Whether you avoid dairy products for health reasons, or know someone who does, there are 5 dairy free products that you should have in your refrigerator/freezer. With these products on hand as a base, you can face any recipe, substitute for any dairy products, and prepare meals for yourself and your dairy free friends and family members that you will enjoy and hold dear in your heart.
It all starts with Earth Balance. I like the vegan buttery sticks variety because it has a nice flavor that comes through in cookie recipes, for example. Spreading it on toast or slathering it on bread to make grilled cheese sandwiches is also a great use for it. Really, you can use it anywhere you would normally use butter, and while it does behave like margarine – for example, it softens much more quickly than butter when you take it out of the refrigerator – I’m sure you will be happy with the results. I’ve made everything from lemon curd to pastry dough with Earth Balance, and have been extremely satisfied with its performance.
When I first gave up dairy milk, I used to drink Rice Dream and use that on cereal and for baking. But over time, I found that it was too sweet and too thin, lacking the body necessary to make things like pancakes. Soy milk is thicker and has that nice body, but I am not crazy about the taste, and not sure that it is that much of an upgrade health-wise for me over dairy milk – it can make me stuffy and gassy. So I limit my soy milk consumption, with one exception that I will talk about below.
Then about 10 years ago, someone turned me onto Blue Diamond Almond Breeze, and that’s what I have been using ever since. It comes in both sweetened and unsweetened varieties, which is great – I use the former when I bake and the latter in savory applications (e.g., chicken pot pie), and use both on my cereal. They even make a great chocolate milk, a wonderful occasional treat. And both the flavor and thickness work well in crepes and pancakes.
When people hear that I am dairy free, they frequently say, “how can you give up cheese?” Truthfully, I have never been a lunatic about cheese. However, it is useful in so many preparations. And some of the greatest comfort foods – mac and cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches, pizza and cheeseburgers – feature cheese prominently. Even when it is a supporting ingredient, it can turn a decent dish into something to savor. So what do you do if you are dairy free?
Until recently there weren’t many good options, in my opinion. Many of the soy and rice cheeses that had a decent flavor and consistency (i.e., they melted nicely when heated) contained casein, the milk protein that is at the heart of the dairy allergy. And the vegan cheeses on the market were just not acceptable substitutes. They tasted nasty, and didn’t have the greatest consistency for the most part.
Daiya has changed all that. With the advent of their cheeses, available in blocks, slices and shreds, there is cheese that we can eat and enjoy, in many of the same ways we enjoyed cheese before. Daiya’s Mozzarella Shreds are a staple in my household. I sprinkle them over pasta, include them in risottos and carbonara. There are few savory dishes I prepare that I won’t consider adding some mozzarella shreds to.
The one tricky thing, though, is melting Daiya in the microwave. Don’t do it. Instead of getting a melty mound of cheesy goodness, you get a rubbery ball of impenetrable sadness. If I want to re-heat something with Daiya, what I do is leave the cheese off while the dish is in the microwave, and then after it is nice and hot, I take it out of the microwave and then add the Daiya. The heat of the other ingredients will melt the Daiya and give me just the kind of cheesy fun experience I am looking for.
The one brand of soy products I consume with regularity is Tofutti, and the product of theirs I eat the most (just as I have been for decades) is their cream cheese. It is thick and rich and creamy, perfect for spreading on bagels as well as in sweet applications like vegan cream cheese icing. I always have a tub of cream cheese on hand – I love the tangy onion and chive variety, but the plain variety is most versatile.
The last product I am going to tell you about today is one that I don’t use in my cooking, but just something that is wonderful to eat. So Delicious first came to my attention for their soy-based frozen desserts back in the 1990s. In recent years, they have branched out to make products using almonds and coconut for a base. Their Purely Decadent line of soy frozen desserts has long been one of my favorite desserts with varieties as imaginative and decadent as anything sold by Ben and Jerry’s or Haagen Dasz. Their coconut milk-based frozen desserts are still a bit new to me, but they are starting to grow on me. One of my new favorites is Pomegranate Chip, a great mixture of the rich crunchy sweet chocolate chips and tangy pomegranate.
I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about these 5 excellent dairy free products. If you haven’t tried them before, pick some up and see how you like them! I look forward to hearing your thoughts on these and other dairy free products that are commercially available. Good luck with your exploration of your dairy free lifestyle!