How to Substitute Cream

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Most of the information below on how to substitute cream for dairy-free diets is excerpted from my book, Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook. However, I’ve also added product reviews and a few fun recipes that are here on the website.

How to Substitute Cream - Dairy-Free options for Coffee Creamer, Sour Cream, Light & Heavy Cream, and Whipped Cream

Quick Tips to Substitute Cream

This is a quick list of easy substitutes. For many more cream alternative ideas and recipes from my own kitchen, see Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook. The 2nd Edition has been massively expanded!

Half & Half

Coconut Creamer: Allow a can of full fat coconut milk to settle for about 1/2 hour. If your room temperature is warm, place it in the refrigerator. The coconut cream will rise to the top and can easily be skimmed off. Blend one part coconut cream with one part unsweetened or plain soy, rice, or oat milk to create the desired amount of half and half.

Instant Soy Creamer: Blend one part silken tofu with one part unsweetened or plain soy, rice, or oat milk to create desired amount of half and half.

Light Dairy Cream

Low Fat Soy Cream Alternative: Blend silken tofu until smooth. This works as an excellent substitute for milk and cream when a thickener is needed in sauces and soups. Choose soft varieties for a lighter “cream.” Pureed tofu can be substituted for light cream using a 1:1 ratio and is a much healthier, lower fat option.

Milk + Oil Light Cream Equivalent: Blend 3/4 cup of soy or rice milk with 1/4 cup of melted dairy-free margarine or oil (we like extra light olive oil for cooking). This will equal 1 cup of light cream for your recipes.

Heavy Dairy Cream

Coconut Cream: Such a versatile food! Allow a can of full fat coconut milk to settle in the refrigerator (about 1 hour). The coconut cream will rise to the top and can easily be skimmed off. To substitute cream in recipes, use equal parts coconut cream for the dairy cream. This work particularly well in sauces for seafood and poultry.  You can buy coconut cream, but it still needs to chill and settle and sometimes yields less cream than good quality coconut milk.

Low Fat Soy Cream Alternative: Blend silken tofu until smooth. This works as an excellent cream substitute when a thickener is needed in sauces and soups. Choose firm or extra-firm firm varieties for a thicker “cream”. Pureed tofu can be substituted for heavy cream using a 1:1 ratio and is a much healthier, lower fat option. But it will not whip.

Milk + Oil Heavy Cream Equivalent: Blend 2/3 cup of soy or rice milk with 1/3 cup melted dairy free margarine or oil (we like extra light olive oil for cooking). This will equal 1 cup of heavy cream for your recipes, but it will not whip.

Sour Cream

Soy Sour CreamFirm silken tofu has a wonderful sour cream consistency when blended, and can be used plain or jazzed up for a sour cream-like flavor. See the recipes below for several variations of tofu sour cream.

Nutty Sour Cream: For a delicious soy-free sour cream alternative, I like to make sour cream using cashews or sunflower seeds as the creamy base. See Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for my staple recipe.

Coconut Sour Cream: This isn’t available on the market as of yet, but I have a new recipe for it in Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook.

Vegan Yogurt: Use a plain unflavored variety of dairy-free yogurt as a 1:1 sour cream substitute. Works best in dips and salad dressings.

Recipes: Homemade Cream Alternatives

Enjoy these dairy-free whipped cream, heavy cream, and sour cream alternative recipes from our online recipe collection.

Best Ingredients for Making Dairy-Free Cream Alternatives

Brands can vary significantly in quality. These are the ones I currently use.

Coconut Milk

I’ve loved So Delicious Culinary Coconut Milk (which is regular coconut milk, but in aseptic packages) for years, but it is currently discontinued. But these other brands tend to produce a good amount of cream. And remember, coconut milk beverage is for drinking and cereal. It is far too thin to be used in a recipe calling for coconut milk or coconut cream.

Silken Tofu

There is really only one brand to use, Mori-nu. It is sold in aseptic packages that are shelf-stable, but some stores still sell it in the refrigerated section. Avoid silken tofu brands that are refrigerated in water for these types of recipes.

