My Favorite Dairy Alternatives
Are you looking for vegan dairy alternatives that actually taste good?
My last blog post was about why you might want to avoid dairy. If you haven’t considered this, go take a peek at that post before you dive in here!
I originally wrote a post in 2011 titled Is it Real or is it Memorex about how to find decent vegan dairy alternatives. At that time I brought up the fact that finding dairy alternatives was soooo much easier than it had been when I initially became vegan in the early 1990s. At that time the only options were soymilk (blech!) and fake cheese—also made of soy—that had casein, a dairy protein, in it.
This is an updated and more comprehensive post on dairy substitutes.
Many of the products I mentioned in 2011 aren’t available anymore. There is good reason for that—there has been more demand for dairy-free products that taste good so companies have been developing better and better options. What seemed so great in 2011 was, in retrospect, just ‘meh.’
This post will list some of my current favorites and a few of of my not-so-favorites.
Please note there are many local companies in other parts of the country that I don’t know about so be sure to take a look at what other brands you have at your local health food store.
One word of warning before we dive in, taken from my original post that still holds true to this day:
“When my son was two and a half he saw a picture of a mastodon in a book. He said “Dat’s not a elephant, but it’s similuh.” Right. Similar. Not the same. So think of that when you’re trying to replace dairy. If you don’t expect an elephant to be the same as a mastodon you won’t be disappointed.” -me
First I’ll start by saying I don’t recommend soy milk. It can have hormonal-like effects, it is difficult to digest, and for many people it creates phlegm in the same way that dairy does. I’m especially concerned about soy milk for kids. Just, no.
When choosing a milk substitute you’ll want to know first whether you prefer a thicker, heavier type of faux-milk that has a mouth feel like whole milk, a thinner more watery type of faux-milk that has a mouth feel like skim, or something in between. Expect to try a few kinds and brands before you settle on one or two you love. Hemp and coconut milk tend to be thicker, almond and rice, thinner. But brand can really make a difference.
Next, you’ll want to know whether you’re looking for something more or less sweet. I always recommend getting unsweetened as most of us can do to decrease our sugar intake and I would rather have people eat their sugar in the form of fruit (or chocolate!) Cow milk has quite a bit of natural sugar in it so we get used to milk being a bit sweet. You’ll get used to the unsweetened pretty quickly though, especially if you’re drinking a glass straight up, you won’t even notice.
- Pacific unsweetened vanilla hemp milk or unsweetened almond milk. Please note most of the hemp milk brands taste like, well, what you would expect them to taste like, and not in a good way. Pacific doesn’t have this issue.
- Califa almond or almond/coconut.
- Good Karma flax milk (there is one with added pea protein if you don’t mind the taste!)
- Make your own. You can find recipes for nut milk all over the interwebs. It’s pretty easy to do, and saves money!
I think about vegan faux cheese in three categories—slices for sandwiches or snacks, shreds for melting, and gourmet for eating with crackers or some such.
- Slices hands down Follow your Heart mozzarella or provolone slices. They are both great on sandwiches. I don’t recommend melting it though.
- For melting Daiya mozzarella shreds are my favorite. Go easy though, too much becomes texturally problematic. I make a mean GF mac & cheese with this stuff, lmk if you want me to post the recipe!
- Mikayos is more of a gourmet type ‘cheese’ that you would slice to eat with crackers or veggies. The smoked farmhouse and the ash are my favorites. They have a soft mozzarella type that I didn’t love.
- Also a gourmet type that is spreadable is called Treeline. I love the chipotle serrano pepper one on GF Mary’s Gone Crackers. Sooo yummy.
- Ricotta is another cheese I missed for a long time so I came up with a decent recipe to use instead, you can find it on this post for GF/DF eggplant parm. Kite Hill also makes a ricotta cheese sub that’s very good. I love it with grated raw beets and toasted walnuts
Please note many of the vegan creamers are full of sugar. Here,again, I recommend using unsweetened so you can use less sugar and continue to cut it down over time (assuming you want less sugar…hmmmm, maybe a blog post on that is in order.)
