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Yogurt Substitutes

19 Oct

As a woman, there are certain times when stocking yogurt is an essential part of the diet. Contrary to what the yogurt marketing people seem to think, this has little to do with diets and female-ness in general and a lot more to do with the consequences of yeast and the benefits of probiotics. Whenever I’m prescribed antibiotics, I pack away the yogurt to prevent… unfortunate feminine complications (ladies, you know what I’m talking about). Most recently, I used soy yogurts as an additional source of protein during pregnancy, and then to help prevent thrush in the early days of breastfeeding.

I think it’s really important to check the nutritional labels of these products. Yogurt is sold to us as a health food, but in reality, I’ve found most of the flavored yogurts to have only slightly less sugar than the comparable soy ice creams. I’m not saying that eating yogurt is a bad thing. I just think it’s disingenuous to label them as health food.

Whole Soy & Co Organic Yogurt

This is probably my favorite brand so far. It’s got a great balance of flavor and price — the only one cheaper in my grocery store is Silk, which is usually only a few cents cheaper and is not organic. Whole Soy, by contrast, is certified organic, non-GMO, Kosher, Vegan, and gluten-free (why would you have gluten in yogurt? Is that really a concern?).
The texture is thick and creamy, with a smooth consistency. The flavors are bright, with a significant tanginess, so I usually stick to flavors where the tang works well (lemon and lime are good, vanilla is a little awkward on its own). The lemon is probably my favorite, followed closely by lime and peach. I’m not crazy about blueberries in general, so when I found whole blueberries in the bottom of the “mixed berry” and very little other berry flavors, I was a bit disappointed, although the raspberry and strawberry are among the assortment I enjoy.

Protein content is good — for example, the lemon has 6g of protein to 18g of sugar and 3.5g of fat (See? Not health food). My organic grocery store of choice sells them for 89 cents per 6 oz tub. They’re a little harder to find than some of the more mainstream brands, but not impossibly hard to find.

Verdict: Whole Soy & Co is the brand we usually keep on hand because of its great balance of price to flavor.

DSC_0051So Delicious Coconut Milk Yogurt

My mother picked up several of these for me after my daughter was born (see above: preventing thrush), in raspberry, chocolate, and pina colada.

This was the first time I’d tried coconut milk yogurt, and wow is it different than the soy. It’s a lot thinner in texture, and the consistency was a little lumpy. Not horribly so, but there wasn’t the smoothness I’m used to from the soy yogurts. There was definitely real fruit present, which gave a nice raspberry flavor. But it was also definitely sweetened further than I usually think fruit needs. You can see that in the nutrition info too: 20g of sugar, 1g of protein, and 6g of fat.

The other big consideration: as with all of Turtle Mountain’s coconut milk products, it comes with a hefty price tag. They usually run about $1.89 per 6oz tub where I shop. However, they are available in some major grocery stores.

Verdict: If you can’t do soy and you like your snacks sweet, this is a good option for you. Personally, I’ll stick with the less expensive soy options.

 

Amande Almond Milk Strawberry yogurt

Amande Almond Milk Strawberry yogurt

 

Butter Substitutes

16 Aug

Updated Feb 2014

One of the main problems in dairy-free cooking is substituting butter. Restaurants don’t know how to work without it, and baking gets… complicated if you use the wrong substitute. Some taste like chemicals when spread on bagels, and others melt if you look at them funny, turning chocolate chip into lace cookies.

You can’t just go over to the Dairy section and grab just anything labeled “margarine”. A lot (and I mean a lot!) are made with milk derivatives. I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, with all sorts of fancy milk-derived chemicals; Land O’ Lakes, which has now replaced the “sweet cream” variety my grandmother preferred with a margarine that uses buttermilk; or the generic “Store Brand”, with who knows WHAT in it.

As if all this weren’t complicated enough, a few years back, people became aware of the concept of trans fats. By which they mean… margarine. So what’s a dairy-free girl to do to eat well and keep her health? I need a dairy-free butter replacement, free of trans fats, that melts at the appropriate temperature during baking and tastes great on a bagel.

Gee, that should be simple.

For those of you looking for the quick answer, Ben and I use Earth Balance Organic Whipped for bagels, pancakes, and the like. But its melting point is very low, which makes it next to useless for baking. For baking, we prefer Earth Balance Original, (in sticks or a GIANT tub) which melts at nearly appropriate baking temperatures (see below), but I think it tastes a little waxy on its own.

Smart Balance

If you can’t find Earth Balsmart balanceance in the stores near you, you can probably find its bigger mass-market brother, Smart Balance. The most important thing to know about Smart Balance is that not all of their spreads are non-dairy. That means every time they change their packaging, double check the ingredients. Currently, I believe the non-dairy spreads are the Light with Flaxseed oil and the Organic.

Spread on bagels, it gives that lovely margarine/butter flavor with a touch of salt. Its lower melting point means that it sinks into all the bagel bubbles and is super spreadable.

When I’ve tried baking with it, I’ve found that the melting point is just too low. The cookies always spread too far, so unless your goal is lace cookies (which, really, isn’t such a bad goal either), I’d say skip it for baking.

Verdict: Our household choice for a spread. Do not use for baking.

Earth Balance

EB_ORGANIC_lgThis is the closest dairy-free alternative to butter in terms of chemistry that we’ve found. Its melting point is slightly lower than butter, but within a close enough range that your altitude and climate affect the baked goods more. I tend to cut baking times a little shorter than recommended (except for hard meringues — those get a little extra time), but that might also be because we live in a sea-level swamp. It’s also nice that it comes in sticks, which makes measuring a lot easier. Although I do wish the wrapping machine they used was a little more precise; I’d say 90% of the sticks I get have the tablespoon markings not centered.

We’ve gotten it in tubs when we couldn’t find the sticks, and we’ve used it as a spread. Ben doesn’t mind the flavor, but I think it has a slight waxiness to the flavor. It’s subtle enough that it doesn’t come through in baking, but it makes my bagel feel a little artificial and potatoes end up a little less desirable.

Verdict: This is our household baking choice. I’m not a fan of it on bagels, though.

Olivio Coconut Spread

My mother brought this to a recent family dinner as a non-butter alternative for me. Not only did we try it, she sent it home with us, so we’ve had a good chance to give it a shake-down.

First, a word of warning. You know how you’re probably used to that vaguely butter color that all margarines are dyed? Yeah, this one’s white. Also, it’s a coconut oil base, which means all the saturated fat you usually find in coconut oil.

We used it on bagels and french toast, as well as melting it down with a little lemon to go with crab. It’s quite nice, although I found it to be a bit sweet and you get a definite hint of coconut. By the time we’ve finished breakfast, it’s starting to look pretty melty, so I haven’t tried baking with it.

Verdict: Good as a spread, although not my favorite.