Even if you're not a vegan, you might still be interested in replacing some of the dairy products in your diet with healthier, non-animal based alternatives. If you're leaning toward veganism, want to avoid contributing to the dairy industry, or have simply run out of an ingredient that you'd normally use in a recipe, help is on the way!
Note: Most of these products can be found at grocery stores such as Trader Joe's or Whole Foods. Likewise, many health food stores and some of the major grocery chains carry them as well.
Cow's Milk Substitutes:
Because milk provides flavor, moisture, and thickness in cooking, it's usually not a good idea to use water in its place. Fortunately, to that end, a huge variety of plant- and nut-based milks are widely available on the market.
- Soy Milk:
- Soy milk is probably one of the most commonly used alternatives to cow's milk (hereinafter, "c.m."). It comes in a variety of flavors (unsweetened/plain, chocolate, vanilla, low-fat, etc.), and can be used in virtually any recipe as a direct c.m. substitute.
- Organic WestSoy and TJ's brand are my favorites because they're inexpensive and are available non-refrigerated. Soy milk that hasn't been refrigerated doesn't have to be kept cold until after it's opened, so it can be stored in the cupboard for months without taking up valuable real estate in your fridge. After it's opened, soy milk has a shelf-life of about 10 days.
- Other Non-Dairy Alternatives:
- Almond Milk (Almond Breeze), Oat Milk, Rice Milk (Rice Dream), and Hemp Milk:
- These types of milk tend to be different in texture and thickness than the more typical soy milk, although they can also be used as a direct replacement for c.m.
- Due to those differences, however, it's best to become familiar with the flavor of each milk before using it in a recipe. Out of the four kinds, rice milk is probably the most adaptable, although almond milk is becomming widely popular.
- Instead of using c.m.-based buttermilk, you can easily make your own.
- Start with 1 cup of soy or rice milk, & stir in 1 Tbsp. of lemon juice or white vinegar.
- Allow the mixture to sit for 10 mins.
- Silk makes a great substitute for cream (Silk Creamer), which comes in several flavors. It can be used in recipes that call for cream, or in place of creamer in coffee. Soy milk (or another c.m. alternative) also works well as an alternative to dairy-based coffee creamers.
Other Dairy-Based Alternatives:
- Earth Balance is a great, easy-to-find brand of vegan "butter," which comes in spreadable tub form, or as sticks for baking. It can be used as a direct substitute for c.m. butter in baking and cooking, and as a spread/topping for things like toast or baked potatoes.
- Butter Substitutes For Use in Baking Only:
- Simply use the same amount as you would for butter, by replacing up to 3/4 of the butter with applesauce. Replace the rest of the butter with a vegan butter substitute (see previous listing).
- Note: applesauce should only be used when baking "sweet" goods
- Canola Oil:
- In your recipe, use 1/3 cup of oil in place of one stick (1/2 cup) of butter.
- Sour Cream:
- Plain soy yogurt can be used in place of sour cream, or non-dairy sour cream products such as Tofutti Sour Supreme can be used instead.
- Cream Cheese:
- A widely regarded cream cheese alternative is Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese. It's available in flavors such as plain, french onion, and garden veggie.
- There are tons of non-c.m. based cheeses on the market, which are typically made of soy, rice, or nuts. Be careful though, because several soy cheeses contain animal-derived casein, making them unvegan-friendly. Note, also, that the complaints about vegan cheese substitutes (the taste, texture, lack of melt-ability, etc.) are numerous. Accordingly, this is one of those products that requires a bit of patience, and some trial and error.
- Daiya is the current darling of the vegan cheese world. It comes shredded and in wedge form, and its claim to fame its superior melt-ability, particularly when it comes to making pizza and macaroni and cheese. (edit added 4.24.12)
- Another very popular mozzarella flavored cheese is Follow Your Heart Vegan Gourmet Cheese Alternative.
- Nutritional Yeast:
- Nutritional yeast is yellowish in color and is sold in a granulated/powder-like form (which appears similar to cornmeal) or in a flaky form. It's very high in vitamin B-12, and although some might call it an acquired taste, once you've learned to appreciate it, nutritional yeast can be a vegan's best friend. It's often used in place of parmesan cheese, or in any recipe that calls for a savory, cheesy taste. Bonus tip: it also tastes great sprinkled over popcorn!
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