The Complete Guide to Vegan Dairy Alternatives

If you’re used to eating dairy in some form at every meal then transitioning to a plant-based diet or reducing your intake can be quite the adjustment, but it doesn’t mean that you have to miss out on your favourite foods or feel restricted. You can still enjoy milk, cheese, ice cream and butter – you won’t only be surprised at how easy it is, but how delicious it can be to.

The amount of dairy free products on offer has increased dramatically in the past few years. Even in the short amount of time that I’ve been vegan I have seen such a switch in not only the amount of choice but the quality too – lone shelves have expanded in to whole aisles and now we’re inundated with choice. Supermarkets stock everything from nut milks to dairy free halloumi and even vegan Ben and Jerry’s, making it easier than ever to find vegan alternatives for all of your favourites.

What I think a lot of people fail to acknowledge is the dramatic impact that the dairy industry has not only on animals, but on the environment too – the amount of water used and emissions produced can drastically be reduced by making the switch to plant based alternatives. The negative impacts of dairy have all been highlighted in the media recently and whilst I don’t want to be one to preach, even I have been shocked learning about the impacts that it has – truthfully, the health benefits and the flavours of the food were always at the forefront of the reasoning behind my switch to a plant based diet and it’s only recently that I’ve started properly acknowledging the environmental factors. We all grow up mindlessly eating dairy, it’s ingrained within our culture – as soon as we hit the age of 1 it’s introduced in to our diets and we grow up unaware of the impacts that it’s having – because if we’re not killing the animal, then it’s ok right? I think that being more informed and educated about what’s really going on is so important so alongside this guide I wanted to share some of the truths about the dairy industry.

  • Male calves are of no use to the dairy industry and generally less suitable for beef production. This means that every year around 90,000 male dairy calves are shot soon after birth and discarded as a by-product.
  • Domesticated cows have an average lifespan of 20 years, but on dairy farms they are killed after 5-6 years on average.
  • 30% of UK dairy cows have mastitis, a bacterial infection of the udder.
  • Dairy operations can consume large volumes of water to grow feed, water cows, manage manure and process products.
  • Currently over two-thirds of the world’s agricultural land is used for maintaining livestock, including beef and dairy cows. One-third of the world’s land suffers desertification due, in large part, to deforestation, overgrazing and poor agricultural practices.
  • Livestock farming is one of the main contributors to soil erosion around the world.

There’s no denying that reducing the amount of dairy products that we consume has positive effects not only for animals, but the environment and our health too. And just because you’re decreasing dairy, it doesn’t mean that you’ll lose out on Calcium either -which seems to be a common misconception. A lot of dairy products are fortified to increase their calcium content and plant-based foods such as green leafy veg, beans and tofu are all naturally great sources too. However if it is something that worries you from a nutritional perspective, then the NHS have nutritional guidelines for those following a vegan diet and there’s some great myth busting on the Veganuary website too.

I’m by no means advocating that everyone go and cut out dairy completely; because whilst there are undeniable benefits, I understand that for various reasons it’s something that might not be suited to everyone. I do however think that we should all make more of an effort to be conscious of and reduce our overall intake. And if that means that you want to eat plant based 90% of the time and indulge in a cream cake or cheese toastie when you go out then do it – finding balance, what works for you and makes you the happiest both physically and mentally is what’s most important.

In this guide I’ve included all of my favourite and go to dairy alternatives for everything from milk to butter, ice cream and cheese to make this the ultimate resource to ensure that switching to a plant-based diet is as easy as possible. And even if you’re not cutting out dairy completely and are just looking for a new milk or yoghurt alternative, then this guide has got you covered too.

Milk

Milk is probably one of the things that people are most concerned about when it comes to switching to a plant-based diet and rightly so – it’s a household staple and considered essential for tea, coffee and breakfast. Whilst a few years ago soy may have been the only milk alternative, the supermarket shelves now stock such a wide range, with more products being released every week – you can get everything from almond to oat, hemp and even tiger nut milk now. Whilst it’s fairly simple to make your own nut milks at home, buying the store-bought variations might be better as they are often fortified with vitamins and minerals such as Calcium, B2 and B12.

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  • Soya The most accessible and probably the cheapest, soya milk has braced supermarket shelves for over a decade. It’s a great all-rounder, but I think that it’s best for a frothy coffee.
  • Almond My go to for making porridge, smoothies and nice cream bowls. Its subtle taste means that it doesn’t overpower the other flavours, yet makes everything so creamy. It also makes a delicious drink served chilled alongside your favourite sweet treat.
  • Hazelnut I love adding hazelnut milk to my iced coffee for extra sweetness, but it also adds the most incredible flavour to hot chocolate or it’s perfect for making a nutella latte.
  • Cashew Quite possibly my favourite, its creamy taste and texture makes it perfect for latte’s and it froths up really well without curdling. I always use this to make my morning matcha or coffee and sometimes I even mix in a little hazelnut milk too.
  • Oat Naturally sweet, this is another one that’s great for making hot drinks as it doesn’t curdle, or for an extra creamy porridge bowl.
  • Other options include coconut, tiger nut, peanut, rice and hemp milk.

