What is a dairy alternative and is it healthy?
Dairy alternatives are products made from plant-based ingredients meant to replace dairy products such as milk, cheese, yogurt, and cream. These products are intended for vegans, people with dairy allergies, and anyone who needs to or prefers to avoid dairy.
Many different ingredients are used to make dairy alternatives including soy, oats, nuts, seeds, legumes, rice, and oils. Since each product is unique, some are healthier than others, but all dairy alternatives are cholesterol free and many are made with healthy fats.
Vegan Dairy Alternatives
- Non-Dairy Milk/Plant Milk
There are SO many different types of non-dairy milk, or plant milk, on the market today. Some ingredients yield creamier milk best for coffee and baking, like oat milk and soy milk, but others like almond milk and rice milk are thinner and good for cereal.
Make your own: Oat Milk recipe
Evaporated milk, also called unsweetened condensed milk, is milk with about 60% of the water content removed through heating. It’s much thicker than regular milk and can be used for baking, coffee, smoothies, and creamy soups.
Nature’s Charm makes vegan Evaporated Coconut Milk that would be great in soups, curries, and any recipe that calls for regular evaporated milk.
Make your own: Vegan Evaporated Milk recipe
Condensed milk is a type of evaporated milk that has been sweetened so it’s just as thick, but with a caramel texture from heating the added sugar. It’s typically used in baking and confections like homemade candy and fudge.
Nature’s Charm makes vegan Condensed Oat Milk for all of your baking and candy making endeavors.
Make your own: 2 Ingredient Vegan Sweetened Condensed Milk
Buttermilk is the liquid or “milk” left behind after churning butter. It’s slightly fermented so it has a sour taste and works great in buttermilk pancakes and other baked goods.
There aren’t any readily available vegan buttermilks on the market, but it’s easy to make your own by adding a bit of vinegar or lemon juice to your favorite non-dairy milk.
Make your own: Homemade Vegan Buttermilk
Half and half, as its name suggests, is equal parts whole milk and cream. It’s unsweetened and often used as cream for coffee and in confections.
You can buy vegan half and half like Califia Farms Better Half, which is made from almond and coconut.
Make your own: No recipe needed! Simply mix 1 part vegan cream or coconut milk with 1 part of your favorite creamy plant milk, like oat milk.
Coffee creamer is a sweetened liquid or powder made for adding to coffee. It’s often made with added sugars and artificial flavors and sweeteners.
Make your own: Homemade Vegan Coffee Creamer
Cheddar cheese is an orange, slightly sharp cheese that is delicious in sandwiches, grilled cheese, on crackers, and in soups like broccoli cheddar soup.
Make your own: Vegan Sharp Cheddar Cheese
Parmesan cheese is an Italian cheese used as a topper for pasta, salads, and dishes like chicken Parmesan. A small amount adds an intense flavor to any dish.
There are several vegan Parmesan cheese products on the market including Follow Your Heart Dairy-Free Parmesan and Violife Just Like Parmesan. You can also make your own using nuts and nutritional yeast.
Make your own: Vegan Parmesan Cheese
Cream cheese is a spreadable cultured cheese made from milk and cream. It’s used for spreading on bagels, in savory appetizers like jalapeño poppers, and desserts like cheesecake and cream cheese frosting.
Make your own: 5 MInute Vegan Cream Cheese
Mozzarella is one of the most popular and versatile cheeses. It’s used on pizzas, in pasta dishes, and in salads.
Almost every cheese brand has a mozzarella option so you’ll be able to find a pleasing vegan mozzarella whether you’re looking for shreds, slices, blocks, or fresh mozzarella. Try Daiya Mozzarella Style Shreds or Miyoko’s Organic Cashew Milk Mozzarella.
Make your own: Vegan Sliceable Grateable Mozzarella Cheese
Feta is a soft Greek cheese made from sheep’s or goat’s milk that’s brined and served in cubes. One of its most well known uses is in Greek salad, which is made with lettuce, onions, tomato, cucumber, kalamata olives, feta, and Greek dressing.
If you’d like to enjoy vegan feta cheese, try Violife Just Like Feta. Homemade vegan feta is often made with tofu since cubed feta resembles tofu.
Make your own: Best Vegan Feta Cheese
Mascarpone is a soft cheese similar to cream cheese, but with a much mellower flavor. It’s used in Italian desserts like tiramisu.
There are not any readily-available vegan mascarpone products at the time of publishing this guide, but you could make your own or substitute dairy-free cream cheese in a pinch.
Make your own: Vegan Mascarpone
Cottage cheese is made from whey and cheese curds. It’s usually served as a healthy breakfast with fruit, often peaches.
If you’re looking for vegan cottage cheese, you may have to make your own since you likely won’t find any at your local supermarket. Keep your eyes peeled for Miyoko’s Creamery Vegan Cottage Cheese, which is planned to launch this year!
Make your own: Quick & Easy Vegan Cottage Cheese
Ricotta is a dairy product made from whey and fine milk curds. It’s similar to cottage cheese, but grittier and finer in texture. It’s most commonly used in Italian cooking such as lasagna and other pasta dishes.
For a store bought vegan ricotta, try Kite Hill Ricotta, which is made from cultured almonds. Homemade vegan ricotta recipes often use tofu and nuts.
Make your own: Vegan Cashew Ricotta with Fresh Basil
Brie is a gourmet soft French cheese served as an appetizer, sliced, or baked in a pastry shell. It is shaped into a round and has a firm rind.
Vegan Brie is not incredibly common in supermarkets, but you can find from it smaller vegan cheesemakers, like this Roasted Garlic Brie from Dare Cheese.