- By far my favorite brand of creamer is Nutpods.It’s thick and doesn’t curdle in hot liquids. Unsweetened, of course. There are flavors as well as plain, which I don’t prefer, but you might! It’s made from almonds and coconuts. I don’t love the flavor of coconut so will note that this is very subtle in Nutpods which is the reason I prefer it over my second choice, below.
- My second favorite is Califa. The sweetened version has a lot of sugar so I will steer you away from that on principle. If you don’t care about that you’ll find it is most like the sweetened commercial creamers most people are accustomed to using. It does have a coconut taste to it.
- Another brand that people love is the So Delicious coconut creamer. Clearly, I’m not a giant fan of coconut so the Califa one is a little less intense as it’s mixed with almond.
- Tofutti brand has been around for a long time and tastes great but it’s soy, which as you know I don’t prefer. If you do get this, make sure that you get the non-hydrogenated (yellow container.)
- There is a new brand called Kite Hill that is amazingly delish and tastes remarkably like real cream cheese. It’s made from cultured almonds. There is a plain and a scallion version. If you can get this one, I would recommend it over the tofutti for sure.
I don’t really like any of the sour cream options out there. Well, the Tofutti one tastes good but you know by now how I feel about that. Of late I’ve been using Foragers unsweetened cashewgurt (cute, right?) for sour cream. It fits the bill taste wise but it is pretty thin. I am planning on doing some experimenting with thickeners to see if I can work on that. I’ll keep you posted!
In 1912 when I was first vegan (ok, 1990) there were really no creamy ice cream alternatives. My sister showed me how to take rice dream ice cream and mash in hazelnut butter (it would work with any very creamy nut butter.) It made an icy, overly sweet, poor excuse for ice cream and turned it into something that was actually edible. Not great. Edible.
Now there are many really good brands. I particularly like the coconut based options as they tend to be fattier like ice-cream. My mom used to get us “ice-milk” when I was a kid (gag) so I don’t really like the less fatty options. 🙂
- Coconut ice cream: Coconut Bliss, Larry and Lunas
- Nut based ice cream. There are lots of local brands here in Oregon, and a few national brands- mostly cashew based. They’re good. A little too sweet for my taste but decent.
- Ben & Jerry’s. I just bought this for the first time this weekend. Oh my goodness, it’s amazing! It does have corn syrup so it’s not the healthiest option but for here and there? Do it!
OR make your own! This is the best way to manage how much sugar you’re getting and you can use real fruit instead of sugar. It can be done in an ice cream maker (google ‘paleo ice cream’ for recipes) or just in a powerful blender like a vitamix or a ninja. My ten year old is equally happy with this as he is with a vegan treat from the local fro-yo place. This is my favorite
• ½ frozen banana
• 10 ice cubes
• 2 TBSP peanut or almond butter
• 2 heaping TBSP of hydrolyzed collagen protein
• 3 TBSP or more of unsweetened vanilla pacific brand hemp milk to preferred texture
• you can also add spinach!
if this isn’t sweet enough you can start with more banana and as you train yourself to the less sweet taste (assuming you want to do that!) you can start cutting it back
I can’t talk about brands of yogurt before I remind you that flavored yogurt, dairy or not, is pretty much pudding (dear me, I am on my sugar soap box today…sorry!) I have patients tell me they eat flavored yogurt every day to get probiotics. I say if you need probiotics take probiotics, or make water kefir. Most vegan flavored yogurt has 4-5 tsp of sugar per small container.
- Kite Hill plain. This has 1 tsp of sugar per small container. There is an unsweetened version but it’s pretty much unpalatable. I bet it would be fine in recipes though.
Foragers cashewgurt is my favorite right now- I’m using it in recipes and with fresh fruit as a snack (I’m also adding hydrolyzed collagen protein to boost that a bit.)
- Coconut yogurt is another option. There are lots of brands now, I don’t love any of them.
- There are other types and brands of non-dairy yogurt but all of them are the sugar-laden type that I just can’t get behind. Most of them also have a weird mouth feel.
Soy free Earth balance (in the red tub or box) is my favorite dairy alternative for spreading or baking. I also sometimes sub with coconut oil or even olive oil for lower heat circumstances.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Sooo many great options available!
Yours in Health,