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Lactose-free cream substitutes?

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Hi everyone - I'm new here. Lovely to meet you all!

I'm lactose intolerant. I have been since infancy, which isn't usually much of a burden. Unlike many people who become lactose-intolerant late in life, I can't really eat any lactose - a bit of milk in tea is enough to make me ill for the rest of the day.

I routinely cook with lactose-free milk and soy milk. I can eat cultured butter, many cheeses, and real yogurt. (Here's a great little essay explaining the lactose content of most foods: http://www.telusplanet.net/public/eke... It's useful reading, since apparently much of the world is lactose intolerant, whether they know it or not.)

When I really want to eat a creamy cheese, or ice cream, I take lactase supplement pills so that I can digest it. But usually, I like to cook things that I can just eat without worrying about expensive digestive enzymes. Also, the enzymes don't always work.

I am, therefore, on a quest for a no- or low-lactose cream substitute. I'd like something that I could use to make, for example, caramel - that cranberry almond caramel tart from Smitten Kitchen has really caught my eye. I've also been pining after pasta with tomato cream sauce. Here are some avenues I've considered.

1. You can't buy lactose-reduced cream, so that's out of the question. Some places, you can buy actual lactase enzyme to add to milk yourself, and I've thought of adding it to cream, but I wonder if the same proportions would work? The amount of lactose - sugar - in milk and cream must be different. Also, lactase enzyme is getting more and more difficult to buy, as lactose-free milk proliferates.

2. There are soy-based cream substitutes, basically oil emulsified into soy milk. These taste good in coffee, in my experience, but I'm worried about how they would behave when cooked.

3. I'm wondering if I could put together some hybrid of lactose-free milk and another low-lactose dairy product, like yogurt, goat's cheese, cultured butter or cultured sour cream? Is that crazy?

4. I wonder if folks interested in low-fat cooking might have some tricks for avoiding cream in creamy recipes. I have to admit, though, that I'm a bit skeptical about the tastiness of low-fat cooking.

5. What sort of recipes can handle milk substituted for cream? I just made some quiche which I had heard might not turn out without cream, but it was just fine. I wonder if, in some cases, I could substitute milk and then up the fat content in some other way, perhaps with melted butter or oil. I guess this is sort of a repeat of #3.

Any thoughts?

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  1. I don't know much about lactose, but I substitute milk for cream all the time. I've even made "alfredo" sauce with milk instead of cream. I start with a roux and make a bechamel sauce, and then add the parmesan to that. It may not be traditional, but it is mighty tasty.

    I've never once put cream in my quiche, and we eat a lot of quiche. I can't even remember the last time I purchased cream. Then again, I'm very much willing to experiment, and if something doesn't turn out quite "right" I rename it something else and serve it anyway.

    Substituting milk for cream won't make something bad if it doesn't work, just different. You have to be flexible and willing to adapt.

    1. your comment about quiche had me thinking about eggs - you could certainly use yolks in some preparations to add more body...but that's not a low-fat solution :)

      pureed silken tofu is a common dairy-free substitute in recipes that traditionally call for cream or half-and-half.

      starch can also add body & creaminess to certain recipes, such as blended soups (potatoes or pulverized oats work well for this).

      depending on the flavor of the dish you're preparing, you could try subbing coconut milk or coconut cream.

      and if you're substituting milk for cream, the viscosity and body of evaporated milk will mimic that of cream more closely than regular watery milk.

      you can obviously also thicken a non-dairy milk with a roux or starch (corn, arrowroot or tapioca).

      as a last resort, there's also a potato-derived powdered milk substitute called "DariFree." but it's pretty much just maltodextrin & fructose, so i wouldn't recommend it.

      3 Replies
      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

        Oh, I don't care much about fat content, just lactose - which would rule out evaporated milk, unless I evaporated it myself. (A possibility?) I'm intrigued by the addition of egg yolk - I wonder if it would do strange textural things when cooked?

        Coconut cream is a brilliant idea. I wonder how it holds up under high heat? Must be pretty good, since some people use it as an oil to start Thai curry...

