Best Vegan Dairy Substitutes
Whether you’re new to the plant-based lifestyle or just want to up your ingredient game, these are the best vegan dairy substitutes!
Things have changed a lot since I first became a vegan. It used to be hard to find vegan cheeses at the grocery store and your choices for plant milk were soy and almond. Now there are seemingly endless options—but the downside is that this can make it hard to decide which ones to buy!
These are the best vegan dairy substitutes I’ve found for cooking, snacking, drinking, baking, and more.
The Best Vegan Milk Substitutes
Milk is one of the easiest dairy items to substitute, and this is definitely where you have the best vegan options.
Oat milk came out of nowhere a few years ago to rank as one of the most popular vegan milk substitutes. It has more fiber than almond milk and, surprisingly, more protein. It also has a creamier consistency than almond milk, along with a slightly sweet, oatmeal-like flavour.
Made by blending oats with water and then straining the mixture, oat milk’s thickness and richness make it an ideal substitute for cow’s milk in lattes and other coffee drinks, as well as in baking, where it adds moisture to cakes and breads.
You can find oat milk just about everywhere these days, from grocery store shelves to your favourite coffee shops, and it’s also one of the easiest plant milks to make at home! Here’s how to make oat milk.
Coconut milk is another excellent vegan-friendly dairy substitute. Derived from the flesh of mature coconuts, this milk alternative delivers a rich and creamy texture that makes it a top choice for curries, smoothies, and even dairy-free ice cream. Its tropical flavour can add a unique twist to your dishes, too, although this can also be a downside—sometimes you don’t want that flavour!
You can purchase coconut milk in refrigerated or aseptic cartons, which is usually closer to the consistency of other plant-milks, or go for the good stuff—the canned full-fat coconut, which is the best substitute for whole milk, half-and-half, and heavy cream.
Soy milk is perhaps one of the most well-known and widely consumed vegan dairy substitutes. Made from soaking, grinding, and then filtering soybeans, soy milk is a nutritious alternative that closely mimics the texture and taste of cow’s milk. Its naturally creamy consistency makes it a versatile choice, suitable for everything from your morning cup of coffee to your favourite baking recipes.
Nutritionally speaking, soy milk stands out as it’s the only plant milk that can compete with cow’s milk in terms of protein content. Although it depends on the exact brand, the average soy milk contains 8 grams of protein per cup. Use it in your morning smoothies for an extra boost of protein!
The Best Vegan Cheese Substitutes
Cheese is a tough food item to substitute, and for many vegans, it’s the one thing they miss most in their diets. Fortunately, there are now many vegan cheese options on the market that can satisfy your craving for something cheesy!
Consider this the classic! Nutritional yeast is a popular vegan option for those looking to add a cheesy flavour to their dishes and it’s been used for decades. Made from deactivated yeast, this ingredient is a great source of essential vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins, folic acid, and zinc.
While nutritional yeast doesn’t replicate the texture of traditional cheese in any way, shape, or form, it does add a delicious nutty and savory taste to dishes like vegan mac and cheese. It’s also a versatile ingredient that can be sprinkled on top of salads or stirred into soups and sauces for a little bit of cheesiness.
Cashews are the secret ingredient behind many vegan cheese recipes, as they have a creamy texture when blended with water. Cashew cheese is one of the closest substitutes to traditional cheese in terms of both taste and texture. You’ll find it in my vegan cheese sauce, and it’s also the base of many store-bought spreadable and sliceable cheeses.
Often, cashews are combined with nutritional yeast to make vegan cheese, as in my vegan Parmesan.
Coconut Milk Cheese
Another dairy-free cheese substitute is vegan coconut milk cheese. Made by combining coconut milk with thickening agents like agar-agar or cornstarch, this vegan alternative can be sliced and melted just like traditional cheese. It sometimes has a subtle coconut flavour that works well in both sweet and savory dishes.
The creaminess of coconut milk is what makes it stellar for making vegan cheeses. It can be used to make both firm cheeses and soft spreads.
The Best Vegan Butter Substitutes
Butter is a staple in many traditional recipes, but thankfully, there are plenty of vegan alternatives, both store-bought and items you have in your pantry already.
Coconut oil is an excellent substitute for butter. Although it doesn’t have the same melting point, coconut oil is solid when chilled and liquid when heated, which gives it similar properties to butter in baked goods. Before store-bought butter substitutes were widely available, coconut oil was my favourite for baking!
Other Liquid Oils
If you’re looking for a more neutral-flavoured option, you can also use liquid oils like olive oil or canola oil as substitutes for butter. If, for example, a recipe calls for sautéing a vegetable in a tablespoon of butter, you can simply use olive oil, avocado oil, or another oil you have on hand instead.
When using liquid oils in place of butter for baking, keep in mind that they have a higher water content, so the texture and consistency of your recipe may be slightly different.
Vegan Buttery Spread
There are also many vegan buttery spreads available on the market (or you can make your own vegan butter!). These products are specifically designed to mimic the taste and consistency of traditional butter and can be used in a 1:1 ratio in most recipes. Just be sure to choose a product made from plant-based sources like coconut oil or avocado oil, rather than margarine, which can contain dairy-derived ingredients.
More Vegan Dairy Substitutes
Here are a few more vegan dairy substitutes to add to your table.
Making your own vegan buttermilk at home is a simple and straightforward process. My vegan buttermilk recipe creates a tangy, creamy liquid that closely resembles the taste and texture of traditional buttermilk.You can use it in a variety of baked goods, including pancakes, muffins, and cakes to add a moist, tender crumb.
While there are some commercially-made vegan heavy creams these days, I like to use my homemade heavy cream substitute or full-fat coconut milk. Both add a rich, creamy texture to soups, sauces, and desserts. For vegan whipped cream, try my cashew whipped cream or coconut whipped cream.
Vegan cream cheese is now widely available in grocery stores, and I love using it in pumpkin cream cheese muffins and vegan cream cheese frosting. But when I want cream cheese on a bagel, this homemade vegan cream cheese recipe is my go-to. It’s rich and creamy, with just the right amount of tanginess.
There are store-bought vegan yogurts made with almonds, cashews, coconut, soy, and more. Unfortunately, some have quite a bit of added sugar, so be sure to read the label and make sure the plant yogurt you buy meets your needs—or make your own vegan yogurt.
There are a few different brands of plant-based sour cream at the grocery store these days, or you can make your own vegan sour cream with cashews as the base. This tangy, creamy mixture can be used as a topping for tacos or baked potatoes, mixed into dressings and dips, or added to soups and stews for extra richness.