My household was unexpectedly thrown into a dairy-free zone when my eldest son was diagnosed with a severe dairy allergy four years ago. The first few months came with a steep learning curve, but with time and experience, the grocery store became less daunting and recipes became easier to convert to dairy-free.
If you're transitioning to a dairy-free diet, this list of my top 10 dairy substitutions can make living with a dairy allergy a breeze.
There are many dairy-free milk substitutes to choose from. The most popular non-dairy beverages are made with soy, almond, rice, coconut, oats or hemp. These beverages can also be fortified with calcium and vitamin D to levels comparable to cow's milk, although only soy milk has a comparable amount of protein and fat. Dairy-free beverages are sold in shelf stable tetra packs and are becoming easier to find as they are sold in most grocery stores, pharmacies and even dollar stores.
Olive oil with balsamic vinegar or herb infused oils are an excellent dairy-free alternative to use instead of butter at the dinner table. If you're craving the taste of real butter, there are some great tasting dairy-free, butter-like spreads that also work wonderfully for cooking and baking. These vegan butters are usually a blend of several oils and can use soy, rice or pea protein (we use Earth Balance brand in our home). Another great alternative to butter, especially when baking, is coconut oil with a dash of salt. Coconut oil is solid at room temperature and has a different density than butter, so it's important to use a kitchen scale to measure the quantity of coconut oil required when converting recipes.
Enjoying a dairy-free "double double" is possible with dairy-free soy, almond or coconut creams. Some brands, like So Delicious, offer coconut cream in flavours like French Vanilla and Hazelnut. Beware of non-dairy powdered coffee creamers, as they can sometimes contain casein, which is a milk protein that is not safe for people with dairy allergies.
Whipped cream is cream that is whipped by a whisk until it is light and fluffy. Dairy-free whipped cream can be made the same way simply by substituting coconut cream or any other dairy-free cream. There are also some great ready-made, dairy-free whipped dessert toppings to choose from. One of my favourites is Gay Lea canned coconut whipped cream. It is delicious, convenient, and easy to find in most grocery stores.
Buttermilk is sour and thicker than regular milk, because it is slightly curdled. It's main purpose is to provide lightness and lift in baking. The lactic acid of buttermilk reacts with baking soda when heated and releases tiny bubbles. A cup of buttermilk is easily replaced with 1 cup of any non-dairy milk and 1 tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice. Simply allow the mixture to sit for about one minute until it curdles.
Unfortunately, I haven't seen a convenient equivalent in packaged goods for dairy-free condensed milk yet, but luckily, a homemade dairy-free condensed milk is fairly easy to make. Bring 2 ½ cups of any dairy-free milk to a boil with ½ a cup of sugar and a dash of salt. Simmer for about 2 hours, until reduced to half of the original volume.
Yogurt is created by bacterial fermentation of milk, which produces the lactic acid that gives it a creamy texture and slightly sour taste. There are some great tasting soy, rice and coconut based yogurts available in specialty food stores and grocery stores. You can also make your own dairy-free yogurt by adding probiotic powder to dairy-free milk and allowing it to ferment. This recipe on Ceara's Kitchen is easy to follow.
There are a few different ways to substitute cheese, depending on what the cheese is used for. A dash of nutritional yeast and salt on top of a dish adds a distinct "cheesy" flavour. Vegan cheese, like Daiya brand, melts and stretches similar to dairy cheese and would be ideal for pizzas, baked nachos, grilled cheese sandwiches and sauces. When purchasing plant-based cheese, make sure to read labels thoroughly as some soy cheeses can contain casein, which is not suitable for those with dairy allergies. If you're up to the challenge, you can make your own vegan cheese using aquafaba and cashews!
There's a growing selection of dairy-free ice creams made with soy, rice, coconut or almond, although you usually need to go to a specialty grocery store or health food store to find them, and they are significantly more expensive than regular ice cream. If you have an ice cream maker, homemade dairy-free ice cream can be made by using dairy-free milk alternatives in your recipes. If you don't have or want an ice cream maker, you can still enjoy a delicious and creamy frozen dessert by blending frozen bananas in a food processor or blender until it resembles soft-serve ice cream.
Whey Protein Powder
Whey protein comes from whey, the watery portion of milk that separates from the curds in cheese production. Whey protein powder is commonly used as a food supplement in smoothies to help build muscle mass and improve athletic performance. There are many plant-based protein powders made with pea, brown rice, soy, hemp or nuts that could easily replace whey protein. You can find vegan protein powders in health food stores and are becoming more commonly available in grocery stores and other big box stores.
Pauline Osena is a food allergy advocate and founder of HypeFoodie.com, an online resource for allergy-friendly living. This former dairy junkie became an expert in allergy-friendly cuisine while figuring out how to feed her child with multiple food allergies. Pauline aims to inspire culinary adventures and experimentation with her series, "An Allergy-Friendly Makeover," and shares the valuable knowledge she has gained from her trials, errors and adventures in living with food allergies with "The Allergy-Friendly Top 10." Pauline's short-term goals include getting a full night's sleep and drinking her entire cup of coffee while hot.