        Thanks for all the ideas! :)

        1. re: Allison_

          Allison, just to clarify a couple of things:

          i suggested evap milk in response to your #5 query about recipes that might withstand milk as a substitute for cream. i assumed that meant you were looking for a way to use a milk/lactase combination.

          coconut CREAM, coconut OIL, coconut MILK, and creamed coconut are all different things and have varying fat & water contents and viscosities, so do some research before choosing an ingredient to use.

          anyway, i hope you have some luck!

          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

            Hi, all. I came to this thread late, looking for lactose-free ideas for cake frosting. I just wanted to mention, in case anybody reads all this for a guest, that cream has LESS lactose than milk, and evaporated milk will just about put you thru the roof. According to the website I looked at, whipping cream is 2.9% lactose while whole milk is 4.8% and skim milk is 5.2%. Evaporated milk is a big 10.3%. Source is here http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepa...

      2. Thanks, tzurriz. I am flexible and willing to adapt, but perhaps a little less so when baking - in my experience, it's a more exact art, and somehow more upsetting when it goes awry. This post will probably turn into a series of experiments, but I'm still curious to tap into others' experiences.

        Here's something I just found in the archives, as a substitute for heavy cream: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/342315

        Combine:
        3/4 cup milk
        1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted and cooled

        I routinely mix milk and melted butter for waffles, and my experience is that they separate almost immediately. Maybe that's because the butter is still hot? Would that matter? I wonder if the separation makes any difference in most recipes?

        5 Replies
        1. re: Allison_

          I'd try mixing them in the blender, what you need is for them to actually emulsify. Get the blender going with the butter first, and then slowly drizzle in the milk.

          Never tried this, juts how I'd go about it the first time.

          1. re: tzurriz

            There is a product called MimiCreme that is supposed to taste and act just like cream in sweet and savory foods. I haven't tried it, but it looks very interesting. It's made from almonds and cashews. Google it and see if this might work for you. I plan on trying this product as I'm lactose intolerant as well, but have gotten by baking wise with soy milk and earth balance margarine. Cream has always been a bit of a challenge, so maybe MimiCreme might be a good alternative.

            1. re: addicted2cake

              hmmm, i just checked out the MimiCreme website. interesting. as far as i can tell, it's thickened nut milk. it's not necessarily a low-fat product, but it is lower in fat than dairy-based cream, and much lower in saturated fat.

              it sounds like some of the posters at Post Punk Kitchen have had good luck with it in soups & things...i might have to try it. i'm going to contact the regional distributor for my area to find out if anyone near me carries it.

              1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                I'm sure it works, but $5 is a lot to spend every time I want to use cream. I saw something on the Food Network yesterday that is probably almost exactly the same, except not soy-free: cashews soaked in soy milk for 20 minutes and then pureed. You'd have to figure out the right proportions, and find some reasonably affordable cashews, but at least it could be made in < 1 litre quantities... Interestingly, there's a popular vegan ice cream book that's based on cashew cream.

                1. re: Allison_

                  cashew cream is popular in raw and vegan cuisine. i can't have soy, so unfortunately the one you saw on FN wouldn't work for me. i make my own nut milks all the time, but that MimiCreme product contains rice starch which must result in a much thicker, creamier product. i may buy it to see what it's like, and then attempt to recreate it at home using tapioca or arrowroot.

        2. I just saw your post, I"m new to Chowhound and am also looking for a lactose free cream, but for whipping! A friend who is lactose intolerant lived in Sweden and told me they have all sorts of lactose free products from cheeses and milks to yogurts and creams, so much more than we do, I guess, because Swedes and Fins are culturally (?) lactose intolerant.

          I've found two cream products, one that's manufactured in Ireland that is LOW lactose called Pritchitts Millac Gold, a Low Lactose cream, and also another product from Sweden's Valio dairy, I'm not sure of the exact name. I've been trying to find out if there is any USA distributor or mail order source of either product. I need to ask her if this is what she remembers, a LOW lactose product or a Lactose FREE product. I want to make her a birthday cake with a mousse topping!

          It seems like there would be a great demand for this in the USA, if someone would import it. They seem to be packaged in the packs that don't need to be refrigerated. I'm going to see if Surfas in Culver City would give it a try... Maybe even Whole Foods, who knows? Maybe if we all call Surfas or Whole Foods! It seems so close yet so far...