Whether you're vegan or lactose intolerant or you're simply ditching dairy for dietary purposes, there are many reasons to make the switch from dairy to nondairy products.
This also includes using it as a way to help lighten the calories on many different recipes, especially when 1 cup of sweetened dairy whipped cream contains 400 calories – 90 percent of which is fat, while only 2 percent is protein. Although some recipes call for whipping cream, there are nondairy substitutes that still make this possible.
Many coffee shops like Starbucks also offer nondairy alternatives, so you can enjoy dairy-free benefits the next time you stop by the drive-through for your morning jolt, but first, start by making your own nondairy heavy cream substitutes right in your kitchen.
What Is Heavy Cream?
Heavy cream is a dairy product that contains a lot of butterfat (38 percent, to be exact). This is a lot in comparison to other dairy products such as half-and-half, which only contains around 12 percent fat.
While this higher content of fat certainly isn't good for those who are looking to trim their waistline, it does mean that heavy cream is capable of being whipped, thus turning it into whipping cream. Heavy cream is actually another name for whipped cream. It can be used to top a variety of different desserts.
Higher fat also means that there is a lesser chance of curdling compared to dairy items with less fat. It also makes heavy cream great for churning into ice cream and acting as a creamy base in savory dishes such as soups and sauces.
Nondairy Substitutes for Heavy Cream
Coconut cream, soy milk with olive oil and silken tofu with soy milk all make great dairy-free substitutes for heavy cream. The good thing about these nondairy substitutes is that almost all of them are vegan friendly, and they also work for recipes that call for whipping cream.
Substitute #1: Coconut Cream
Coconut has been having a moment these past few years due to it being a healthy alternative to many dairy items out there. When using it as a substitute for heavy cream, be aware that while many coconut cream products are soy free, dairy free and gluten free, there are some that do contain dairy. You will have to be extra careful reading the product label before adding it to your cart.
Nonetheless, coconut adds a sweet flavor and creaminess to several dishes, including pastas, curries and a long list of desserts. A coconut cream substitute for heavy cream is perfect for using in recipes that call for whipped cream, as do a ton of delicious vegan desserts. Simply use the 1:1 ratio of using the same amount of coconut cream for what is asked of heavy cream.
Additional Notes on Coconut Cream
If you need to substitute carton coconut cream for canned, that's totally fine. The only difference is that for recipes that call for a higher fat content, canned coconut cream will be required.
The good news about coconut cream is that it's not as strong in taste as shredded coconut, so it shouldn't change the flavor of your dish too much. If anything, it will simply add a bit of sweetness.
Substitute #2: Soy Milk and Olive Oil
Soy milk is a plant-based, nondairy beverage that's made from – no surprise here – soybeans. While there has been quite the debate over whether soy milk is healthy, it does serve one great purpose: acting as a dairy-free substitute for heavy cream.
To use it, you will also need olive oil, which adds fat to soy milk, giving it a flavor and function that is similar to heavy cream. Simply take 2/3 cup of soy milk and mix it with 1/3 cup of olive oil. Extra light is best so as not to overwhelm the recipe with its strong flavor.
This will result in 1 cup of nondairy heavy cream. Take note that you cannot use this as a substitute in recipes calling for whipping cream.
Substitute #3: Silken Tofu and Soy Milk
This nondairy heavy cream substitute is one that can be whipped to create the whipping cream that is an essential component to certain recipes. For both heavy cream and whipping cream, you will use soy milk along with silken tofu. It is essentially made from condensed soy milk and then shaped into white blocks with a solid texture.
This substitute has a 1:1 ratio, so you can use equal parts of both ingredients to form the exact measurement needed for a recipe that calls for heavy cream. Once you have equal parts, add both ingredients to a blender or food processor and blend until the mixture is smooth and thick.
If you require whipping cream for desserts, simply add sugar or vanilla extract to this mixture to get it prepped as a vegan, nondairy topping.
Substitutes for Half-and-Half
If you are looking for a substitute for half-and-half, you can use a combination of half milk and half cream, or you can use evaporated milk. However, be aware that neither of these substitutes is dairy free.
Half-and-Half Substitute: Milk and Cream
This substitute is easy to put together and can be used in cooking or just as a way to add some creaminess to your morning coffee.
The substitute for half-and-half lies in its very name, as in: Use half milk and half cream to form the exact same recipe that you find in the store. Simply use equal parts by mixing together 1/2 cup whole milk and 1/2 cup light cream to form 1 cup of half-and-half.
Note that this cannot be used for whipping cream. You will have to use heavy cream or a suitable heavy cream substitute for that.
Half-and-Half Substitute: Evaporated Milk
Evaporated milk is not like cream. It has about 60 percent of its water removed. It also goes by the name "canned milk" since it's typically sold in cans. It's richer and creamier than regular milk.
Despite this, it is possible to use evaporated milk as a substitute for half-and-half. You simply use a 1:1 ratio of evaporated milk and half-and-half. If a recipe calls for 1 cup of half-and-half, use 1 cup of evaporated milk. It's as simple as that.
Nondairy Cream Cheese Substitutes
Finding dairy-free cream cheese substitutes is a bit harder than finding substitutes that do contain dairy. It's harder but not impossible. One option is to use a tofu spread. Tofutti is a good one since it has a similar texture to cream cheese.
You can use tofu spread on your toasted bagel in the morning just like you would with cream cheese, and it comes in a variety of flavors. It doesn't hurt that it has half the fat of regular cream cheese and is also high in protein.
Cashews and coconut cream are another option. When mixed together in a food processor with other ingredients such as lemon juice, water and apple cider vinegar, it transforms into a cream cheese consistency. This results in a healthy spread that is also vegan and is perfect for those on a Paleo diet.
- The Kitchn: What’s the Difference Between Half-and-Half, Light Cream, Whipping Cream, and Heavy Cream?
- The Spruce Eats: Soy Milk and Your Health
- Healthline: The 10 Best Substitutes for Heavy Cream
- The Spruce Eats: 6 Best Non-Dairy Milk Alternatives
- Karissa's Vegan Kitchen: Canned vs. Carton Coconut Milk
- The Kitchn: 4 Easy Ways to Make Your Own Half-and-Half Substitute
- The Spruce Eats: The Different Kinds of Milk and Cream
- Paleo Gluten Free Eats: Dairy Free Paleo Cream Cheese Recipe
- Extra Crispy: The Best Cream Cheese Substitutes for Every Situation
Sarah is a multi-platform writer and editor. Her work has appeared in USA Today, Vital Proteins, Healthline, Diply, and more. When she's not writing, she's trying to keep up with her border collie, Emmy.