Dairy Alternatives – Should You Be Switching?

Now is the time when every food business needs to be thinking about their use of dairy in their food – if you aren’t already, and assuming you use dairy.

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Climate change is being propelled, in part, by meat and dairy consumption and the number of people taking up a plant based or vegan diet is increasing. That means that the chance of your customers either wanting a dairy-free option now or soon is only going to grow. Getting ahead and seeing how your food business can work with dairy alternatives will help you retain customers and may even grow your customer base.

The Rise Of Dairy Alternatives Is Good For Food Businesses

If you are producing a lot of different foods, creating a product from a treasured family recipe, or concerned that your food won’t work dairy free, then making this switch to dairy alternatives can feel daunting. Be reassured though that now is one of the best times to be making a change since the uptake in dairy alternatives means that not only are there more dairy alternatives but they are better at replicating the taste, texture and performance when used in cooking.

That last point is a big one for food businesses. If you are replacing cheese with a dairy-free version, you want it to melt the same. If you are swapping in butter for baking, you need it to mix the same and heat similarly. Knowing that you can find products that perform properly is going to be key to answering some of your most serious concerns about switching to dairy alternatives, such as: How do you preserve the authenticity of the original? Are you going to have to create new recipes that work dairy-free? Will customers want to try your new version? Luckily, solutions to these answers are all out there, read on to find out more.

Hopefully, you’re feeling a little more on board with making the switch the dairy alternatives, so let’s look at what is available on the market.

What Dairy Alternatives Are There?

Milk Substitutes

There are plenty of in depth guides that look at milk alternatives, outlining the nutritional value and the ethical implications of choosing certain dairy-free milks, such as the environmental impact from manufacturing. The most common milk alternatives that you’ll come across are: soya milk, coconut milk, almond milk and oat milk (the newest and trendiest).

These are by no means the only nut or dairy-free milks available, they are only the most popular. You might also want to check out nut milks, like cashew and hazelnut milk, and rice milk.

Most of these are available in sweetened and unsweetened varieties, the choice of which will be down to how you plan to use them in your cooking. A sweetened milk would work well for coffee but an unsweetened is needed for savoury dishes.

Soya Milk

Soya milk is considered a good and easy replacement for cow milk in cooking since it ‘stays stable when exposed to higher temperatures’ and it can be curdled with the addition of vinegar. It also isn’t strongly flavoured, meaning it can be incorporated into recipes without changing the taste.

Although soy or soya milk has been around for quite some time, the number of brands and varieties has been and continues to increase. Each brand will have its own slight variants of the recipe, so check the ingredients to see what is included and try a few to see what works for your cooking needs.

Coconut Milk

Coconut milk has been used by vegans and dairy consumers for a long time, especially in Indian, Thai and Vietnamese cooking. Since the search for dairy free alternatives has intensified, you can now find both drinking coconut milk in the dairy alternatives aisles, as well as among the tins. Although these are the same product, in the sense that they are both coconut milk, they won’t be the same to consume.

Coconut milk that is prepared for drinking will contain additional ingredients and be of a different nutritional value to the tinned variety – which contains more of the coconut flesh and is “creamier” as a result. Unlike Soya milk, which doesn’t have a strong flavour, coconut milk will bring its distinctive taste to foods made with it.

Almond Milk

Almond milk is popular for use as a dairy replacement in sweet dishes, particularly desserts, since it has a naturally sweet flavour. This doesn’t mean you can’t use it in more savoury cooking but it may require more flavour balancing to work best.

When using almond milk in cooking, it’s good to be aware that it ‘contains no saturated fat, making it thinner and less creamy.’ You’ll need to check it more regularly when heating and will likely need to use more of a thickening agent for recipes like custard. You should also be careful to avoid using almond milk with acids, like citrus fruits or tomatoes, as this can cause the almond milk to curdle.

Oat Milk

Like almond milk and soy milk, oat milk will work well in sweet recipes – not surprising when you consider how many desserts and sweet snacks use oats (think: flapjacks, porridge). However, it can also work for savoury dishes, making a sauce creamier, and this works best when ‘stirring in a little sunflower or coconut oil will increase the fat content and mimic the texture of heavy cream’.

A consideration for oat milk is that it is also similar to coconut milk, in that it has a strong flavour. This can perfectly complement a recipe, if used correctly, but it can also clash.

Cheese Alternatives

Milk might be the form of dairy that we most consume, with tea, coffee and cereal for breakfast (or as a snack), but what we really love is cheese. Finding good, non-dairy cheese to replace any cheeses used in your food business’ cooking is possible, and getting it right will partially depend on how you plan to use it.

One of the biggest non-dairy brands, VioLife, has only in 2019 launched a vegan alternative to cheese that it claims ‘delivers on taste whilst performing very similarly to traditional cheese when cooked’. Dairy free cheese alternatives are aiming to replicate the consistency, texture and taste of dairy cheese, and that includes replicating the variety of cheeses, from cheddar to parmesan to cream cheese.

There’s no shortcut to figuring out which non-dairy cheeses will work for your recipes, because it will be unique to your food and how you cook with it. You can start with this list of dairy free cheeses but we would encourage you to try as many as you can.

Butter Alternatives

Plenty of recipes call for butter as an ingredient, and it is a foundational ingredient in baking, which makes it that much more important to get the chemistry right. For food businesses, especially those in pastry, cakes and the like, making the switch to dairy free might not seem that difficult, after all margarine is vegetable oil alternative that looks, tastes and behaves in cooking like butter, and has been around for years. However, vegans and those with a plant based diet may still shun margarine baked goods as it can contain trace elements of dairy.

So what are the completely dairy free alternatives to butter that you can use in your food business? Well, it seems to come down to how you want to use it. I.e. for frying, pastry or a sauce, etc. This article on vegan butters breaks down what kinds work and why so you can get experimenting. Again, you’ll have to try different brands out to see what works best for your recipes.

What Will The Next Dairy Free Alternative Be?

The next step for your food business is to give these non-dairy ingredients a go. You should also keep a lookout for new products coming to market, or look to create your own. There is a huge market for vegan and dairy-free foods that will only keep growing as people look to minimise their environmental impact while still enjoying their dining experiences.

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