I’ve got a little secret for you. Are you ready? It’s actually rather mind-blowing. Homemade dairy-free milk beverages actually perform BETTER in coffee and tea than store-bought milk beverages and creamers. Trust me. I’ve tested dozens (and dozens) of store-bought and homemade dairy-free creamers over the years, and the easy recipes win, hands down.
Why? I believe (don’t quote me on this) it’s because most store-bought creamers contain emulsifiers, thickeners, and other additives that can be finicky when they hit your hot cup of joe. The pure, simple ingredients in homemade dairy-free creamer submerge for a more seamless finish. And those ingredients are ones that you probably keep stocked in your pantry!
Photo by Nathan Dumlao.
How to Make the Best Dairy-Free Creamer from Your Pantry
Coffee can be very personal. There is no one-size fits all when it comes to creamer. Fortunately, I’ve tested so many variations over the years that I can offer wisdom and tips that will help you create your perfect homemade non-dairy creamer.
What You Should Know about Homemade Dairy-Free Creamers
- What you use is what you get. Manufacturers have access to processing techniques and additives that help “neutralize” the flavor. At home, if you use almonds, your creamer will have a slight nutty taste. So make sure you use an ingredient base that you like the taste of!
- But you can flavor it. At home, we lightly “neutralize” with sweetener, syrups, or extracts. Don’t be afraid to blend in some dairy-free flavors (ideas below) for more of a coffeehouse experience.
- They disperse very well. I’ve stirred my homemade dairy-free creamer variations into many hot mugs and the recommended versions blend well without separation. It can separate a little as it sits, but I usually finish my beverage before this happens. If you get any separation, just stir.
- But separation happens in the refrigerator. Your homemade version isn’t emulsified and bound by gums, so it will separate in the refrigerator. Give it a good stir, shake, or blend before using.
- And it will thicken in the refrigerator. In fact, it could thicken a lot. Have no fear. Just blend or whisk in some more water until it reaches your desired consistency. And viola, now you have more creamer!
- Some pulp can remain. Even if you strain it, a little sediment will likely sink to the bottom. Don’t let it bother you – it’s real food and totally normal.
- You can use it in recipes. Homemade dairy-free creamer works in place of half and half in recipes, and it makes a mean hot chocolate. It’s extremely versatile if you opt to leave it plain and unsweetened.
- I repeat, it’s real food! Unlike the emulsions that call themselves non-dairy creamers, homemade dairy-free creamer contains all of the goodness of the ingredients that you choose. Each tablespoon naturally contains healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals.
The Best Ingredient Bases for Dairy-Free Creamer
I’ve tested them all – honestly. I have even tested beans, quinoa, and potatoes! Spoiler alert: beans, quinoa, and potatoes didn’t make the cut. But this is my ranking of the top 10 bases for your dairy-free creamer.
- Almonds (preferably blanched)
- Hemp Seeds
- Pine Nuts
- Macadamia Nuts
- Brazil Nuts
All of the tree nuts listed above will work in my Almond Milk Creamer Recipe. Just swap in your nut(s) of choice for the almonds. Hemp seeds are a little different. For those, use my Hemp Creamer Recipe (it’s an option with my Hemp Milk Recipe). You can technically use unsweetened shredded coconut or raw coconut in my almond milk creamer recipe, but I prefer this Light Coconut Creamer Recipe. It uses lite canned coconut milk, has the perfect creamy consistency, and a delicious flavor that isn’t too coconutty.
What about Oat Milk?
Companies process oats in a way that helps them whip into a creamier finish. It’s something we can’t readily mimic at home. Oats are high fiber, high starch, and low fat, three key properties that don’t naturally equate to creamy. Homemade oat milk is nice in some ways, but was inferior in body and taste when compared to the other contenders above. But go for it if you love oats in your coffee! I’ll post my classic oat milk recipe soon.
What about Other Seeds?
For some reason, sunflower seeds do not work well at all as a creamer base. Homemade sunflower seed “milk” separates like crazy when it hits a hot beverage. Flax seeds and chia seeds don’t blend into a creamy emulsion at all. Most “creamy” recipes using these seeds contain flaxseed oil or chia oil, not the whole seeds. Pumpkin seeds performed better than any of these, but they have a very pronounced taste that didn’t work for us in coffee or tea. Fortunately, hemp seeds really do work well! Even though hemp has a notable flavor, it melds nicely with hot beverages and has a very creamy finish.
More Tips to Make the Best Dairy-Free Creamer for You
- For the creamiest finish, strain the creamer one or more times. You can use a nut milk bag or a strainer lined with cheesecloth (sold in most grocery stores). In a pinch, you can use just a fine mesh strainer. The latter won’t filter out any fine sediment, but it will still help. All of these options are quite inexpensive and reusable.
- Flavor your dairy-free creamer to taste. As mentioned, you can add whatever sweetener you like in your coffee, extracts like vanilla or hazelnut, and dairy-free syrups. See my Dairy-Free Syrups & Sauces Guide for tons of coffeehouse-worthy options. If you want to keep a neutral creamer on hand for recipes, just add your sweetener and flavoring of choice directly to your cup of coffee or tea.
- Start with half batches and experiment. You can combine different bases or trial different bases, but I recommend doing this in smaller batches until you find your perfect blend. I even make quarter batches when I’m testing something new to me.
- There’s no need to waste. Even if a particular creamer doesn’t make the grade for your coffee, it will still work well in recipes. If it’s unsweetened and unflavored, you can use it as light cream in soups or sauces. If it’s already flavored, you can add it to smoothies or baked goods. And if you are using recipes that leaves some pulp behind, toss it in a quick batch of homemade granola.
- Don’t start with too much water. For my dairy-free creamer recipes, I use a lesser amount of water. You can always blend in more if you want a thinner consistency. However, I don’t usually recommend starting with any less water, because the creamer flavor will become more pronounced.