Make your own: Dairy-Free Brie Cheese
Unsalted butter is butter prepared without salt. It’s often used for baking since it doesn’t alter the salt content of your recipe, or as a spread for bread if you need to limit your salt intake or don’t like salted butter.
For unsalted vegan butter, try Violife Plant Butter, which is made from coconut oil, sunflower oil, and fava bean protein, or Miyoko’s Creamery Cultured Vegan Butter, which is made from cultured coconut and cashew.
Make your own: Cultured Vegan Butter (leave out the salt)
Salted butter is a versatile butter used for spreading on bread and cooking savory dishes where the salt can help bring out the flavor of the dish.
Try regular Earth Balance Organic Buttery Spread, which is a popular all-purpose vegan “butter” that’s been around for years, or Miyoko’s Creamery Cultured Vegan Butter with a Hint of Sea Salt for a more gourmet vegan butter perfect for spreading on bread and pastries.
Make your own: Homemade Vegan Butter
Whipped butter is exactly what it sounds like—salted or unsalted butter that’s been whipped up for a fluffier texture. Avoid using whipped butter in baking or for dishes that require a specific amount of butter since it will deflate once cooked. It’s great for spreading or low fat cooking since the air whipped into the butter means there’s less fat per serving.
Earth Balance Whipped Buttery Spread is an excellent vegan whipped butter to try.
Make your own: Whipped Maple Cinnamon Butter
Heavy cream is the cream in whole milk. It has a high fat content, but is a liquid product. Heavy cream can be used in confections, pasta dishes, and soups to add richness, and it can also be used for whipping.
For a vegan version of heavy cream, you can use coconut milk as long as the coconut flavor fits with the dish you’re cooking, or a product like Country Crock Plant Cream Heavy Whipping Cream.
Make your own: Vegan Heavy Cream Substitute
Sour cream is cream cultured with lactic acid, resulting in a thick and tangy cream. Sour cream is typically used in savory dishes like dips, nachos, burritos, and as a baked potato topper.
Make your own: Vegan Sour Cream
Whipping cream is heavy cream with a slightly lower fat content, 30-36%, so it has a lighter, fluffier texture. You can use heavy cream and whipping cream interchangeably—whipping cream is just marketed specifically for whipping.
For vegan whipping cream, try Silk Dairy-Free Heavy Whipping Cream.
Make your own: Vegan Whipped Cream (NO Coconut)
Plain yogurt is milk cultured with probiotics, with or without sugar added, to produce a thick slightly tangy dairy product. Yogurt is typically eaten as a snack, but plain yogurt is great for baking, while plain unsweetened yogurt is used in cooking, especially Indian curries.
If you’re looking for a plain sweetened vegan yogurt, try Silk Almondmilk Yogurt Alternative in Plain. If you’d prefer unsweetened dairy-free yogurt, choose Kite Hill Plain Unsweetened Almond Milk Yogurt or Forager Project Organic Probiotic Cashewmilk Yogurt.
Make your own: Homemade Vegan Yogurt
Flavored yogurt is simply plain yogurt that has added flavor (and usually sweetener) in the form of fruit, nuts, or even chocolate.
There are many different flavors of vegan yogurt on the market from Kite Hill Key Lime Almond Milk Yogurt to Silk Dark Chocolate Coconut Almond Milk Yogurt Alternative.
Make your own: Vegan Strawberry Cashew Yogurt
Greek yogurt is made with the same ingredients as plain unsweetened yogurt, but it has a thicker consistency, less sugar, and more protein.
Try Kite Hill Greek-Style Plant-Based Yogurt for vegan Greek yogurt.
Make your own: Vegan Greek Yogurt
Traditional ice cream is a mixture of milk, cream, sugar, flavorings, and sometimes eggs that has been churned into a creamy frozen dessert.
Vegan ice cream can be made out of many different ice cream bases from coconut milk to oat milk to cashews. Luckily there are many different brands to try so you can find your favorite. Try So Delicious Dairy Free Ice Cream or Ben and Jerry’s Non-Dairy Pints.
Make your own: Dairy-Free Vegan Ice Cream
Gelato is an Italian ice cream that comes in many delicious flavors from strawberry to espresso. Gelato has similar ingredients to ice cream, but contains more milk than cream, making it a lighter dessert.
It can be quite difficult to find store bought vegan gelato, so your best bet is seeking out local businesses or smaller batch gelato like Vixen Kitchen Paleo Vegan Gelato.
Make your own: Vegan Rosemary Gelato with Pecan Brittle
What are vegan dairy alternatives made from?
Vegan dairy alternatives are made from a variety of ingredients including soy, oats, rice, nuts, seed, legumes, and oils, depending on the type of product and the desired flavor and texture.
For example, dairy-free plant milk is most commonly made with oat milk, soy milk, and almond milk, but can also be made with peas, rice, and other types of nuts and seeds. Gourmet vegan cheeses are usually made with nuts like cashews, almonds, and macadamia nuts, but cheaper shredded vegan cheeses are often made with legume proteins and oils.
Are dairy alternatives sustainable?
Dairy alternatives such as plant milk, vegan cheese, and dairy-free desserts are generally more sustainable than dairy products because they require fewer resources to produce, emit less greenhouse gas, and overall have a lower environmental footprint. Choosing products that also use sustainable production methods and packaging is also a more environmentally-friendly choice.
Which dairy alternative has the most protein?
It depends on product and serving size, but soy-based dairy alternatives usually have the most protein. Soy milk contains 7-9 grams of protein per cup, whereas other plant milks like almond milk and oat milk only contain 1-2 grams of protein per cup.
What are your favorite vegan dairy alternatives?