When it comes to plant-based dairy products there are several options at the market these days. It used to be that your only non-dairy options were soy or coconut milk. These days the non-dairy isle at the supermarket offers milks derived from soybeans, coconuts, almonds, oats, cashews, macadamia nuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, flaxseeds, hemp, sesame seeds, and peas. Of course, drinking plant-based milk is different from baking or cooking with it.
Almonds are rich in protein and contain more bone-strengthening calcium than any other nut and are one of the most common ingredients for plant-based milk. Almond milk is neutral in flavor and is typically the preferred choice for savory cooking, but it can make sweet dishes taste slightly salty so keep that in mind when you are swamping out dairy milk for almond milk.
Cashews are one of the best whole-food, plant-based ways to recreate the texture and taste of dairy and they also boast a high amount of minerals such as iron. You can use cashew milk as a substitute for cooking and baking. You will find that the flavor is not as sweet as almond milk, and you may have more success using it in savory dishes than almond milk.
Oat milk has a higher natural sugar content than almond milk. It tastes great in baked goods and causes more browning in baked goods because of those sugars. Its sweet flavor, however, can feel out of place in savory dishes so swamp in almond milk for the oat milk when cooking savory.
Soy milk is fairly neutral-tasting, but its slightly beany taste may be detectable in a mild-flavored dish.
Coconut milk can be used in both savory and sweet applications, although it can lead to pale and gummy baked goods. So, if you plan to use it in baked goods keep that in mind and opt to swap it out for oat milk.
Plant-Based Cheese Options & Flavor Profiles
As far as plant-based cheese options go, this area is a bit more complex. The world of plant-based cheese is still evolving. You can mimic cheese flavor in dishes by using Miso paste. It does more than just adding an umami flavor, but it is a good source of enzymes which help to enhance digestion. White vinegar and mustard can provide the tanginess associated with cheese and nutritional yeast can add a savory nuttiness that typifies aged cheeses. Nutrional yeast is high in glutamic acid giving it a naturally occurring umami. It also heightens the flavor of everything from roasted vegetables, soup, stews, gravies, sauces, grains, and bread. Often, I use a small amount so that you would not necessarily recognize it in a recipe it just quietly adds to the flavor and depth of the recipe.
If you are looking for sliced or grated cheese, Whole Foods has a decent non-dairy shredded mozzarella that melts like the real thing. It does have a slight coconut flavor to it, but it does the job. Voilife is another brand of dairy-free cheese that makes a good parmesan alternative, and they also make a decent vegan feta and delicious vegan smoked provolone.
These are just a few of our suggestions when it comes to plant-based dairy options. As the market continues to mature so will the options. If you are interested in plant-based or vegan cooking be sure to check out our upcoming cooking class schedule.
If you love cream cheese, you will love this plant-based cream cheese recipe perfect on top of your morning vegan bagel!
Strawberry Cashew Cream Cheese
Makes: 1 ½ cups
1 cup raw unsalted cashews, soaked in water overnight,
3 tbsp lemon juice
¼ tsp sea salt
3 tbsp melted unrefined virgin or refined coconut oil
½ cup all-fruit strawberry preserve
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
2 tbsp crushed up freeze dried strawberry powder
Drain soaked cashews and rinse.
Dissolve the freeze-dried strawberry powered in the lemon juice and set aside.
Place in a food processor and blitz for about 2 mins until a paste forms. Be sure to scrap the side walls and bottom of bowl to ensure all the nuts have been ground down. Blitz again if necessary.
Add lemon juice/strawberry powder mix, salt and vanilla bean paste to cashew paste and blitz until smooth. Stop and scrap bowl down as necessary, then add coconut oil until combined.
Finally add preserve and blitz until smooth and creamy. Place it in an airtight container and let it chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours before using. Keep in fridge for up to one week.
Variations: Use raspberry preserve and freeze-dried raspberries.
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