Vegan Alternatives to Dairy Milk and Cream

 Making Rice Milk

Photo by Justin Kern

We’ve already touched upon the vegan alternatives that can be used for butter and cheese, but what about milk and cream? So many recipes call for dairy-based milk, buttermilk, or any number of different creams, that it can be a bit strange to conceive of using alternatives if you’re not already familiar with what’s available out there.

You may have already worked with soy milk, but there are several other non-dairy milks and creams for you to explore and experiment with. Check out some of the options listed below—they may serve to inspire you.

Milks

Sunflower Seed Milk

Photo by sweetbeetandgreenbean

Soy Milk

Ubiquitous and amazingly versatile, soy milk can be used in any recipe that calls for dairy milk. Be sure to use the unsweetened, non-vanilla-flavoured variety when creating savoury dishes (you don’t want risotto or garlic-cream sauce to have a kiss of vanilla in it), and be sure to try out different brands to determine which you enjoy working with the most.

Rice Milk

This alternative milk is a bit watery and grainy, but it has its uses: it’s naturally quite sweet, so while it isn’t well suited to savoury dishes, it can work quite well in desserts. Blend it with bananas and then freeze it for a vegan ice cream, or in baked goods where skim or low-fat milk is called for. You can use rice milk in lieu of soy for beverages, and as the liquid additive in rice or tapioca pudding.

Nut-Based Milk

Most people are probably familiar with almond milk by now, but nutty non-dairy milk substitutes can also be made from cashews, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, and even pecans. You can either buy pre-made milks at health-food stores, or make your own by soaking nuts in water for 10-12 hours, draining them well, and then pureeing them with fresh water until you get the consistency you’re aiming for. Use less water if you’re aiming for something akin to whole-fat milk or light cream, and more if the desired thickness is like skim–2% dairy milk.

Oat Milk

This milk has a grainy, somewhat slimy texture, “interesting” taste, and is best used in baked goods where it will add weight and moisture but its own unique flavour will be masked by the other ingredients. It’s quite good as a base for smoothies, and as it’s quite high in fibre, iron, and protein, it’s a good nutrition source for vegans and vegetarians. In parts of the UK, oats have been used as thickeners for soups and stews for hundreds of years, and oat milk can actually work fairly well in hearty dishes that can accomodate its slight sweetness.

Coconut Milk

Coconut Milk Dessert

Photo by Renee Suen

Commonly used in Thai, India, Caribbean, and Hawaiian cuisine, coconut milk lends a luxurious creaminess to any dish it’s added to: from curries and soups to ice creams and baked desserts, it’s a fabulously versatile ingredient that’s definitely worth exploring. It’s also the base for spectacular vegan fudge, so if you’re a dessert chef, you might like to experiment with it a little.

Sunflower Seed Milk

For people who are allergic to tree nuts, sunflower seed milk might be a good alternative: I’ve never worked with it, so it might be one for you to try out and let us know your thoughts about it.

Hemp Milk

This is one that I only heard about recently and have never tried, but apparently hemp milk is great to bake with, and works well in all kinds of sweet beverages and desserts.

Creams

Vegan Cashew Cream

Photo by Cassidy

Coconut Cream

Thicker and fattier than coconut milk, this is the ideal substitute for heavy cream, and can be used in any recipe that calls for heavy, sweet cream. It’s ideal for mousse, pudding, and ganache, and can be beaten into a topping that’s even better than dairy-based whipped cream. Look for cans that are labeled as “coconut cream” or “full fat coconut milk”. You can also make your own if you have a source of mature coconuts available, but the process is fairly labour-intensive.

Cashew Cream

Made by soaking cashews in water for about 12 hours and then pureeing them, this cream substitute has a natural sweetness without any overbearing flavours. Blend it with spinach or squash for a great tortellini filling, add it to creamy soups and smoothies as a thickening agent, or use it as the base for any number of sauces.

Silken Tofu

Silken Tofu Cream

Photo by I Believe I Can Fry

Perfect for custards, frozen desserts, and sauce-thickening, silken tofu is creamy and soft, and can be put through a blender to create a fabulous cream-like consistency. As it doesn’t have a strong flavour of its own, it can easily blend into any dish, savoury or sweet.

Avocado

This one only works in certain dishes (namely baked goods and desserts), but it’s startling how avocados can lend a creaminess to different dishes. Try pureed avocado as a creamy pasta sauce or thin it with one of the non-dairy milks listed above to create a dressing for a variety of salads. As an ingredient for sweets, it works well as a base for ice cream, pudding, custard, and as a topping for chilled summer soups.

Pureed Cannellini Beans

These marvellous little beans puree into a cream that’s wonderful to use in sauces, dressings, soups, and dips. Bean cream has almost the exact same consistency as dairy, has little flavour of its own (so it’ll take on whatever flavours you mix into it), and since it’s the same colour as regular cream, most people won’t even know that you’re using a vegan substitute.

- Lana Winter-Hébert

Lana Winter-Hébert fell in love with cooking while still in primary school. The various dietary needs of her extended family (i.e. gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, vegetarian, and paleo diets) have helped her to learn a fair bit about substitutions and meal plan modifications, and though her first love will always be the Scandinavian/Eastern European cuisine she grew up with, she has a penchant for Mexican food and can be bribed heartily with the offer of good huevos rancheros. Lana currently resides in rural Quebec with her husband and family, where she divides her time between writing, editing, design, and tending her permaculture garden. She cans and preserves whatever's in season, and is having some fantastic adventures with home cheese-making and mead-brewing.

Comments

  1. Eibhleann Gardiner

    Just curious I’m looking for a vegan replacement for thicken cream for my ice cream recipe. If I use avocardo as suggested does this affect the flavouring? Or would coconut milk or one of the bean purées be a better substitute?

    • Lana Winter-Hébert

      Avocado will indeed alter the flavour, and it’ll change the colour of what you’re creating as well. You can add some tapioca starch to coconut cream to thicken it, and I’ve also had luck using agar-agar powder too.

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