A: Alisa Fleming – While the coconut (technically a fruit or drupe, not a nut) has so much to offer dairy-free consumers, not everyone likes the flavor that it imparts. Also, coconut allergies are a reality for some people. The following includes some of my personal tips from Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook to help you substitute for coconut milk and oil in recipes, while keeping them dairy-free.
This is the “authentic” stuff that comes in the cans and is available in light or regular / full fat. You can read more about it in my Coconut Milk Primer. We like this ingredient for its natural, rich profile that mimics dairy cream in consistency. Though a substitute is never “the real thing,” here are some options that should work in your recipes:
Nut Cream – This is my personal preference and a great option for those who aren’t allergic to tree nuts. You can make nut cream from any soft nut, but I like cashews the best. They have the most neutral flavor, but with a slight sweetness. See the Dairy Alternatives chapter in Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for my homemade Nutty Crème recipes (includes light and full fat variations). If you prefer even more convenience, MimicCreme makes several nut “cream” products that receive solid reviews. They are sold with the aseptic (shelf-stable) milk alternatives in stores and online.
Silken Tofu – Pureed silken tofu is a fair stand-in for coconut milk in recipes, and one that low fat dieters sway toward. Brands that come in aseptic packages, such as Mori-nu, seem to yield good results. Just be sure to pick an organic or non-GMO variety.
Fat + Liquid – If the coconut milk is used in a baked good, then you can simply replace it with a combination of oil or dairy-free margarine and additional liquid. The liquid could be a low fat milk alternative, juice, or water. Whatever you feel goes best with your recipe. Here are some ratios to go by:
Dairy-Free Creamer – If the recipe calls for light coconut milk, you can lean on soy creamer for a fair coconut-free substitute.
It’s easy to confuse coconut milk beverage with canned coconut milk, since those cartons are becoming quite popular. Make sure to clarify which type is being used in a recipe. If it is coconut milk “beverage” (the stuff sold in cartons under brands like So Delicious and Silk), then you can substitute your favorite milk alternative in an equivalent amount.
I like flax milk the best, as it has a fat profile similar to coconut milk beverage and a neutral flavor. However, you can substitute for coconut milk beverage with soy, sunflower, almond, rice, or just about any other milk alternative. There are so many!
Coconut oil is one of the few dairy-free fats, which has a high ratio of saturated fat, like dairy. This makes it solid at cooler room temperatures, offering more versatility and a somewhat buttery texture. Nonetheless, it isn’t required for baking or cooking.
If a solid fat is needed in your recipe, then you can turn to organic palm shortening, which has a more neutral flavor, but similar properties to coconut oil, or dairy-free margarine. Margarine has a little more flavor, but this may not be a bad thing. Food-grade cocoa butter can also work well as a substitute in some recipes that call for coconut oil’s firming power, including no-bake treats.
If your recipe calls for melted coconut oil, you can substitute it with your favorite baking or cooking oil. I lean toward grapeseed oil and olive oil, but you might like canola or vegetable. They will all work comparably as a substitute for coconut oil in recipes. Just keep the overall flavor profile of the dish or baked good in mind. I include additional information on how to use oils in baking and oil smoke points for cooking in Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook.