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Ask the TK: Lactose-Free Substitutions

Ask the TK: Lactose-Free Substitutions

Q. Thanks to Lactaid, I have a substitute for regular milk, and thanks to Kraft shredded/loaf cheeses, I have a cheese option. And there are a number of non-dairy butter substitutes out there. Do you have any suggestions for items that don't have easy solutions, like cream, half/half, sour cream and cream cheese?

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Q. Do you have any suggestions for items that don't have easy solutions, like cream, half/half, sour cream and cream cheese?

Along those lines, I have noticed that in baking, recipes often call for unsalted butter. If I am using a vegan spread like Earth Balance, unsalted isn't an option. Do I need to make other considerations in my recipes if I can't use unsalted butter?

A. These are great questions. We asked Registered Dietitian Kathy Kitchens Downie and Senior Food Editor Ann Pittman, who responded with some great tips and substitution suggestions.

Before we get into substitutions, let's start with a little background on the topic in general. Lactose intolerance--or the reduced ability to digest the main carbohydrates in milk and dairy products--is quite common around the world. The tricky thing with lactose intolerance is that many people can digest and tolerate small amounts of lactose, but tolerance varies widely among individuals.

In most cases, you don't have to cut out milk and dairy totally from your diet--especially when dairy products are consumed in smaller amounts throughout the day. Besides, some dairy foods have varying amounts of lactose in them. Generally, aged, fermented cheeses have less lactose than fresh cheeses, like cottage cheese, for example, since the healthy bacteria used in the fermentation process help digest some of the milk sugars for you.

While lactose-free options abound at the grocery store for milks, cheeses, and butter-like spreads, remember that it’s not always a simple substitution when working recipes—especially those for baked goods that rely on specific amounts of carbohydrates, protein, or fat for success.

Great dairy-free substitution ideas for cooking:

  • Soy-based products are also good lactose-free options. For example, soy cheeses, soy cream cheese (like Tofutti), soy milks (many brands and flavors now available), and soy ice creams (like Soy Delicious) are ideal alternatives to their dairy counterparts.
  • A trans fat-free margarine is a good substitute for butter. However, butter in small amounts—like a pat spread on bread or the amount in a serving of a Cooking Light baked good—may be tolerated by some.
  • Nut butters—like almond, cashew, macadamia butters or almond milk—are also exciting options to try on breads or in baked goods.
  • Non-dairy milks can add exciting flavors to ordinary dishes. For instance, rice or almond milks are great on hot or cold cereals while light coconut milk enriches Southeast Asian noodles, tofus, or soups.

While dairy-free substitutions often work fine in cooking, baking is another story. We would not recommend using a vegan spread as a butter substitute,especially not in baking. We went to the Earth Balance website and checked theingredients label of their buttery spread—it’s made of vegetable oil, water, andsoy protein (among other ingredients). Most simply stated, those ingredientswon’t behave the same as butter in a baked good; it’ll be a wetter ingredientthat may make the end product doughy or wet, and it likely lacks some of thecaramelization properties of butter.


How to Make Heavy Cream

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It’s the worst feeling, we know — you’re all prepared to make the knockout mashed potato recipe that’ll finally win your mother-in-law’s approval, but you open the fridge to find you’re missing a carton of the secret ingredient: heavy cream. You’re in luck, though, so don’t fear. You can make a perfect homemade substitute for heavy cream with just 2 ingredients – milk and butter – and a whisk. This substitute will not whip into whipping cream like store-bought heavy cream, but is an excellent replacement in heavy cream in most recipes.

No Dairy (Milk-Based) Ingredients (see disclaimer below)

Menu Items

Components to Help Customize Your Order

  • Bread– White Bun, Multigrain Brioche Bun, Butter on Bun (not real butter), Flaxseed Flatbread
  • Proteins – Grilled Breakfast Filet, Bacon, Sausage, Grilled Filet, Egg Patty, Scrambled Egg, Egg White
  • Sandwich Toppings– Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato, Pickles
  • Salad Toppings – Apples, Bacon Crumbles, Black Beans, Blueberries, Chili-Lime Pepitas, Chopped Egg, Crispy Bell Peppers, Grape Tomatoes, Harvest Nut Granola, Poblano Chiles, Roasted Corn, Roasted Nut Blend

Other Allergen Notes

  • It appears that they have removed the gluten-free bun from the menu (it was free of dairy, nuts, and soy, but it contained eggs).
  • They are also removing the Sunflower Multigrain Bagel from the menu in 2021. If you can still get it at your local Chick-fil-A, it is dairy-free by ingredients.
  • Chick-fil-A uses peanut oil in their fryer. According to Samantha, a Chick-fil-a employee:

The fryers used for chicken are only used for chicken meaning that the fries and hashbrowns are cooked separately from dairy containing products.

