About plant-based substitutes for dairy products (such as milk, butter, cheese, cream and yogurt). Alternatives to these products are often made from soya, almonds, cashews, coconut, rice, oats, hemp seeds, or other nuts and grains. Dairy substitutes may have vitamins and minerals added.This tag applies when you need to replace a dairy-based food or ingredient or want information about a dairy substitute product.

Dairy products include milk, cheese, yogurt, cream, butter, ghee and whey. Plant-based foods that can be used or are intended to replace these foods may be called dairy substitutes, replacements or alternatives.

This tag can be used whenever replacing dairy products is the subject of the question. This may include requests for advice on replacing a dairy product in a recipe or nutritionally, making a dairy substitute from basic ingredients (such as soya or almond milk or coconut cream) or requests for information about the industrial production, use and attributes of specific dairy substitute finished products.

Milk

Cow's, sheep's and goat's milk contain protein, fat in varying proportions depending on preparation and other factors, sugars (lactose), calcium and other micronutrients. Typically, a milk substitute or vegan milk (sometimes called "mylk") has the properties of creaminess and slight sweetness that are valued in dairy milk. It may also be desirable for the mylk to be foam-able and non-curdling for use in hot drinks.

Plant-based milk replacements may incorporate ingredients such as soya, almonds, rice or other grains, coconut, cashew or other nuts, hemp or other seeds, or some combination of these. They may also include sweetening ingredients such as fruit juice concentrate or sugar, and vitamins and minerals such as calcium, vitamin D, and B12, to improve their nutritional benefits. These products vary in their macronutrient content, taste/flavour and culinary properties. Most are lower in protein and higher in carbohydrates than dairy milk, but have less saturated, and more unsaturated fats.

Cream

Cream is the high fat layer skimmed from the top of milk. It is high in saturated fat. Because of the high fat content, cream will usually not separate when cooked, and can be whipped until it takes on a light, fluffy texture. It is traditionally used to add richness to and improve the textural properties of many dishes.

Plant-based substitutes for cream can be found for almost any purpose, but often a different ingredient or product will serve better than another depending on the context. Soaked and blended nuts or nut butters are often used as alternatives. Cashews are considered particularly suitable in terms of flavour, colour, and textural properties. Other nut and seed butters, coconut, tofu and grains such as oats combined with plant oils and sometimes sweetening ingredients and emulsifiers may be used. Plant-based substitutes tend to be lower in saturates and higher in unsaturated fats than dairy cream, but this varies depending on the base used. Creative combinations such as pine nuts and silken tofu may produce good results, depending on the use-case.

Butter and ghee

Butter is made by churning cream or milk until it separates, so it is around 80% milk fat. It is high in saturated fat. Ghee is prepared from butter using a heating process that removes impurities. The result is over 99% fat, and has a much higher smoke point than butter, making it more suitable for frying.

For cooking, butter and ghee can be replaced with plant oils. Among the neutral tasting oils, peanut (ground nut) and sunflower oils have a sufficiently high smoke point for most frying purposes. Canola (rapeseed) works well instead of butter in baking. Coconut oil and cacao butter have high melting points compared to other plant oils, so may be suitable in some circumstances.

Vegetable fat spreads replace butter used with leavened bread. These are often based on sunflower, olive, soya or coconut oil, and may contain added vitamins and minerals. Unsaturated oils may have their boiling points increased by a hydrogenation process believed to be unhealthy. Vegetable fat spreads may be advertised as non-hydrogenated.

The macro and micronutrient properties of plant oils and fats differ from each other as well as from milk fat.

Cheese

Cheese is made by treating milk with an enzyme that curdles it. The enzyme is traditionally derived from calves' stomachs, but it is now common for cheese to be produced using a culture from a non-animal source. Cheese is high in protein and calcium, and may be matured or treated to adjust its properties. The textural, taste/flavour and culinary properties of different cheeses vary widely.

Replacing cheese has often been considered a challenge for vegans. Studies have found that cheese is physiologically addictive, so it may be exceptionally difficult to find a satisfying substitute even if taste, flavour, texture, melting properties and so on are replicated.

Products that aim to directly replace cheese are often highly processed, and lack the nutritional properties of cheese, being high in starch and fat, and low in protein. They may also be expensive compared to dairy cheese.

Recipes for "vegan cheese" often use cashews and/or other nuts. These tend to have a soft, creamy or crumbly texture, similar to some soft fresh cheeses. If a lower fat, higher protein replacement is required, tofu, especially if slightly fermented, may serve as a replacement in some contexts, for example in curries. Tofu can also be thoroughly crumbled and combined with, for example, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and salt to make a reasonable substitute for ricotta. Nutritional yeast adds an umami taste that assists in producing a "cheesy" taste.

Cheesy-tasting sauces can be made, for example from potato or squash, nut butters and nutritional yeast.

Yogurt

Yogurt is made by introducing a culture of certain strains of bacteria to milk which has been heated to prevent curdling and then cooled so as not to kill the bacteria, and allowing fermentation to occur, breaking down the milk sugar (lactose) into lactic acid to give a mildly sour/tangy taste and creating a thick, creamy texture. The yogurt may be further thickened by straining through muslin/cheesecloth to remove some of the water

Yogurt may be made from non-dairy milks such as soya, almond, cashew and coconut. Thickening ingredients like cornstarch, and small amounts of a sugar, may need to be added for successful fermentation. Yogurt starter can be made using vegan probiotic supplements.


Related tags: