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Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living

How to Substitute Milk (Skim, Low Fat, Whole)

Posted on by Alisa Fleming in Dairy Substitutes with 1 Comment

Click on the subtitles below for instant information on how to substitute milk with non-dairy options (all are lactose-free, casein-free, 100% dairy-free, and vegan) …

Low-Fat and Non-Fat Milk Subs

The selection of non-dairy milk options has exploded in recent years. Below is a rundown of the choices to substitute milk, their flavor profiles, and best uses …

Almond Milk Alternative

The base of almond milk is typically made from ground almonds, filtered water, and a small amount of sweetener (i.e. brown rice syrup), though you can easily find unsweetened varieties.

Almond milk can best be described as a lightly sweet non-dairy beverage with a delicate almond flavor. The nutty flavor in almond milk can be a plus in various desserts. It has become my personal favorite for smoothies. However, almond milk is best left to sweet dishes, as even the unsweetened varieties can make some savory dishes taste slightly off.

Coconut Milk Beverage

Not to be mistaken with regular or light coconut milk (which are sold in cans), coconut milk beverage is sold in cartons like other milk alternatives, and is relatively light. It does have a hint of coconut flavor, but still works well in sweet recipes, on cereal, or in savory dishes where the flavor blends well, such as Asian entrees or salad dressings with sharp flavors.


This is the classic, the originaly milk alternative. It has been around so long that “soymilk” is a recognized word (versus having to put “milk alternative or beverage” after the name). It does have a distinct but mild “beany” taste that some people love and others loathe.

Nonetheless, soymilk is still considered one of the most versatile milk alternatives. It is slightly heftier in protein and fat than most milk alternatives, making it a good option to substitute milk in savory sauces and in baked goods. It can pretty much be a stand-in for milk in most recipes, but keep that “beany” profile in mind. Soymilk could overpower a delicately-flavored recipe.

Rice Milk Alternative

When soy allergies and milk and soy protein intolerance (MSPI) emerged as concerns, rice milk popped onto the market as another way to substitute milk. Many moms say that rice milk is the most loved by kids. Like soymilk, it is highly versatile and can be used in most recipes, both sweet and savory. Where rice milk falls short is in its heft. It is very light and sometimes a touch watery, so it won’t add much richness to sauces or ice creams. However, unlike soymilk, it works quite well in more delicate dessert recipes that don’t require a lot of fat.

Oat Milk Alternative

Oat milk is more popular in Europe than in Northa America, but I have no idea why, it’s great! Since the only brand in the U.S. is sweetened (good, but sweetened), I prefer to make oat milk at home (see the oat milk recipe in the section below). Oat milk has a nice earthy taste that isn’t too bitter or too sweet. It is great in smoothies, with cereal or granola, and works well in baked goods. I also think it is a good option for savory recipes and some sweets, but oat milk may be a little too earthy for say, a light white sauce or creme brulee.

Hemp Milk Alternative

Hemp milk has fought a few uphill battles. Obviously, regulations on hemp are a primary issue, which is why all brands of hemp milk come from Canadian companies. But hemp also has a strong taste that can be a bit too powerful in milk alternatives at times. Some hemp companies have mellowed out that flavor with sweeteners and certain processing techniques. Like soymilk, some love the flavor while others find it a bit, well, skunky. Still, hemp milk is a great allergen-free milk alternative that is worth trialing – I’d just avoid using it in delicately-flavored recipes.

Flax Milk Alternative

This darling has some huge potential for its ability to truly substitute milk. One reporter did a blind taste-test of milk alternatives with milk drinkers. Flax milk was the resounding winner. It was enjoyed by all and had a taste and consistency that was voted as closest to “the real stuff.”

I’ve enjoyed it myself and have to admit that it is pretty seamless. The fluidity is spot on, and it has just enough fat to impart milky richness without being too thick. The flavor is also quite mild. It should work well in almost any recipe that calls for milk, whether sweet, savory, earthy, or delicate.


There are a few more types of milk alternatives on the market, including sunflower and grain. As they grow in popularity, I will report back. In the mean time, for a full listing of the types and brands, see the No Dairy Product Lists.

All of the above can be used to substitute milk in a 1:1 ratio for skim or low-fat milk, whether used raw, when cooking, or in baking … with a few exceptions. Things like instant pudding won’t set-up nicely with most milk alternatives. See p.169 in Go Dairy Free for several easy methods to make delicious instant pudding.

Also, if using a milk alternative in savory dishes, purchase the “unsweetened” variety. Original, vanilla, and other milk alternative flavors will often have sweetener added, which could throw off your dish.

Whole Milk Subs

For many recipes, any of the low-fat / non-fat milk substitute options will work well as a substitute for whole milk, too. However, I prefer to use the following non-dairy milk choices when the recipe or my tastes require something with a touch of richness …

Coconut Milk Beverage

This is one of the richest commerically available milk alternatives, containing 5 grams of fat per 1 cup serving, just a bit below the 8 grams of fat in 1 cup of whole milk.

Light Coconut Milk

Canned light coconut milk has roughly double the amount of fat as whole milk. This can be a benefit in some recipes, but if you prefer something a little lighter then use 1 part water and 1 part light coconut milk in place of the whole milk.

Keep in mind, canned light coconut milk has more of a coconut flare than coconut milk beverage, and may impart a coconut vibe on your recipe. This usually works well in many dessert recipes, and in Asian-inspired savory dishes, but may need to be masked by other flavors in recipes such as a linguine alfredo.

Canned light coconut milk is shelf-stable and typically sold in the Asian section of most grocers. Do not confuse it with coconut milk beverage (sold by the quart or half-gallon in aseptic packages or refrigerated cartons), which is lighter in fat, coconut taste, and texture, and may be sweetened.

Recipes: Homemade Milk Alternatives

Products: Milk Alternatives at the Store

Tips for Buying Milk Alternatives

The number of milk alternatives currently on the market is phenomenal, and the list seems to be growing by the day.  You can now enjoy delicious creamy soups and sauces as well as rich desserts made from rice, soy, oat, almond, coconut, sunflower, or even flax “milks”.  With this in mind, I have a few general tips and bits of information to offer before you head off on your dairy-free shopping spree to substitute milk:

  • Cut the Sugar: My best discovery yet! Although plain and unsweetened varieties of milk alternatives are typically a bit sweeter than cow’s milk, most are amazingly lower in sugar! Be sure to look at the labels though, I have seen some brands and flavors (especially chocolate) with sugar levels at around 19 grams per serving. For the healthiest options, opt for the “Unsweetened” or “Light” varieties, these typically have only 1-4g of sugar per 8oz serving. Cow’s milk has a whopping 12 to 16 grams of sugar per serving for your basic regular, low-fat, and skim varieties!
  • Dairy-Free: To the best of my knowledge, all of the alternatives that I have listed are 100% dairy-free (lactose-free, casein-free, whey-free, etc.) and suitable for those with dairy sensitivities / allergies.
  • Heart Healthy: All of the listed milk alternatives have 0 grams of Trans Fats and 0 grams of cholesterol. With the exception of coconut milk they are free of saturated fat, too.
  • Calcium: Check the labels, many varieties of non-dairy milks are fortified to rival the Vitamin D and calcium available in cow’s milk. Manufacturers are working to substitute milk in the nutritional department, too.
  • Gluten-Sensitivity: Most non-dairy beverages are gluten free, caution is noted with oat and rice Milks. Just in case, be sure to read the packaging carefully, and contact the manufacturer when in doubt.
  • Taste: When experimenting with recipes, you may want to taste the milk alternative both chilled and heated to detect flavor overtones that may affect a particular recipe.
  • Flavors: In general, flavored milk alternatives such as chocolate and vanilla are best for drinking and for some desserts. For general cooking, choose the unflavored versions.
  • Shelf Life: Always check the expiration date on refrigerated, canned, and aseptic packages. Although aseptic packages do not require refrigeration until opened, popping them in the refrigerator a little early does create that nice cool “milk” taste. Once opened, all milk alternatives must be stored in the refrigerator, where most will keep for 7 to 10 days.
  • Shake Well: Instructions on non-dairy milks urge the user to shake well before using – this is a must for some brands to keep the consistency of the product throughout its use.
  • In Recipes:  Each of the milk substitutes listed can replace cow’s milk in cooking or baking, as noted, using a 1:1 ratio (i.e. 1 cup of cow’s milk = 1 cup of soy milk).
  • Potential “Hidden” Allergens: Many brands of milk alternatives have “natural” additives to improve their flavor, texture, and/or shelf life. Those with gluten concerns should double check the label for ingredients such as barley malt (sometimes used in sweetening). In the past, some brands of rice milk utilized barley enzymes in production, but those companies reportedly changed their products to make their rice milk alternatives gluten-free. If you are seeking soy-free, be aware that some types of milk alternatives that appear soy-free may use soy lecithin as an emulsifier. If you are trying to avoid corn, keep an eye out for xanthan gum on the ingredients lists. It is sometimes used as a thickener in milk alternatives and is usually derived from corn.

For more creamy recipes and dairy alternative tips from my kitchen, see Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living.

How to Substitute Milk - Dairy-Free, Non-Dairy, and Vegan Almond Milk Alternative

Almond Plus Almond Milk Alternative – Photo by Hannah Kaminsky

About Alisa Fleming

Alisa is the founder of GoDairyFree.org, Senior Editor for Allergic Living magazine, and author of the best-selling dairy-free book, Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living. Alisa is also a professional recipe creator and product ambassador for the natural food industry.

View all posts by Alisa Fleming →

Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living


  1. nabila salmahAugust 17, 2012 at 9:50 pmReply

    I’m from Indonesia, very glad found this page. Wonderful website, this is helpful me because I have a child who’s dairy allergic.

  2. mukesh dayaniSeptember 20, 2012 at 12:32 amReply

    i like yr product

  3. BhavnaOctober 9, 2012 at 7:27 amReply

    Where in new jersey can I get dairy and soy free milk?Please advice.


    • Alisa FlemingOctober 9, 2012 at 7:51 amReplyAuthor

      Bhavna – You’ll need to click through this review to the company’s website to see their store locator or contact them directly if they don’t have one.

  4. nickyOctober 27, 2012 at 2:06 amReply

    Where can we buy dairy free cheese. Thank you.

  5. Barb WallaceNovember 28, 2012 at 3:53 pmReply

    I am so glad I came upon this website. I have to be on a low iodine diet for a thyroid scan. I cannot have milk products, iodized salt, butter and a lot of things :-(. I was looking for a bread recipe for my bread machine and behold you have a great recipe!!! I also got a lot of other tips that might help me survive this diet. I thank you so very much :-)

  6. justinMarch 11, 2013 at 4:03 pmReply

    I am lactose intolerant and i eat ceral dry. i was wondering where i can get cheeseless pizzas i cant find them anywhere

  7. NicoleMarch 22, 2013 at 6:35 amReply

    Is 8th continent soy milk safe? It is certified vegan but has a circled u next to a d

    • Alisa FlemingMarch 26, 2013 at 7:01 amReplyAuthor

      Whether or not it is “safe” for your allergy needs is always your call, no matter the product. Like most brands of milk alternative, it is probably made on equipment that is also used to process dairy – hence the “D” after the OU symbol. Most dairy alternative companies practice strict cleaning processes between batches, but as with any food, if trace amounts of milk are a concern, you should contact the company directly to help decide on your comfort level.

  8. ChandraNovember 12, 2014 at 8:50 amReply

    I cook a lot at home and used to use dairy by the gallon. I now use almond milk and sometime dairy free butter. What I think is really funny though, is that I often run low on the butter. I tried using corn oil cup for cup for butter in cooking and baking and it is delicious! Even my dairy eating friends commented how good my cakes are! Corn oil now has a permanent place in my pantry!

    • Alisa FlemingNovember 13, 2014 at 8:38 amReplyAuthor

      That’s wonderful, thanks for sharing Chandra! You can also use oil in cookies, but it should be reduced quite a bit.

  9. KyleDecember 10, 2014 at 12:29 pmReply

    Are all soy milk products lactose free. I just found out I am intolerant. I also wonder how effective the enzyme pills are for eating dairy?

    • Alisa FlemingDecember 11, 2014 at 8:48 amReplyAuthor

      Hi Kyle, in theory, all soymilk products should be dairy-free and lactose-free, but there are no guarantees with anything! Check the label – if there is no milk/dairy listed, then it should be lactose-free. The enzyme pills work for some, not for others. How lactose intolerant you are will also determine how many of the pills you need to take for which types of foods – it’s a balancing act!

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