Dairy-free cooking tips

dairy free substitutes

Some of the dairy-substitutes we use

Whether you eat dairy-free out of choice or necessity, you’ll find different substitutes out there based on what you’re making. I cook and bake gluten and dairy-free for my family and I.  While I refer to the substitutions as dairy-free, it’s actually casein that we’re avoiding. Casein is the protein found in milk that many people cannot tolerate. Here are my top dairy-free cooking tips for how to get through it.

Drinking Milk
Please don’t believe the Dairy Board. We don’t need milk; we need calcium. Yes, milk has a lot of protein but there are other sources for that as well. There would not be so many dairy intolerances/allergies if our bodies needed milk. I am not a scientist, nor a dietician but my personal feeling is that we are probably drinking too much milk which is why, now, many of us can’t tolerate it. So, if you can’t drink milk, what is there?

Today there are many options:

•    soy (but I cannot tolerate)
•    rice (a little too thin for drinking)
•    almond (I like it but not good for those with nut allergies)
•    coconut (one of my preferred milk subs; very creamy)
•    flax (this is a new one; look for it in your supermarket’s refrigerated section)
•    hemp (some people love this but it has an aftertaste I don’t care for)
•    oat (not a bad sub but for those with a gluten intolerance, it might not be an option)

Did I miss any? That is a pretty comprehensive list. Many of these milks come in different varieties like vanilla and chocolate. Many also have added sugar. Sure it tastes better, but you might not need the extra calories. My daughter’s favorite is unsweetened vanilla flavored almond milk and uses it in her cereal. Hopefully you can find a substitute that you like.

Also, if you are also avoiding gluten, be sure to check the label before purchasing any soy milk. Some brands contain gluten from a barley extract!

Cooking with Milk Substitutes
Drinking sweetened milk can be tasty but you don’t want to cook with it! Make sure to check the label and look for plain, unsweetened milk for cooking with 1 gram of sugar (or less). If soy is not a problem for you, it’s one of the best substitutes for milk in things like soups and creamy stews. Coconut is a close second as well. I have started making my own almond milk occasionally and recently tried it in a creamy mushroom sauce. You could not tell it was not dairy! Rice milk is very thin so you might need some extra fat or some extra thickening. You can thicken it by either cooking it down a bit or by adding a slurry (equal parts of a starch like corn and water). There are also many creative milk substitutes like cashew cream and avocados. It all depends upon what you are making. Try experimenting with some different ingredients.

Baking with Milk Substitutes
For baking, if you use a sweetened alternative milk, you might need to reduce the sugar in the recipe by 2-3 tablespoons. If you find the finished product sweet in anyway, it’s acceptable to reduce the sugar. As far as type of milk, I prefer to use milk substitutes with some fat in them so the baked good is not too dry. This is why I prefer coconut or almond milk. For things like pancakes and waffles, almost any milk will do.

Dairy-Free Substitutions for Desserts
Many traditional dessert recipes use butter so finding a good alternative is important.

Common substitutions:

• There are butter substitutes which are sold in a stick. These can be used in place of butter in cookies but honestly, they aren’t my favorite. You have to use what you like.
• Vegetable shortening, like Spectrum™, works really well in cakes and for frosting. I like the organic variety that is not hydrogenated. Keep it at room temperature. When I make cakes, I usually beat the butter or shortening with the sugar to get the batter fluffy. The shortening should be slightly warm to make this process easier.
• Coconut oil works really well in madeleines. It’s not bad in cake but can make it a bit greasy due to its low melting point. Make sure to heat it first so it is easy to measure, then cool slightly.
• For baking, you can usually substitute a vegetable oil like canola or sunflower for the butter, even if the recipe does not call for melted butter. I have successfully used safflower oil instead of butter for cookies. The texture will be slightly different. Always test your recipe.

Dairy Substitutions for Cooking

For cooking, use olive or another vegetable oil instead. For something with more mouthfeel, use coconut oil. The virgin coconut has a coconut flavor. If you don’t like that flavor, use the non-virgin.

Check out some of my recent blog entries for more ideas for cooking dairy-free


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4 Responses to Dairy-free cooking tips

  1. noreply@blogger.com'
    Kim Rice March 8, 2014 at 7:44 am #

    Thanks for posting this, Amy. Dairy is an important issue for people with gluten sensitivity for a variety of reasons. I’d like to add the following non-dairy milk options: cashew milk which is very creamy (So Delicious has a new one) and sunflower seed milk for those with nut allergies. I always like to warn people that rice milk is not recommended for children because of the arsenic issue. I’m looking forward to your Expo West review.


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