Neutral Oil

You might like to use avocado or extra-virgin olive oil for their nutrition, but their strong flavors can overwhelm in these recipes. These are some options that tend to be seamless.

Products: Cream Alternatives at the Store

Below are the products we’ve had a chance to share information about here on Go Dairy Free.

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

Go Dairy Free 2nd Edition - The Ultimate Guide and Cookbook for Dairy-Free Living with Over 250 Recipes!

About Author

Alisa is the founder of GoDairyFree.org, Food 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, and the new cookbook, Eat Dairy Free: Your Essential Cookbook for Everyday Meals, Snacks, and Sweets. Alisa is also a professional recipe creator and product ambassador for the natural food industry.

71 Comments

  1. Tammy R Wiggins on

    i am trying to make a pumpkin pie that is gluten, dairy and sugar free for my parents. i made one with coconut milk but it was flat and it wasn’t creamy like a normal pie. do you have any suggestions or recipes i can try?

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  5. I am trying to find a soy free nut free gluten free dairy free cream substitute for a sweet potato shuffle for thanksgiving. Family has many food allergies. Do you think coconut cream would work?

  6. I have tried whipping up chilled coconut cream several times but I have never been able to get it to whip up like a whipped cream. It always stays soft, nothing like a pipeable whipped cream. Do I need to add something to it to make it firmer?

    • Hi Rosemary,

      A few things to help. First, check this post (has visuals) to make sure you are using a very firm coconut cream -> https://www.godairyfree.org/news/what-is-coconut-milk
      It should be very, very thick (obviously pipeable) before you start. Dairy cream thickens and gets voluminous as you whip it, but coconut cream does not get thicker or expand as you whip it – basically, what you start with is what you get. You are merely whipping it to make it smooth. If it softens as you whip, put it in the refrigerator again.
      I have found that you can make it set up better and stay stable at room temperature w/ a modified starch, like this -> http://amzn.to/2wthuMM (in the US, the packaging is called “Whip It”). Modified starch is what is used in things like Jell-O pudding to get them to set up without cooking. I hope that helps!

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  9. Thanks for breaking down the no-dairy substitution so easily. Very handy to have for improvising and veganizing recipes. I was wondering do you have a a go to vegan creme fraiche recipe? Many thanks.

    • I haven’t tried it Dyn, but supposedly you can mix heavy cream and buttermilk and let them culture overnight to make creme fraiche, so I expect similar results with a dairy-free version. Also dairy-free sour cream would probably work in a pinch.

  10. Hi Alisa,
    I emailing from Scotland and have been searching for milk alternatives for my recipes and at last, after noting some of your alternatives think you might have come to my rescue. I’m also a Coeliac so have double problems. To add to this coconut milk is not my favourite substitute.
    I will try your alternatives and let you know how I get on.
    Many thanks, Wendy

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  12. Katherine Smith on

    I’m on a strict diet no milk products at all no sugar at all of any kind how can I make a soup that calls for cream please help

  13. Karena Kersten on

    Hi! Thank you for this! I have a question about a recipe I used to make, It’s called “Amish Sugar Cream Pie.” It calls for half and half, and as it cooks (with cornstarch), it firms up. Would that work with one of these dairy substitutes? I recently found out that cornstarch will break down with too much heat, so should I use a different flour? We must be gluten-free also.

    • Yes, use one of the half and half options or light cream options. Follow the directions / ingredients from there. Cornstarch does breakdown if cooked too long, but I assume the recipe uses it properly.

      • Karena Kersten on

        I forgot to say that I tried making it one time, and it never solidified. I think I used Cream of Coconut (the kind in a can). I’m hoping by using a different flour and cream that it will work. Thank you!

        • Hi Karena, cream of coconut is not the same as coconut cream! It’s sweetened and won’t thicken like coconut cream will. Coconut cream is skimmed from full-fat canned coconut milk (chilling helps to solidify the cream).

  14. This was such a helpful article! Where I live store bought dairy alternatives are few and far between plus I prefer made from scratch at home wherever possible. I used the light cream alternative recipe with olive oil in my potato bake and it was amazing. Thanks again for sharing. ?

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