Dairy free substitutes aren't always easy to find. When switching to a dairy-free diet make sure you know your best options so you are ready.

Dairy Free Substitutes for Common Kitchen Ingredients

Dairy free substitutes aren’t always easy to find. When switching to a dairy-free diet, make sure you know your best options so you are prepared.

A few years ago I was told I have a dairy allergy. I was 34 years old and never knew that was part of why I would have some….. digestive symptoms. Trust me, that’s all you want to know.

I also have a very good friend, who I’ve known for almost 5 years now, who is severely allergic to dairy. As in she doesn’t even touch dairy products and carries an epi-pen for the allergy. Thankfully I am not that bad. But having her over as often as we have, I learned a lot of dairy-free substitutes when cooking for her and her family. Some of the alternatives are stour-bought, others I make from scratch.

Originally Published On: May 19, 2023

Dairy Free Substitutes

Butter

One of the best dairy free substitutes for butter is a plant-based butter. We have found there’s a plant butter made by Country Crock that tastes just the same as regular butter to us. I use it in baking, cooking, and any recipe that calls for butter. It whips just like regular butter and melts the same, too. Another brand of dairy-free butter is Earth Balance.

Country Crock Plant Butter

Earth Balance Plant Butter

Buttermilk

To make dairy free buttermilk, add 1-2 tbsp of either lemon juice or vinegar to a measuring cup. Fill with a plant-based milk until you get to one cup and stir. Let this sit for about 10 minutes without stirring. The buttermilk should thicken and curdle, that’s how you know when it’s ready to use. Use this in a 1:1 ratio from the original recipe.

Cheese

The best substitute for cheese is to find a reliable plant-based cheese substitute. Over the last couple of years, the grocery stores near me have started stocking more dairy free cheese options.

Soft cheeses are easier to replicate in a dairy-free version because of their creamy texture. You can find pre-made vegan cream cheese and ricotta cheese made from tofu or cashews. One of my favorite brands for this is Tofutti. I can’t find it at my local Walmart grocery store but can get it from Kroger and HEB here.

Tofutti Cream Cheese

Tofutti Sour Cream

Hard cheeses are harder to find a dairy free substitute. The texture and the taste are more defined. The best option for these is to purchase a vegan or plant-based version of the cheese you are wanting. I have found shredded mozzarella, cheddar, and Mexican blend cheese in plant-based versions that taste almost as good as the real stuff.

There are a few good brands of vegan and plant-based cheese that I have tried and like: Daiya, Chao, and Moocho.

Daiya Mozzarella Cheese

Daiya Cheddar Cheese

Chao Mexican Cheese

And if you are looking to replace parmesan cheese as a garnish, try nutritional yeast. One jar has lasted me a long time and it adds that little bit of flavor without being too much.

Chocolate

Most chocolate is made with milk, which means it can’t be enjoyed on a dairy-free diet. This was one of the hardest things for me to give up when I started eating dairy-free. I have a big sweet tooth and love chocolate. So I had to quickly find some alternatives.

If you are looking for a chocolate bar, you can buy a brand called Milkless on Amazon. I can’t find these at the grocery store, but they are a great option to add to an Amazon order to enjoy a bit of chocolate.

When it comes to baking, the best substitute for chocolate chips is the Enjoy Life brand. You can buy vegan chocolate chips and vegan chocolate chunks.

Luckily, cocoa powder is already dairy free, so if a recipe calls for cocoa powder, you are safe with most of them. Just, as always, double check the ingredients list.

Coffee Creamer

There are a few options to purchase dairy free coffee creamer. You can also add a splash of a plant-based milk to your coffee. If you like it with a bit of flavor try vanilla almond milk in your coffee.

For those ok with powdered creamer, Amazon has a French Vanilla Non Dairy Creamer.

