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Milk Alternatives

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When I first learned, all the way back in 1978, that I had Lactose Intolerance (LI), there were only a bare handful of non-dairy milk alternatives. Now there are hundreds, complementing just about every single dairy product in existence. Here's a quick review.

(Note: many of these products contain some form of the milk protein casein. This is not a problem for those with LI, but should be avoided by anyone with a milk protein allergy. Always check the ingredients list before buying.)

There are two basic varieties of alternatives to fresh liquid milk. The coffee creamers started out as variations on half-and-half. Now they come in low fat and fat free versions as well. Whether powdered, refrigerated or frozen, you can find these in any supermarket: brand names include Cremora, Coffee-mate, Coffee Rich, Mocha Mix, and Vitamite.

Once found only in health food stores, now popping up everywhere, are "milks" based on soy, almonds, oats, rice, even corn syrup and potato starch. The Products section of my web site lists well over 200 of these, if you include every different flavor or amount of fat. Unflavored versions substitute well in recipes that call for milk; flavored versions, which can come fat-free, low-fat, whole, enriched, or fortified, powdered or refrigerated, are drinks in their own right. Some of the major brands include Westsoy, Pacific, Rice Dream, and DariFree.

Many of these brands have branched out into other milk alternative products. Pacific markets a non-dairy "cream' sauce base; Rice makes a sour cream alternative; Tofutti has sour cream and cream cheese alternatives, plus a huge line of frozen desserts, all soy-based.

In fact, frozen desserts invaded supermarkets before all but a few other non-dairy foods did. Some, like Mocha Mix and Its Soy Delicious, are also soy-based. Many, like Rice Dream and Sweet Nothings, are brown rice-syrup based. A few, including Living Lightly, are both. There are also the oat-based OatsCream and the potato-based DariFree*ze. Don't forget to look beyond the tubs for bars, sticks, pies, and cones. You will also occasionally find non-dairy "ice creams" at frozen goodies stands even in mall food courts.

Cheese is a hard thing to duplicate without dairy: to make it melt properly, casein must be added. Formägg, Soymage, and Soya Kaas, among many others, all add caseinate to their soy-based "cheeses." The Rella people have a line of every type: not just TofuRella and Zero-Fat Rella, but also AlmondRella, the nut-based, casein-free VeganRella, and even, I kid you not, HempRella.

There are well over a dozen milk-free margarines on the market. One tip with these: look for the word pareve or parve on the package. Parve foods cannot contain any milk or meat; this makes them neutral and acceptable in any meal under Kosher dietary law. Looking for pareve foods is always a good idea, no matter where in the store you are.

Want something more along the lines of a whole meal? Many of the better-known brands making natural frozen foods are using non-dairy cheese in their pizzas and pastas, or creating totally cheese-free varieties. You'll find brands from Amy's to Wolfgang Puck doing this, and brand extenders from lines I've already mentioned, including Rice, Formägg, and Tofutti.

The real question is not whether creating non-dairy variations on the real thing exist, but how good a job do they do? That's impossible for me to answer. I've found, both from e-mail people send me and discussions online, that some people swear by products that others swear at. If you're brand new to the non-dairy world, the taste of almost any of these will take some getting used to. The good news in 2000 is that every category has so many entries in it that finding at least one that hits the spot is no longer the overwhelming challenge it was in 1978.

For a listing of hundreds of these produce, see my Product Clearinghouse.

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