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Basic Recipe Substitutions for Milk Allergy

May 2013

Substituting Milk and Dairy Ingredients

In this article: Related KFA resources:

Basic Ingredient Substitutions for Food Allergies
Many common allergens are also common ingredients in your favorite recipes. There are some ingredients for which you can easily and successfully use non-allergenic substitutes, and there are others for which satisfactory substitutes do not exist.

Whether or not a "safe" version of a recipe can be successfully made often depends on two important factors. First: what is the role of the allergen in the recipe? Second: how many of the recipe's ingredients require substitutions? If the recipe only has 5 ingredients and you need to swap out 4 of them, the end result might bear little resemblance to the original dish. The bottom line: sometimes you can create a "safe" version of a recipe, and sometimes you are better off finding a different recipe altogether.

Dairy ProductsThe following is a general guide to using ingredient substitutions for milk allergy. Please verify the ingredients and safety of any products named to ensure that it is safe for your child's unique allergy issues.

If you need additional assistance in finding product suggestions or where to find ingredients for substituting, post a message in the KFA Food and Cooking forums to obtain suggestions from other parents of food allergic children who are also managing the same food allergies.

Substitutes for Dairy Ingredients

Be aware that some brands and varieties of soy-based products (especially soy cheeses) contain dairy or are made in production facilities with equipment shared with dairy and should therefore be avoided by those with a milk allergy.

As with everything that you feed to your child, be sure to carefully read the ingredient statement and look for a kosher dairy symbol on the products. Although kosher labeling in general cannot be used as a guide to determining whether a product does or does not contain milk, many parents find they can save time in the supermarket by simply assuming that foods marked as "kosher dairy" are not safe for a dairy-allergic child.

Substituting for Butter

One of the easiest substitutions to make is for butter: simply use a dairy-free margarine instead. However, you may need to do some searching and taste-testing to find the best dairy-free margarine available in your area, as a good margarine can make a big difference in many recipes. For baked goods, try to find a dairy-free margarine with a low water content and high fat content (e.g., if you melt a stick of margarine, it should not be mostly water). Margarines with high water content produce inferior baked goods.

Substituting for Yogurt, Sour Cream, and Cream Cheese

Girl eating yogurt Soy-based "yogurt," "sour cream," and "cream cheese" products are available at natural products grocers. These generally work very well in recipes, although as "stand-alone" products they do not necessarily taste "just like" their dairy-based counterparts.

Substituting for Cheese

Dairy-free cheeses are a bit of a challenge. Soy cheeses do not taste or melt like traditional dairy cheeses. If a child is old enough to remember "real" cheese, you may want to wait a while before introducing the soy version. Younger children will usually adapt more easily. In most cases, soy cheese will not appear melted, but will in fact be melted inside.

Soy cheese does not work well in recipes for cheese sauces. If you would like to make a dairy-free "cheese sauce," check our Safe Eats™ recipe database for "cheese sauce" recipes based on nutritional yeast or soy.

Substituting for Milk

MilkThere are currently a number of commercially-produced liquid soy, rice, potato and oat milks, most of which are available in a few different flavors (such as "regular," "vanilla," "chocolate," and "mocha"). All of these milks can be substituted 1-for-1 in recipes.

Although almond milk is also available, careful consideration should be given to the wisdom of introducing tree nuts to an already food-allergic child. Coconut milk is also available, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reclassified coconut as a tree nut. Experts say that coconut is a seed of a drupaceous fruit and not a nut, and those with nut allergy infrequently also have a coconut allergy. However, it is safest to check with your child's doctor about the suitability of using almond milk or coconut milk before using either for a child with a tree nut allergy.

Alisa Fleming has done extensive taste-testing to determine which types of milks work best in which types of recipes. The following information is reprinted with permission from her book, "Dairy Free Made Easy" by Alisa Fleming of

Milk Taste Uses
Soy Milk
  • In general, soy milk is considered "hearty" among the non-dairy beverages, and is excellent when you are craving something thick and creamy.
  • The plain varieties have a faintly sweet and nutty flavor.
  • Taste and consistency vary widely among soy milk brands.
  • Soy milk can easily be substituted for cow's milk in all baking needs, over cereal, for pancakes and waffles, in smoothies, or straight from the glass.
  • The unsweetened varieties work equally well in savory dishes.
  • Soy milk does have a more pronounced flavor, so it may not be the top choice for delicate desserts and sauces.
Rice Milk
  • For many, rice milk has that "true milk flavor." It is one of the lightest, sweetest, and most refreshing of the dairy substitutes.
  • With its natural sweetness, rice milk is perfect in desserts and baked goods.
  • Its delicate texture also works well in curries as well as lighter cream soups and sauces.
  • Rice milk is best avoided in the broader savory foods arena.
Oat Milk
  • Oat milk is light in texture and has a very mild flavor with just a hint of sweetness. It substitutes very well for low-fat or fat-free milk.
  • Oat milk has been successfully trialed as a substitute for cow's milk in both sweet and savory dishes.
  • In addition to drinking it straight from the glass, oat milk is recommended for your morning cereal; smoothies; baked goods; curries; lighter cream soups and sauces; and mashed potatoes.

Substituting for Sweetened Condensed Milk and Evaporated Milk

You can make your own sweetened condensed milk substitute by making a "safe" evaporated milk and adding sugar. Evaporated milk is milk that has water content reduced by 60%. Simmer any quantity of soy or rice milk in a pan until it reduced by 60% to get evaporated milk. Approximately 3 cups of rice or soy milk will leave 1 cup of evaporated milk left at the end. Be careful not to scald it. For sweetened condensed milk, mix one cup of evaporated milk with 1-1/4 cups of sugar. Heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Cool. It will yield 1-1/2 cups of evaporated milk substitute. It will keep in the refrigerator for several days.

Another alternative for evaporated milk is to substitute coconut milk 1:1 in the recipe. This will impart a coconut flavor to the recipe, so it works in some recipes but not all.

Substituting for Buttermilk

You can make your own buttermilk substitute by mixing one tablespoon vinegar plus 1 cup milk alternative such as rice milk or soy milk.

Substituting for Light Cream, Sweet Cream, or Heavy Cream

You can use Silk® or Mocha Mix® brand soy creamers or light coconut milk as substitutes for light cream.

Full fat coconut milk can be substituted for heavy cream. A coconut milk substitute will impart a coconut flavor to a recipe, so it will work for some recipes, but not all.

You can use Kineret® brand whipped topping as a substitute for sweet cream if used straight out of the carton and not whipped.

Milk Free Recipes from Safe Eats™

The following free recipes are available for you to preview the quality of milk allergy safe recipes in our Safe Eats™ recipe database.

Milk-Free Caramel

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles

Milk-Free Stroganoff

Dairy-Free Beefy Mac

Milk-Free Hot Chocolate
Milk Free Rice Nog
Rice Nog

Hahn, M and McKnight, M. Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About FALCPA. Retrieved on May 27, 2013 from

"Dairy Free Made Easy" by Alisa Fleming of

Approved by KFA Medical Advisory Team February 2008. Updated February 2009, May 2013 and December 2013.

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Page last updated 7/29/2012

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