Heavy Cream

Heavy cream is not very easy to substitute without dairy. The closest choice is coconut cream. Of course, coconut cream will add the taste of coconut to the recipe, so it’s something to consider. I have made some recipes successfully with coconut cream, and others the flavor wasn’t quite right.

You can purchase coconut cream in many different brands.

Evaporated Milk

Evaporated milk is just milk with some of the water boiled out of it. You can make some at home with a plant-based milk, it just takes a little bit of time. If you need about 1 1/2 cups of evaporated milk, you need to start with about 3 3/4 cups of milk. Place the milk in a saucepan and cook over medium-low heat and bring it to a simmer. Cook for about 30-45 minutes, whisking occasionally, until reduced by about half. Let this cool and store in a glass container.

For those looking for a store bought option, you can try Lite Coconut Milk.

Half and Half

To make a dairy free substitute for half-and-half, you can mix equal parts of coconut cream and full-fat oat milk. You want to use full-fat oat milk because that will give a creamier texture to your half-and-half. 

Ice Cream

Oh, ice cream. One of the things I miss the most after starting a dairy-free diet. My favorite after-school treat as a kid was a bowl of vanilla ice cream with magic hardshell chocolate and sprinkles on top. This was not an easy one to give up but luckily I have found a few options.

For starters, we made a vegan coconut ice cream in the past that was delicious!

Luckily, Ben & Jerry’s has started making nondairy ice cream in many flavors. I also have tried ice cream from So Delicious brand and GoodPop. They aren’t quite as good as Ben & Jerry’s, but sometimes that’s all I can find at the store.

Milk

Milk products all contain dairy so they are not allowed when consuming a dairy-free or vegan diet. Thankfully, there are so many options for dairy-free milk, lactose-free milk, and plant-based milk alternatives. When choosing a non-dairy milk, make sure to check the ingredients and the nutritional information. Many of the nut milks and nondairy milks don’t have enough calcium or protein to sustain your daily needs. 

Almost all of the plant-based alternatives can be made in a variety of flavors. You can typically purchase sweetened or unsweetened versions along with milk flavored with vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, and others. 

Almond Milk

Almond Milk is our preferred milk alternative in our house. It is fairly cheap, tastes good, and works well in most recipes. Most people find almond milk to be very mild in taste, so it’s also a good milk to start with if you are starting out with a dairy-free diet. Almond milk does not have the same protein content as cow’s milk, though.

Insider’s Secret: Many of the recipes I have on my blog, unless I specifically say whole milk in the ingredients, I have made with both cow’s milk and almond milk. 

Cashew Milk

One of the most used nondairy alternatives for milk is cashew milk. It’s made from simply cashews and water and has a rich, creamy consistency. Cashew milk is high in many vitamins, proteins, and minerals necessary for good nutrition. 

Coconut Milk

If you are looking for the closest texture to dairy milk, try coconut milk. It’s very thick and creamy by nature so many will use it in their coffee in place of creamer. There is very little protein in coconut milk, so it’s best used sparingly. 

Flaxseed Milk or Flax Milk

Flax milk is made from whole or ground flax seeds and water. It’s a perfect option for those who want to make it at home as the process is very quick. 

Hemp Milk

For those looking for plant-based products that are free of nuts, gluten, soy, and dairy, try hemp milk. 

Oat Milk

Another option for a dairy-free milk alternative is to try oat milk. It has a similar flavor to oatmeal, so would be perfect when making breakfast. Oat milk has a creamy texture. 

Rice Milk

Rice milk is the sweetest of the alternative milks and also the thinnest. It’s great milk to use in cereal and comes in many different varieties. 

Soy Milk

Soy milk is a good option for those with a dairy or lactose allergy, too. It is high in protein, so more equivalent to whole milk. The flavor of soy milk is stronger, though, and may take some time to get used to for some people. 

Protein Powder

Luckily, most major grocery store chains are offering protein powder in plant form. I’ve seen it made with pea-based protein and brown rice to get high levels of protein without using whey (a milk protein by-product). 

