Going vegan isn’t for everyone. I get it.
BUT, for many reasons people often want to cut dairy out of their diet. Maybe you’re lactose intolerant or have a dairy allergy. Maybe you’re trying to fight acne, or are looking to lose weight. Perhaps you’re concerned about inflammatory foods in your diet. It could also be moral or ethical concerns about the dairy industry, the effects on the environment…(and the list of dairy issues goes on).
For all these reasons and many more, people often dabble with the idea of giving up dairy. BUT, it’s tough. Finding non-dairy cheese that actually tastes good? It seems like a nearly impossible challenge. We’ve all tried those sad, plasticky “cheese slices” or tasted the weird lingering aftertaste in some soy milk. Nobody–even the most self-righteous vegan, will claim those taste awesome.
One of the biggest questions I get from people is “what can I use for dairy/milk/cheese/eggs?” It seems like that is always the sticking point.
Here are some REALLY GOOD (I promise) and easy swaps. These are the best vegan dairy substitutes I’ve found. If you’re thinking about giving up, or eating less dairy, here are some good ideas to start.
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Best Vegan Dairy Substitutes
The best non-dairy milk we’ve found is almond, but others prefer cashew, soy or coconut. Blue Diamond Almond Breeze is very low in calorie, and it doesn’t have any weird aftertaste. It’s easy to find almost everywhere. Silk is another brand that’s easy to locate. We also like Califia Farms, which is a little tougher to find. Their chocolate milk and coffee flavors are amazing and around the holidays they have the BEST non-dairy eggnog!
You can also make your own non-dairy milk. It’s not terribly difficult but it does require a few cups of almonds and takes some time. You soak the almonds for two days, puree and then strain. For many people starting out, the thought of making your own almond milk seems like a lot to take on. Try some store brands first and then work up to it.
The best shredded cheese we’ve found is Daiya Shreds. The shreds come in cheddar, mozzarella (my favorite), classic blend and pepperjack. Vegan cheese seems to be a highly debated topic and many vegans seem to have a lot of opinion about which brand is better or why one brand isn’t good. HOWEVER, amongst non-vegans? Daiya is the most passable for regular cheese. In fact, I’ve served it in many different applications (cheesy potatoes, pizza, macaroni, as a chili and taco bar topping) with no complaints, and many compliments. It seems like the most common response I get is, “Wow–this tastes just like cheese!” or “I can’t even tell the difference.”
Follow Your Heart also makes good shredded cheese. It’s a little tougher to find in my neck of the woods, but it’s nearly as good as Daiya. One product that I HIGHLY recommend is the Parmesan style shreds. These are absolutely indistinguishable from fancy dairy Parm. I don’t know how they do it, but this stuff is a pasta game-changer.
For block cheese, again, Daiya hands down takes the cake. Our non-vegan friends purchased some of their Farmhouse cheddar for us to enjoy with crackers when went to their house. We tentatively tried a small slice…and then another…and then another. Then their three-year-old asked for some. They both tried it and were blown away–and suddenly, four people and a toddler had polished off a block of vegan cheese in once setting. It’s that good! It comes in Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Jalapeno Havarti and Smoked Gouda. Daiya also has American, Swiss, Provolone and Cheddar slices, which are perfect for sandwiches and burgers.
For “fancy cheese” I recommend Treeline, Kite Hill and Miyoko. The Treeline cashew cheeses are the best I’ve ever had. The Treeline Cracked Pepper flavor in particular is my favorite. It has the consistency of blue cheese, with a slight crumble to it. The flavor is perfect–sharp, creamy. It’s everything you would want in cheese. I promise, if you put this on a fancy cheese tray at a party NO ONE would know the difference. It even gives you a “cheese flush,” like real artisanal cheese.
Kite Hill’s Soft Fresh Original is very similar to brie. It’s made with almond milk. This is a mild cheese, but definitely high quality and delicious. Miyoko products are a little harder to find, but their Vegan Cheese Wheel Garlic Herb tastes very similar to Boursin. It’s an addictive, spreadable garlic cheese perfect for crackers or figs. Fancy vegan cheese is similarly priced to fancy dairy cheese, so for a special occasion or party theses are all worth a splurge.
Kite Hill makes ricotta as do several other cheese purveyors, but honestly? Ricotta is one of the cheapest, easiest vegan cheeses to DIY. I first had almond ricotta on a pizza at True Food Kitchen in Chicago and I became kind of obsessed with it. I was thrilled to discover, it’s completely easy to make at home.
