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Avoiding Dairy? Try These Dairy-Free Replacements

Four glasses of "milk" with a coconut, and piles of almonds and other nuts in front of each.
Alexander Prokopenko/Shutterstock

Whether you’re lactose intolerant, allergic to dairy, or have another reason to look for alternatives, there are plenty of dairy-free options out there. From milk alternatives to ice cream replacements, here’s what you need to know.

Dairy replacements are used in baking, cooking, and by themselves. A glass of almond milk might not taste exactly like cow’s milk, but it’s just as good for dipping cookies.

If you’re ready to discover some great dairy alternatives, here are some you can find on your grocery store shelves.

Dairy-Free Milk Replacements

Aside from those made for people who are lactose intolerant, none of the milk alternatives taste exactly like dairy milk. Lactaid brand milk is still cow’s milk, just without the lactose. Other entirely dairy-free options taste somewhat like their main ingredient—almond and cashew milk have a nutty flavor, while rice milk has a mild taste.

Some non-dairy options work better in baking than others (rice milk is thinner than regular milk, so it sometimes doesn’t work for baking). Almond milk is a great replacement when it comes to thickness, but it’s often flavored with vanilla, which doesn’t mix well with things like mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese.

While dairy milk is a go-to for most people who want to get their calcium and vitamin D, many milk alternatives are also fortified with both. They also contain a bunch of their own nutrients.

Here are some of the more common dairy-free milk replacements:

  • Almond milk: One of the most popular alternatives.
  • Rice milk: Thinner than many other options, it works great on cereal, or in tea and coffee.
  • Soy milk: It’s made from soybeans (how’d you guess?).
  • Coconut milk: Obviously, it’s made from coconuts, but it doesn’t taste like shredded coconut.
  • Other: Oat milk, flax milk, and hemp milk are all alternatives that are becoming more readily available.

There are plenty of companies behind dairy-free milk alternatives, but Silk is a common brand name.

Dairy-Free Ice Cream Alternatives

A bowl of alternative ice cream sitting on a table next to some bananas, dates, and nuts.
JRP Studies/Shutterstock

Whether you want ice cream on a stick or in a bowl, check the freezer section of your grocery store and you can find some great dairy-free options. Most of these are made with coconut, cashew, or almond milk. You can find many of the same flavors you love in regular dairy ice cream, like salted caramel.

You can also DIY dairy-free ice cream and smoothies at home. Freeze some bananas and toss them in the blender. Add some vanilla and non-dairy milk, and blend. You can also add chocolate, nuts, or whatever you’re in the mood for. Yonanas is a kitchen gadget that turns any frozen fruit, including bananas, into a delicious dairy-free frozen dessert.

Dairy-Free Cream Cheese Replacements

Daiya brand non-dairy cream cheese, sitting next to a creamy potato dish it has been incorporated into

You don’t have to pass on the schmear when you have a bagel just because you aren’t dining on dairy anymore. Companies like Kite Hill and Daiya are coming out with dairy-free cream cheese alternatives. Kite Hill’s almond-based cream cheese tastes almost like the real thing, and comes in great flavors, like chives and jalapeno.

Dairy-Free Hard and Soft Cheese Replacements

When it comes to bricks of cheese, cheese slices, or shredded cheese, there are options. There are plenty of vegan cheeses, and if you shop around, there are better tasting options than the more common dairy-free cheese brands out there. Health food stores tend to be your best bet for variety.

You can make your own soft and hard cheeses at home, as well. Many recipes call for ingredients like cashews and nutritional yeast (which has a cheesy, nutty flavor). Silken tofu is another ingredient used in homemade cheese recipes, and it works great for cheese spreads and dips.

Tofu—hard and soft—is used in vegan diets everywhere. Hard tofu crumbled up and baked with truffle oil and some salt is an excellent addition to pasta instead of parmesan.

Dairy-Free Butter Replacements

When it comes to replacing butter, pass on the vegetable spreads. There are many reasons to avoid these substitutes, but the most obvious is none of them taste like butter. If you’re already going to pass on that buttery flavor, why not pick a healthier replacement? Try one of these:

  • Olive oil: The perfect sautéing substitute for butter, and it can aid in carmelizing when baking. It doesn’t have much of a flavor, so it works with sweets, too.
  • Coconut oil: If you need butter for baking and you want something dairy-free, coconut oil is a great replacement. Most of the time, you can use the same amount of coconut oil that you need of butter.
  • Avocados: These are an ideal replacement for butter in baking, on sandwiches, and more. While avocados have a distinct flavor, it subsides during baking and cooking.
  • Bananas: For sweet recipes, like cookies and cakes, a nice ripe banana can be mashed up and used instead of butter.

Dairy-Free Yogurt Alternatives

While yogurt makes a great healthy treat, many people eat it for the live bacteria it contains, which helps keep your gut healthy. You’ll be happy to know that even non-dairy yogurt comes packed with bacteria.

From Silk to Kite Hill, there are plenty of dairy-free alternatives in the yogurt section. There are coconut-based options, as well as those made with soy, almond milk, and more. You can find regular yogurt or Greek-style. Plain, vanilla, and even fruit-filled yogurt are also available without dairy.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow is a professional writer with two decades of experience. She has written and edited for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and more. Yvonne is a published poet and short story writer, and she is a life coach. Read Full Bio »
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