Personally, we use the protein powder to make strawberry-banana smoothies for breakfast or I will mix some protein powder with a cup of almond milk and shake it up for a protein shake. Surprisingly, I can have one of those in the morning and I am full until lunchtime. 

Sour Cream

Dairy free sour cream is actually very easy to make at home. I have made it a few times by combining plain dairy free greek yogurt (So Delicious brand is perfect) with some lemon juice. Whisk that together then let it sit for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator. When it’s done, you have sour cream without the dairy! 

I have noticed that dairy free sour cream is thinner than regular sour cream. It works really when using it on tacos or baked potatoes or similar meals. But if you want that creamy consistency when mixed into something like taco dip, this won’t quite be right. 

Sweetened Condensed Milk

Sweetened condensed milk is actually very similar to evaporated milk except it’s made with sugar cooked into it. This gives it a creamier and thicker texture. The best dairy-free replacement is cream of coconut which can be used in a 1:1 ratio. Just remember, this will give your food a slight taste of coconut. It works well in desserts to add a taste of the tropics but isn’t great when you are making a more savory meal. 

Yogurt

Unless you can purchase a dairy-free yogurt alternative, it can be more difficult to replace yogurt when you’re cooking. Some people are great at making homemade yogurt and could make adjustments for a dairy-free option. I am not one of those people. I tried making yogurt a few times and it never works out well for me. 

If you are looking to replace yogurt in recipes such as baked goods, dressings, sauces, and marinades, try using a buttermilk alternative. Otherwise, you are best to purchase dairy free yogurt from the store if you can find it. 

Health Benefits of a Dairy Free Diet

Switching to a dairy free diet can have a lot of positive health benefits. Obviously, if you are doing it for allergy or intolerance reasons, that should already be enough of a benefit to your body. But you’ll also find a decrease in many of the following symptomes:

  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Rumbling Stomach
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach Pain

As always, make sure to consult a physician before you make any major changes to your diet and/or exercise routine. While cutting dairy is good for most people, you also have to consider the nutrients offered in dairy products. Most people get a majority of their protein, calcium, and vitamin d from dairy products. Check that the alternatives you are consuming will still give you the nutrients your body needs.

Where to Find Dairy Free Substitutes

More and more grocery stores are starting to carry dairy free options in their regular aisles. We typically shop and a Neighborhood Walmart store and haven’t had an issue with finding the products I need for meals. I do prefer some of the cheese options that we find at HEB over Walmart, but that’s my taste preference.

You can also look for some of the products on Amazon, especially the canned items since it would be harder to get cold/fresh items delivered.

For those who like to do a grocery delivery service, I highly suggest making sure you don’t allow substitutions. I didn’t change that once and they sent me regular mozzarella cheese instead of vegan cheese so that didn’t help.

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11 thoughts on “Dairy Free Substitutes for Common Kitchen Ingredients”

  1. With so many of my friends and family being lactose-intolerant or vegans its great to have a list of dairy-free substitutes! Thanks.

  2. This is so useful! My cousin is diary alergic- I´m going to pass your blog onto her! Very good tip on the milk- I´ve actually made almond milk ice-cream once and they were divine!

  3. Great list here! I will surely keep this in mind. After reading this, I realized finding dairy free alternatives for ingredients you use often shouldn’t be so hard. These are easily available in our area.

  4. My kids have issues with dairy so this is very helpful! We have some of these substitutes but there are a few that we still need to try!

  5. This is a huge and helpful list! I’m glad more and more grocery stores are starting to stack dairy free substitutes. It makes shopping easier.

  6. Among other milk alternatives like almond milk, soy milk and oat milk, soy milk is by far the best for baking. I learned this over the course of several years and many cookies, cakes, muffins and pies. Moreover, some people will tell you that you must swap full-fat coconut milk in for heavy cream or half-and-half.

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