When it comes to food, I have a sort of pleasure-is-pain mindset. Multiple doctors have diagnosed me with dairy intolerance, but I tend to push the hours of discomfort out of mind for the fleeting bliss of a cheeseboard. While I haven’t transitioned to a completely dairy-free lifestyle, for some people, like my sister, it’s not even an option to indulge every once in a while. However, I have enough restraint to opt for dairy-free alternatives when they’re available, but it’s important that they still taste good. Thankfully, there is an abundance of creative dairy-free options out there now to help all of us circumvent allergies and intolerances.
I once heard that if cauliflower can become pizza, I can do anything…but if cashews can become cheese, then the sky is really the limit.
So, if you are newly dairy-free, a non-dairy veteran, or experimenting with alternatives, this list is for you. As someone with an ongoing love/hate relationship with dairy, everything on this list comes as close to the real thing as possible. From cheese to butter to whipped cream, read on for our tried and true list of “I can’t believe it’s not dairy” dairy-free alternatives.
Editor’s note: If you are concerned about dairy in your diet, please consult your doctor or nutritionist.
Dairy-Free Alternatives for Cheese
A bagel with cream cheese is one thing that I will never give up, which is why I’m thankful for this dairy-free alternative to cream cheese. It’s made from cashews and satisfies all of my cravings with its perfectly tangy flavor. It spreads on smoothly and works great for cream cheese icings, dips, and any kind of recipe.
This Herb-Garlic Vegan Nut Cheese will be the star of your next dairy-free cheese board. In my opinion, it tastes almost exactly like Boursin cheese, which was a favorite of mine growing up. It’s made from cashews and is exploding with flavor. Definitely a family favorite and fridge staple.
“I smear this on top of cucumbers or Hu Kitchen crackers as a cool summer snack and I feel 100% great, which is not always the case for real cream cheese and this dairy-allergic body of mine.” — Kelly Krause, Wellness Editor
Coconuts and cashews are saving my bagel addiction one vegan cream cheese at a time. I love all of Miyoko’s dairy-free products because I have yet to try one that is not perfectly creamy. This cheese can also be used to make delicious vegan cheesecakes and cream cheese frosting, which I cannot wait to try.
Dairy-Free Alternatives for Milk
While almond milk tends to get all the glory, cashew milk is actually my favorite nut milk. I personally think that it has less of a nutty flavor, which I don’t always want in my milk. I froth this milk with some cinnamon and add it to my coffee, use it in smoothies, and add it to my favorite granola with a scoop of cashew butter for breakfast.
I love most oat milk but tend to forget that some oat milk isn’t gluten-free. This oat and flax milk from Malibu Mylk is not only gluten-free, but it is organic, unsweetened, low carb and calorie, and packed with all of the benefits from flaxseeds.
This coconut almond milk is such a great dairy-free alternative to flavored coffee creamers. Of course, you can use it in other ways too, but I love the almost tropical flavor it adds to my mornings (and afternoons). Surprisingly, it has even more calcium than cow’s milk, which I have never liked, even as a kid.
“I’m not vegan, but I try to cut down on dairy when I can. Finding a few simple daily dairy-free alternatives (that don’t totally rework a recipe) make me feel like I’m at least on the right track. I’ve gotten weirdly obsessed with putting a touch of Minor Figures in my morning Nespresso. The carton is cute and looks nice in my fridge (very important), it’s a carbon-neutral product (win), and the creamy brand is barista-approved.” — Caitlin Clark, Contributing Editor
This oat milk has no added sugars and no added hums—just the good stuff. It’s barista approved, so works great when frothed and added to coffee. It also doesn’t separate when added to hot coffee, which is a major plus. It’s our deputy editor, Sacha Strebe’s favorite milk for coffee, chai, or matcha because she says it froths so well and delivers the same creaminess as regular cow’s milk.
Dairy-Free Alternatives for Sour Cream
“I literally can’t even tell it’s not the real thing. I’ve had a dairy allergy since I was a baby so I try to cut it where I can (I’ll always be a cheese-eater) and this stuff is amazing and I feel great after eating it.” – Kelly Krause, Wellness Editor
This dairy-free sour cream is made from cashew and coconut milk, but you would never know it. It is thick and rich enough to be the real thing! I used it in a 9 layer dip and it was delicious.
Dairy-Free Alternatives for Heavy Cream
I usually just use full fat coconut milk as heavy cream. It has a full flavor and the same consistency as traditional heavy cream.
Oatly’s Organic Cooking Cream is made from oats and is perfect for any recipe that calls for heavy cream. It only contains 3% fat and you can even add it straight to your coffee.
Dairy-Free Alternatives for Butter
Michelle Nash showed me this vegan butter when we were making her DF/GF carrot cake cupcakes a few months ago, and I agree with her that it is the best dairy-free butter out there. We used it to make the vanilla icing a little fluffier, but I now spread it on toast, use it in pasta, and just about everything else. I love that it is still in stick form, because it feels more like real butter to me when I cut a slice off of the block. Anne Campbell, Contributing Editor, agrees, “ I can’t believe it’s not butter! No really, I actually can’t believe how much this vegan variety tastes like the real thing. From the way it sizzles in the pan when I’m browning onions, to its perfect melt on my morning toast, I’m a full-on vegan butter convert and there’s no going back.”
I know I just said that I prefer cutting butter off of the block, but when it comes to bread and butter, I love this butter spread. It is easy to transfer to a smaller bowl to put on the table for dinner, spreads on so smoothly, and really tastes like butter. Warning: it does contain soy, so if you have a soy allergy, this is not the vegan butter for you.
This dairy-free alternative to butter does not contain any of the 8 major allergens, is 100% organic, and is from Target. Does it get any better than that? Of course it sounds good on paper, but just wait until you try it.
Dairy-Free Alternatives for Whipping Cream
Call me crazy, but I like coconut milk whipped cream more than the real stuff. I’ve never loved a milky flavor, so this cocowhip has all the texture and creaminess that I love from whipped cream, with none of the dairy. Use it in recipes, or just plop it on some strawberries for a quick and healthy dessert.
Pastry Pride’s ready to whip cream is great to keep in your fridge and whip up whenever you need it. It blows my mind every time that it’s not dairy.
This almond milk whipped cream is the definition of a no-guilt dessert topping. The flavor is so good and rich, that adding it to any sort of dessert would automatically upgrade the dish. It is also gluten-free and amazing on hot chocolate, might I add.
Silk’s whipping cream alternative is great for cooking, as it works cup for cup with normal whipping cream. I love using it in pies, sauces, and soups when measurements really matter.
Dairy-Free Alternatives for Sweetened Condensed Milk
Again, I almost prefer the flavor of sweetened condensed milk made with coconut, rather than dairy. Works like a charm in every recipe.
Dairy-Free Alternatives for Coffee Creamers
I tend to stick with oat or cashew milk in my coffee, but this is my sister’s go-to coffee creamer so whenever I stay with her I’m woken up with the dreamy smell of french vanilla coffee. It truly is such a delicious dairy-free alternative and the highlight of my morning.
This coconut creamer makes me feel like I’m on vacation. I love to froth it up and pour it on top of my coffee with a shake of cinnamon and voila, better than Starbucks.
Dairy-Free Alternatives for Buttermilk
While there isn’t a brand that makes a dairy-free buttermilk, it’s actually pretty easy to make yourself. You just combine lemon juice with any unsweetened milk and let it sit! Check out this recipe from Simple Vegan Blog.
Are there dairy-free alternatives we missed? Share them with us in the comments.