  • But dedicated fryers don’t seem to be the case at every Chick-fil-A location. Check at the restaurant to ensure your location practices this and that the food is safe for your needs.
  • Their buns are listed as egg-free, nut-free, and soy-free, but the dairy-free “butter on bun” contains soy. Their biscuits and mini yeast rolls (used on the breakfast menu) contain milk.
  • According to Chick-fil-A, the “butter oil” and “natural butter type flavor” used to cook the eggs are dairy-free. Butter Oil Ingredients: soybean oil, palm kernel oil, soy lecithin, natural flavor (not dairy), beta carotene. Natural Butter Type Flavor Ingredients: medium chain triglycerides, coconut oil, natural flavors (no dairy).
  • The Tortilla Strips used by Chick-fil-A contain milk (lactose), so they have to be omitted from menu items, too, if special ordering dairy-free.

About This Article

To make your own almond milk, first add 1 ½ cups (220 g) of almonds to a bowl and cover them with water. Let them soak overnight so they soften. Drain the water the next day and transfer the almonds to a blender or food processor. Add 4 cups (945 mL) of filtered water and ½ teaspoon (3 mL) of vanilla extract and blend until everything is well mixed. Line a fine mesh strainer with a cheesecloth, hold it over a large bowl, and pour the almond milk through it to filter out any big pieces. Squeeze out the rest of the almond milk from the cheesecloth. Finally, transfer the almond milk to a container and store it in the fridge for up to 7 days. To learn how to quickly make almond milk out of chopped almonds, keep reading!

Super Easy Homemade Cream Cheese

If I’d know how simple it was to make DIY cream cheese, I would have been making it months (if not years!) ago. Somehow I’ve managed to go through DIY’s for DIY Homemade Ricotta Cheese and DIY: Homemade Herb Butter ( Compound butter) without trying this simple cream cheese method, which is actually a bit of in-between method of both of them.

In fact, I’m still being surprised at just how many ingredients you can make/get from a single dairy product. Cream cheese, cheese, butter, buttermilk, whey and more.

Smooth and creamy soft cheese only requires three ingredients, that you probably already have Whole Milk, Lemon Juice and Salt. It can also be customised in any way you’d like – with herbs, pepper, sweet chilli, etc or used for a variety of sweet or savoury purposes.

You are able to experiment with the milk used as well: Combining milk and cream in equal parts instead of just using milk, or even using heavy cream alone. Obviously the more cream you use, the richer and ‘creamier’ your final product. However, it would also up the fat levels.

I thought I’d keep things super simple for the first time trying homemade cream cheese and I loved it so much that I didn’t feel the need to complicate or change the recipe in any way.

I have seen recipes for cream cheese using liquid rennet, a cheese culture/starter and more potentially confusing and unobtainable ingredients and that is definitely not ‘my jam’. This is a recipe anyone can do and then can go crazy experimenting with, if desired.

Why make your own cream cheese?

I know that’s probably a question that some of you are asking, and I actually have the perfect answer. Because homemade cream cheese is SO much better – and I’m not just saying that.

I’m not just talking about taste and texture either. Now, obviously I haven’t tried EVERY cream cheese out there – but last time I was at the store I decided to have a look at the ingredients list of some of the biggest brands of cream cheese here in the UK.

What I found was ‘E’ ingredients, gums and thickeners including the controversial carrageenan! Homemade cream cheese simply uses lemon juice, milk and salt and is still wonderfully smooth and creamy.

How to Make Cream Cheese:

As I said above, the method for making cream cheese is actually very similar to making ricotta Heat your milk, add a coagulant, leave to curdle, drain and blend!

Okay, there’s a little more to it than that, but you get the gist.

What’s needed:

  • full-fat milk – it’s important to use full-fat milk because of its fat content.
  • lemon
  • salt
  • optional add-ons – dried herbs, garlic powder, dried chillies

Note* You could alternatively use half whole milk and half heavy cream OR completely use whole cream for soft cheese that is richer/creamier (but with a higher fat content)

You will also need a cheesecloth or a fine-mesh sieve

The Steps:

Begin by pouring the milk in a saucepan. Heat the milk and bring it to boil over medium-high heat.

As soon as it boils, add the lemon juice and then turn off the heat.

Set aside for a few minutes while the milk curdles. You’ll notice curds forming and a yellow-ish liquid being left behind.

Within a few minutes, all of your curds should have formed. Pour the curdled milk through a cheesecloth and a sieve to strain all the liquid whey.

Alternatively, you can use a slotted spoon to scoop out all the curdles, while leaving the liquid whey in the pot.

Note* This leftover whey can then be used in a variety of ways. I’ve talked about this more in my DIY How To Make Paneer At Home post.

Rinse the curdled milk with cold water by pouring the water over the sieve. This will help to get rid of any extra whey, clinging to the curds.

Put the strained milk into a food processor/blender and add the salt.

Within 1-2 minutes (this may vary, depending on how powerful your machine is) you’ll have a light and fluffy cream cheese.

If you want to add any additional herbs/flavourings, then do that now too. Be warned though as certain additional ingredients will affect the shelf-life of the cheese. I like dried herbs and garlic powder as natural flavourings that don’t affect the shelf life too much.

Store the cream cheese in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 7 days. You can freeze cream cheese, but the texture upon thawing is more crumbly and is best used when you’re cooking it into something like a dip or sauce.

How to eat it?

Once your cheese is ready, then it can be used the same way you would with the store-bought version:

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