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Cooking and baking without dairy is less intimidating than you would think when you know what substitutions work best. Here is some helpful information about common milk substitutes.
- Soy Milk
- Coconut Milk Beverage
- Oat Milk
- Rice Milk
- Hemp Milk
- Flax Milk
Each of the milk alternatives can be substituted 1:1 in recipes. It depends on what you are making and what your particular taste preference is as to which of these works best.
I narrowed down my milk substitutes almost exclusively to soy milk and coconut milk because they taste the most similar to milk in most recipes, are easy to find in our local grocery stores, and have been the most economical for us. More recently oat milk has become more popular so it has become more available and that has been another milk we started purchasing because my youngest who is lactose intolerant, loves it in cereal. It might take trying a few different milks to figure out your individual taste as to what you prefer in a bowl of cereal where the taste of the milk is very obvious.
I have used rice milk as substitutions from time to time. Rice milk has a more watery consistency, so I don’t use it in cooking very often. My last choice for a milk substitution is water, which does work well in some recipes where the amount of milk in the recipe is very small (no more than 1/4 cup).
I have not used hemp or flax milk because they are not readily available where I shop and convenience is a big factor for me. I have heard that flax milk has a very similar taste to traditional milk and I would love to try it someday!
- One of the thickest of milk substitutes
- Works well for baked goods
- Good in savory foods like mashed potatoes, meatballs, bread, and in sauces
- More stable at higher temperatures
- High in protein, and is a complete protein
- Many are fortified with Calcium and Vitamin D
- Kirkland Soy Milk (Plain or Vanilla)
- Soy Dream (Original or Vanilla)
- West Soy Milk (Original or Vanilla)
- Eden Soy
- Whole Foods 365
Soy Milk – Thick and creamy, a great milk substitute in most recipes. This milk is readily available at local grocery stores as well as health food stores. It is available in both refrigerated and shelf stable forms. There are even soy formulas for babies. I like that it is fortified with calcium and is high in protein.
It does have a flavor different than milk. Some people like it and others do not. My son drank soy formula as a baby and soy milk as a toddler. He loves it on his cereal but I personally don’t like the flavor enough to eat in a bowl of my own cereal. I prefer soy milk only in recipes where it is not a main ingredient so I can’t taste it.
Soy milk comes in a sweetened vanilla flavor or unsweetened. The vanilla flavor soy milk can work in cereal or baked goods, but be sure to use the unsweetened version for savory recipes like mashed potatoes. There are many different brands of soy milk and the taste and consistency can vary quite a bit. Since I often use soy milk when making baked goods, I keep shelf stable boxes of Costco’s Kirkland brand unsweetened soy milk in my pantry so I always have some on hand. It is easy to find and usually one of the least expensive of the milk alternatives.
Coconut Milk Beverage
- One of the thicker milk substitutes
- Rich, slightly sweet coconut taste
- Good in baked goods or foods that are sweet
- Great for thickening sweet/savory combination foods like curries or some soups
Coconut Milk Beverage– an opaque, milky-white liquid extracted from the grated pulp of mature coconuts. It has a rich taste due to its high oil content, most of which is saturated fat.
We avoid nut milks because of our nut allergies, but we do use coconut milk. Coconut is not technically a tree nut, it is a fruit. Most people who are allergic to tree nuts are not allergic to coconuts. It is possible, however to be allergic to any food, so follow your doctor’s advice if you are concerned about using coconut milk.
Coconut milk beverage is a great substitute for milk, but if you are looking to substitute cream in a recipe, the canned coconut milk works better.
- Usually only available sweetened (but is not overly sweet)
- Works well in smoothies, cereal, granola or baked goods
- Earthy taste
- Very thin consistency
- Many brands are fortified with vitamins and minerals
- Oat Milk from Costco
- Planet Oat
- Thrive Oat Milk
- Pacific Foods Oat Milk
This is my favorite milk substitute to drink or use in cereal (my milk allergic son prefers soy). The plain oat milk does not have much flavor, but blends in well with cereal rather than take over the taste. It has a more subtle flavor than soy or coconut milk, but is a little thicker than rice milk. You can buy cases of shelf stable oat milk at Costco, or find cartons in the refrigerated section of some grocery stores. It is generally a little more pricey than both soy milk and coconut milk
My lactose intolerant son loves oat milk. When my youngest son tried it, he asked if we could buy it every week. He prefers it to traditional milk in his cereal and he isn’t even the one with a dairy allergy.
- Very thin, watery consistency
- Mild, sweet flavor
- Some people think it tastes similar to milk
- Can work well in some desserts that don’t require much fat
I prefer thicker milk alternatives, so I don’t use this milk often. Some people like it in cereal and some desserts work well with rice milk. I found that it was too thin for most desserts I make.
When a recipe does not require much milk, sometimes water can be substituted. I sometimes use it in baking, or in oatmeal or other hot cereals. Water will affect the flavor and texture of a recipe. Baked goods might not rise as much and other food may not taste as creamy. I do not use water unless it is a very small amount of milk in the recipe (1/4 cup or less) or in a food where the taste will not be affected.
Hemp Milk and Flax Milk
I have not tried either hemp milk or flax milk but I have heard that some people like these milks. I have not seen them in most of the grocery stores in my area. I would like to try them both. I’ve heard flax milk tastes very similar to cow milk. But until either of these becomes readily available at an affordable price, I don’t think they will become staples in our home.
Other Great Resources
- Cooking and Baking Without Milk Ingredients (Kids with Food Allergies)
- How to Substitute Milk (Go Dairy Free)