil be converted at a 1:1 ratio (they usually can’t by the way!).

So, now I bring all the dairy free wisdom I’ve collected in to one easy and comprehensive guide to make your cooking and baking easier.

Milk

There are many different types of dairy free alternatives to milk. You’ve probably already heard of many of them like soy milk, almond milk, and rice milk which are probably the most popular.

The best dairy free milk I’ve ever used is Oatly. I’ve tried it in cereal, hot chocolate, and coffee. I couldn’t tell the difference at all. Though, I think my hot chocolate may be slightly creamier with Oatly than milk – which I love!

When baking though you actually don’t need any specialty milk. Water works just fine. Also, if you’re making something chocolate then black coffee really helps it shine.

Butter

There are a number of dairy free alternatives to butter.

If you want to come as close to that butter taste as possible then your best bet is vegan butter. You can also use margarine but make sure the margarine is kosher or it may still contain some dairy in it.

The main substitute for butter I use, especially when baking, is oil. In general, oil in baked goods makes for a superior texture than those made with butter.  

Oil cakes, muffins, and cupcakes tend to bake up taller with a better crumb. They also stay moist and tender far longer than recipes made with butter.

Some other things I love about baking with oil is that it’s cheap, easiest to work with, and give consistent results.

I’ve written a simple post about baking with oil and added a bonus cheat conversion chart you won’t find anywhere else.

Another great substitute is mayonnaise.

Mayonnaise can be used in place of butter in a lot of recipes.

It is pretty common to see it used in baking, but you can actually use it in things like mashed potatoes or Buffalo fried chicken.

Cream

Because most dairy free milks are so thin they are practically water they can’t really be used to replace cream. So, I used to use coconut milk and you still can.

However, Carnation dairy-free Almond Cooking Milk is arguably the best alternative. This is mostly due to the fact that when using coconut milk, often depending on the brand, it can sometimes leave a hint of coconut flavor.

Heavy Cream

Like with regular cream, you can use Carnation Almond Cooking Milk. However, coconut cream may do a better job depending.

This again depends on the brand of coconut milk you use and what the dish can handle. I use it in my dairy free pumpkin pie and you can’t tell a bit!

Evaporated Milk

I once heard that evaporated milk became more commonly used in baking and cooking during World War II due to cream shortages. I don’t know if this is true, but I’ve since just used coconut milk and Carnation Almond Cooking Milk.

Sweetened Condensed Milk

Sweetened condensed milk became popular due to the American Civil War when it was a field ration for Union soldiers. Soldiers returning home from spread the word and it quickly became a major product.

The main difference between evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk is the sugar.

You can replace it by using 2 cups coconut milk or Carnation almond cooking milk and 2/3 cup of white sugar.

If you’re baking, you just just mix it in without cooking. However, if you do want the whole effect: pour them into a pot, heat on low until the sugar is devolved, then gently simmer for about 30 to 40 minutes.

Buttermilk

You can make dairy free buttermilk by simply adding 1 tablespoon of distilled white vinegar or lemon juice to a cup of dairy-free milk.

In baking I often just add it to a cup of water (or I do the math for whatever amount of buttermilk is required). The flavor it adds is so mild that its not really noticeable if you don’t bother with the dairy free milk part.

Chocolate

You actually don’t need an alternative to chocolate. What you do need is any kosher dark chocolate that doesn’t have a “d” next to the kosher symbol.

I’ve also found kosher dairy free white chocolate but this is a little less common.

Pro Tip

An easy cheat to tell if something has dairy in it is by checking the kosher symbol is to see if it has a D next to it. If it doesn’t then you’re good to go.

However, sometimes a D or a DE is put next to it to mark that dairy equipment was used. The best example for this are Oeros dairy free.

So, sometimes it is worth investigating a little deeper even if it is marked with a D.

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creamy dairy free mashed potatoes in a bowl on a white marble counter
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