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Low fat dairy + curdling

I want to ask about some experiences cooking with low fat/fat free dairy. If a recipe normally includes cream (soup, maybe a sauce for example), and I wanted to add a little bit of creaminess without the fat, I have had issues in the past of adding a lower fat milk (1%) and having it curdle with heat. Has anyone had this experience? Has anyone picked up any good tips for cooking with low fat dairy?
I see some low fat recipes calling for skim evaporated milk- what have you had good results using that for (if anything?)

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  1. Why do you want to use low-fat anything? Low-fat dairy has concentrated sugar (bad). It is more processed. It doesn't cook/bake as well and doesn't taste as good. Half of the vitamins you take in are fat soluable. Your brain needs fat. Etc.

    3 Replies
    1. re: sandylc

      Agree on the quality and nutrition issues, but I did want to point out that reduced fat milk is no more processed than "whole" milk from the grocery.

      1. re: sandylc

        I used a lot of low fat dairy when I was working on losing weight. At first I was eating 1200 calories a day, then upped to 1500 after awhile. When you're limited on calories, every little calorie counts. 1 cup of heavy cream has ~820 calories 1 cup of 1% has ~110 calories. That's a big difference, even if you break it down into tablespoons.

        Now that I've hit the weight I wanted to be at, and subsequently am eating more calories to maintain it, I don't use the low fat products that much anymore, except to drink or for cereal (both of which I do rarely) as I don't like whole milk by itself.... I grew up on fat free milk and I find whole milk to be kind of gross.

      2. IME evaporated milk tastes nothing like fresh milk or dairy. Fat free evaporated milk tastes like cooked weirdness, or at least it did the last time I used it circa 1991. You can try it, but unless whatever you're making is heavily seasoned or flavored, you'll taste evaporated milk.

        You'd be amazed what a tablespoon or two of high quality full fat dairy will do for adding "a little bit of creaminess".

        I don't do well with dairy-intense stuff and as a result of that I learned that well cooked cauliflower--steam to really mushy and then puree--makes an excellent dairy substitute in cream soups, etc. Not the real thing, flavor-wise, but it does come close, texturally.

        No low or nonfat fresh dairy is going to tolerate boiling. If you must use these, only add them at the last minute to finish the dish, and don't ever simmer or boil.

        1. I use skim milk to make cream of _______ soups. I always start with a roux and never ever boil after adding the milk. The milk is the very last thing and gently heated until very warm. Skim is the milk we drink so that's what I have on hand. And it's organic, which greatly improves the flavor imo.

          As for sauces, I don't know how to get around that. I usually go for half and half or heavy cream.

          1. It has been recently recommended that children and the elderly drink whole milk, not fat-reduced.

            1. creamy = fat. 1% milk is mostly water. yuk.

              if, for example, you're making soup and are being fat-phobic about it, make the soup with excellent stock. take off the heat and stir in a few tablespoons of cream at the end.

              for a sauce to be stable with low-fat milk you need to start with a roux.

              1. I will not comment on using low fat products. The OP isn't asking for opinions on her dietary choices, but rather advice on experiences with using low/fat free dairy. Everyone has different reasons for wanting to use lower fat products.

                I've done a lot of testing with this. It curdles because of the heat. And, I've found, mostly in soups or more watery sauces (like for curries), it just doesn't work to sub in a lower fat product. Usually whole milk may work instead of heavy cream or half and half, but not low or no fat milk. Also, like others mentioned, you have to add it at the very end, when all the cooking is completed. Also, you will never get the full fledged creaminess you would get with a heavy cream if you're using a lower fat product, but it's still decent.

                I've subbed in low fat or full fat greek yogurt for heavy cream to turn a red sauce into a cream sauce, or to sub for sour cream/heavy cream in things like mashed potatoes. But just like milk, it doesn't work in more watery stuff like soups. The 0% greek yogurt doesn't tend to work.

                I have not tried evaporated milk, although today a cheese dip I am making calls for it. Not using the skim version though as the recipe didn't call for it.

                I'm a participant on a weight loss board and the registered dietician there has suggested using powdered milk as a way to cream up soups etc., but I have not tried it.

                2 Replies
                1. re: juliejulez

                  I'm a participant on a weight loss board and the registered dietician there has suggested using powdered milk as a way to cream up soups etc., but I have not tried it.
                  similar to my past experiences with fat free evap. milk, I have used nonfat powdered milk as a substitute in cream soups, etc. IIRC, it works OK, but again is only a vague approximation of the real thing. As I said upthread, if you're going this route, I think the cauliflower puree is a much better option. It adds that velvety texture that you'd expect from full fat dairy. If I had known about this trick in the heyday of low fat everything I would have thought I won the lottery.

                  1. re: splatgirl

                    since going low-carb, i have learned to love cauliflower, especially pureed as in faux mashed potatoes. the other day i used it as a potato sub in a fritatta-type thing. while it is satisfying as a starch replacement it doesn't provide the mouthfeel or flavor-carry that cream does. no way, no how.

                2. Lol thanks everyone for the tips and nutrition advice. I'm actually a registered dietitian so this inquiry is really for my clients. I typically will go the "touch of cream" route but some people have asked me about alternatives for everyday cooking so I thought Id ask.
                  I love the cauliflower idea - a great way to sneak in more veg. Thanks!