Take a cup of blanched, slivered almonds and soak for about half an hour. Drain. Note: if you can’t find blanched, slivered almonds, you can use raw, and simply soak overnight and peel, if the skins are on (this is kind of fun–you just pinch each almond and the skins just slide off). Then puree the almonds along with a tablespoon of nutritional yeast, a teaspoon of lemon juice and a half teaspoon of salt. You can add herbs or garlic if you like. This stuff toasts up beautifully and is DELICIOUS!
I find that vegan feta is another super easy DIY cheese. Firm tofu mimics the texture of feta almost perfectly, so simply adding the right flavors will get you a perfect swap. Feta is salty and a bit tangy. To add these flavors to the relatively neutral/bland tofu, all you need to do is marinate your tofu overnight.
Marinate extra firm tofu in ½ cup of lemon juice, a tablespoon of Apple Cider Vinegar, and a very generous sprinkling of salt. You could also include herbs such as oregano. I like to pre-cut tofu into chunks so the marinade can soak in really well. Drain, dry and serve. You’ll have delicious feta for every meal! This is great on salads.
Nacho & Cheese Sauce
For nacho cheese, there are several options. Many recipes for vegan nacho cheese call for cashews. Similar to the almond ricotta, you soak raw cashews overnight and then puree them to a creamy consistency with a little nutritional yeast and garlic powder. This works well for cheese sauces like Alfredo. The cashew sauce is very rich and velvety.
There are other simple cheese sauce hacks too. I find that heated roasted red pepper hummus tastes very similar to nacho cheese. You can make a cheese sauce by melting non-dairy cream cheese like Tofutti’s Better than Cream Cheese and stirring in Daiya shreds. Another option is to make a roux with flour and oil, and then add in non-dairy milk (use unsweetened) and Daiya shreds. Some people puree vegetables such as sweet potatoes with nutritional yeast for a cheese sauce.
To achieve that super cheese flavor, there’s nothing like Nutritional Yeast. What the heck is nutritional yeast? I know, it sounds super gross, but it’s simply a by-product from processing molasses (like brewers yeast from beer). It’s actually not gross at all and in fact, it’s VERY delicious.
You can often by nutritional yeast in bulk. It comes in a yellow flakey powder that can be added to recipes for a cheese flavor or sprinkled on top of popcorn, pasta, salad–basically anything that needs a little kick. Nutritional yeast has a lot of B vitamins and protein too, so it’s a great addition to any healthy kitchen.
Craving Doritos? Cheesy puffs? Cheese crackers? Well, there’s a non-dairy version of just about everything. To be honest, Doritos offer a couple flavors that are accidentally vegan! The Spicy Sweet Chili flavor and the new Blaze flavor (as advertised by awesome vegan, Peter Dinklage) are both vegan.
Earth Balance Vegan Aged White Cheddar puffs won’t leave that gross neon orange stain on your hands, and yet, they taste amazing! Earth Balance also makes Vegan Cheddar Squares, which are a dead ringer for Cheese-Its.
Lastly, if you’re looking for cheesy snacks like macaroni & cheese or pizza pockets (okay, more like mini-meals) there are plenty of options out there. Check out our Fast & Easy Vegan Pasta Dishes post for the best boxed mac & cheese options. For personal ‘za, Gardein makes Meatless Pepperoni Pizza Pockets which are amazing.
Ice Cream & Dessert
Okay, serious talk, guys: vegan ice cream. If you’re at all concerned about “giving up” ice cream, let that worry go! There are SERIOUS ice cream options out there. First of all, Ben & Jerry’s offers NINE non-dairy flavors including Half-Baked and Chunky Monkey. They are all amazing, I promise. Then, Halo Top just introduced 14 low calorie, high protein, soy-free flavors of non-dairy deliciousness. Breyers even has a non-dairy cookies & cream as well as a peanut butter flavor.
Plus, there many other brands to try such as So Delicious, Nada Moo, Coconut Bliss–all specializing in vegan ice cream flavors. Add a scoop of vanilla or chocolate Vega powder to frozen bananas and almond milk for a bomb (healthy) high protein shake. Daiya makes four flavors of cheesecake (Chocolate, Key Lime, NY-Style and Strawberry). Marie Calendars offers FOUR accidentally vegan pies (Peach, Razzleberry, Dutch Apple and Apple). Several instant pudding flavors are also accidentally vegan (check the package) but use only half the non-dairy milk. If you’re worried about dairy free dessert in the freezer and dairy section, fret not. You’re covered.