Yoghurt

A staple breakfast food, the range of dairy free yoghurt alternatives is increasing week on week as more and supermarkets launch their own brand products. There are yoghurts made with everything from coconuts to cashews, almonds and soy and brands  seem to be getting more and more creative with their flavour combinations.

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  • CoYo Thick, creamy and packed with coconut flavour this yoghurt is so addictive and great for both sweet and savoury dishes. It pairs so well with overnight oats but is equally delicious dolloped on a curry.
  • Nush With a base of either almonds or cashews and the most incredible range of flavours including banoffee and strawberry, these yoghurts add the dreamiest element to your breakfast or dessert bowl.
  • Alpro GoOn The thick texture is what I absolute love about this yoghurt; it’s reminiscent of greek yoghurt, making it perfect for breakfast and its high protein content is a bonus.

Cheese

‘I could never be vegan because I love cheese too much’ is something that I hear people say far too often – I have to admit that I was very much of the same mindset, but with an ever-growing range of plant-based alternatives, it’s something that I don’t have to miss out on.

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  • Vio Life don’t just offer cheddar alternatives, their range includes everything from mozerella to halloumi, feta and parmesan – making it so easy to recreate every one of your favourite cheese based dishes at home. The cheddar works perfectly grated in to my cheesy tahini rice bowl and they most recently released a vegan cheese board for Christmas too.
  • Nush Cream Cheese Made from a base of almond milk this vegan cream cheese alternative is perfect for sauces, dips and sweet treats. It’s delicious thickly spread on crackers or a toasted bagel with avocado slices.
  • Nutritional Yeast Whilst it’s not a direct cheese replacement, it’s nutty cheesy flavour means that nutritional yeast can easily be incorporated in to sauces and dips to recreate that classic cheese flavour. It’s also delicious as an alternative to parmesan when sprinkled over pasta.

Ice Cream

Whilst I love making my own nice cream bowl for breakfast, even I have to admit that sometimes it just doesn’t quite cut it when it comes to dessert and you need something a little more special. Whilst the dairy free ice cream options are still relatively few, they are on the rise with leading brands like Magnum, Cornetto and Halo Top all launching their own alternatives.

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  • Alpro Available in vanilla, coconut and hazelnut these ice creams make the perfect alternative to all of the classic flavours. The almond salted caramel flavour with swirls of sauce and nutty chunks is the perfect sweet treat.
  • Ben & Jerry’s This has probably been one of the most exciting vegan product launches – the Chocolate fudge brownie flavour tastes exactly like the original, so much so that you would struggle to know that it’s dairy free. They also offer cookies and cream, chunky monkey and their newest release – coconutterly caramel’d.
  • Miiro An alternative take on a magnum available in chocolate hazelnut, peanut butter and salted caramel flavour – these decadent ice creams are an indulgent treat without any dairy, preservatives or artificial flavoring.
  • Vegan Cornetto The 50 year old Classic cornetto recipe perfected to suit vegans, with a soy alternative ice cream and gluten free cone.
  • Vegan Magnum launched their vegan almond and vegan classic magnums last year; velvety smooth ice cream encased in a crunchy chocolate coating – all the indulgence of a classic magnum without the dairy.

Butter

Whether you slather it on toast or use it in baking, butter is a kitchen staple that surprisingly, can easily be substituted on a plant-based diet.

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  • Flora Dairy Free Perfect to use in baking, on toast and sandwiches, you will struggle to tell the difference between this and a traditional dairy spread.
  • Avocado I simply love using mashed avocado in place of butter on toast – whilst it’s definitely not a direct replacement, I find that using avocado omits the need for butter completely and I’m SO addicted to its creamy texture.
  • Coconut Oil is the perfect substitute for butter when making sweet treats and pastry – it can be melted first or creamed together with sugar like the classic method and it adds a delicious subtle coconut flavour to.

Cream

If you’re a dessert fan then saying goodbye to your favourite dairy cream might be something that concerns you but with an expanding range of vegan alternatives bracing the supermarkets, it means that you still indulge in a slice of cream cake, trifle or loaded hot chocolate.

 

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  • Soya single cream This silky smooth cream is perfect alongside a slice of chocolate cake or fudgey brownie, or is great for stirring through pasta and sauces too.
  • Oatly creme fraiche Delicious alongside a slice of cake or works great in savoury dishes. One of my favourite uses is as a sour cream alternative, making it great alongside nachos.
  • Soy squirty whipped cream This soy based alternative to traditional whipped cream is delicious for topping a hot chocolate alongside vegan marshmallows and chocolate flakes – and with a slightly sweeter flavour, I actually think that it tastes better than the real version too.

What are your favourite vegan dairy alternatives? I love hearing your recommendations so let me know in the comments below and if you try any of these, don’t forget to tag me in your photos on Instagram using @nourishingyas or #nourishingyas.

This post is part of my Veganuary series; you can learn more about the campaign and donate here.

References

The Vegan Society

WWF

NHS

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Hi, I'm Yasmin! Plant based recipe developer and certified health and wellness influencer. I share simple, nourishing plant based recipes along with tips on healthy living, mental health and well being, in the hope that I can inspire others to be the healthiest and happiest versions of themselves.

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