Sour Cream, Yogurt & Cream Cheese
Sour cream and cream cheese are both easy dairy swaps. Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese and Sour Supreme are my two favorites, but there are other options out there too. Daiya offers cream cheese in several flavors. Kite Hill also offers soy-free almond cream cheese.
As far as yogurt goes, you have plenty of similar options–Daiya, Kite Hill, Silk, So Delicious. I’m not a big yogurt fan, myself, but many people can’t imagine giving up this high protein snack. Many vegans also find tofu to be a good cottage cheese swap (again, something I never liked in the first place so I can’t really confirm, but it sounds legit).
Dressing, Dips & Mayonnaise
There are SO many dairy-free dressing, dips and sauces out there. The Hampton Creek Just Mayo brand is by far our favorite. In fact, we love it so much that we order Just Ranch in multiples from Amazon. I would argue that the Just Mayo is indistinguishable from regular mayonnaise, especially in salads and on sandwiches. Vegenaise from Follow Your Heart is classic vegan mayo and it has a unique flavor, that our non-vegan roommate loved. In fact, he wasn’t a fan of mayonnaise at all and would only eat Veganaise. There are a few other vegan mayonnaise brands out there. Hellman’s makes a vegan mayonnaise which may be easier to find in rural areas (but Amazon delivers and it’s worth ordering the Hampton Creek brand).
For dressings try Annie’s Green Goddess and of course the Hampton Creek Just Ranch (and other flavors). Daiya makes several vegan dressings as does Newman’s, Bragg and others. Make your own dressing using vegan mayonnaise as a swap. I love making my own dips too. Sour Supreme can be swapped for almost any sour cream recipe and many dip mixes are dairy free. Lipton’s Classic French Onion Soup Mix is dairy-free (although it may be made on dairy equipment), and the Kosher version is completely Pareve and dairy-free–we stock up near Passover to enjoy all year round.
Earth Balance products and some versions of Smart Balance are both dairy-free. Earth Balance butter spread comes in sticks as well, which are perfect for baking. We love, love, love Earth Balance. We use all the time in cooking and on bread. The flavor is great. Olive oil also works great as a swap for butter or margarine in many recipes. A yummy high quality olive oil is delicious on pasta or for dipping your bread.
The other butter option is to swap out butter with coconut oil, which works well in some baking recipes and for sauteing/browning. It adds a slightly sweet coconut flavor, but it’s delicious. We also use many healthier baking swaps such as pumpkin puree, black beans, beets or chickpeas instead of butter (and eggs). Check out our brownie and cake mix hacks for plenty of butter swaps.
As I mentioned above, we use many different baking swaps for eggs. Pumpkin puree, pureed tofu, beans and beets are all great binders. Beans and tofu sound strange, but they’re completely undetectable in baked goods. No one will ever know that they’re eating beans.
Flaxseed and Ener-G Egg Replacer also work well in baking applications. Ener-G is great for binding and breading too. That is where it really shines. You can make chia eggs for baked goods too, which also work well, but are a little more detectable. For a great from-scratch cake with no swaps, try Crazy Cake/Wacky Cake, which is a recipe from the Depression era. Surprisingly this cake doesn’t call for any eggs or dairy and it has an amazing, made-from-scratch taste.
Let me just confess, I was never a big egg person. I didn’t like runny eggs or raw eggs and always found the consistency kind of gross. BUT there are many applications where you need egg. For scrambled eggs, tofu makes a near-perfect swap. Crumbled firm tofu sauteed with oil gets a nice crust. Add garlic, nutritional yeast, turmeric and herbs for a gourmet scramble.
Follow Your Heart VeganEgg is a close swap for eggs as well. This is a newer product and it’s a little tougher to find, but it scrambles and tastes like eggs. It works great in fried rice, or as part of a scrambled egg sandwich.
For some dishes, I’ve found avocado really mimics the mouthfeel off egg. I love avocado in my ramen and it works in shakshuka. Avocado also works really well as a swap in chocolate custard. If you want a runny egg, my favorite vegan bloggers at Meet the Shannons have figured it out! This is a little bit labor intensive, but the end product is stunning.
I’ll let you in on a secret to getting eggy-taste in vegan dishes: black Indian salt called Kala Namak. You see, it contains sulfur compounds which make dishes taste like egg. It’s an inexpensive ingredient that will really ramp up your vegan egg game!
So, there it is–the list of vegan dairy swaps and dairy-free substitutes! There is no reason to feel like giving up dairy means you need to go without. There are so many great options out there! Check it out!
What’s your favorite dairy swap? Did I forget any that should go on this list?