I recently heard that one in three people are lactose intolerant, which is staggering! Hands up if you are the one in three! If you know my story with gluten, my story with dairy is similar. I always knew I felt better when I didn’t eat it and the older I got, my symptoms became much more obvious. I knew I had a choice to eat it or not, but as it became more uncomfortable and embarrassing at times, the decision spoke for itself! It’s safe to say that if you are preparing to host a mixed group, someone at your table will be avoiding dairy. While gluten can be difficult to accommodate, many say that dairy is even more difficult for them. Before we break down my favorite swaps and products to have on hand for dairy-free guests, let’s talk about the difference between lactose intolerance and a dairy allergy.
Lactose is a natural sugar found in dairy products, and without going into a deep medical explanation, some of our bodies don’t have the enzyme needed to digest this. Someone with JUST lactose intolerance can eat dairy products that are “lactose-free,” meaning that this one part of the dairy product has been removed. Many brands like Cabot, Lactaid, and other easily found brands sell full milk products that are lactose-free. In some ways, this is a little more straightforward for hosts to work through. Your approach would be to simply look for labels on products that read, “lactose free.”
Dairy allergies are completely different from lactose intolerance. Those with allergies to dairy will experience symptoms with any form of standard dairy; it is not connected to the lactose, but rather to the milk as a whole. Oftentimes people think they are lactose intolerant, but really it goes deeper and is often undiagnosed for lack of a better term… but I’ll stop before I get on a soapbox! Either way, if your guest is allergic to dairy, you will instead be looking for foods made with alternate ingredients and are labeled “dairy free.”
Dairy can find its way into many unexpected foods from salad dressings to smoothies, cereals to spreads and dips. It is important to check the label under the ingredients in the allergen section to see if it lists “Contains: milk.” While I wish it could be more straightforward, it’s important to know that dairy can present itself in different forms. These are some other ingredients and words which also mean that the particular item contains dairy:
I remember when I first started to experiment with dairy free products and cooking. I’ll give you a glimpse into what it was like…it wasnt good! Now, with the development of products and the market, along with a few years of practice under my belt, I can say that what I’ve learned to create is something that everyone at the table would enjoy. Our hope is to give you products and recipes that you can prepare for a mixed table and EVERYONE will enjoy it. We are setting out to prevent the “yours and ours” divide that special diet food has the potential of causing at a table. Trust me, I’ve eaten my way through the market and these staples are the best of their kind!
Ice cream, ice cream, we all scream when we can’t have ice cream! There are dozens of brands on the market now for dairy free options! However, if you know us at Gather, we are always looking for brands with the cleanest, nutrient rich ingredients! We have found that the Eat Mud brand is our favorite. It is far better than any standard diet alternative, a little more pricey for sure, but made with dates and coconut cream and will wow ANY crowd. We also have recently become fans of Talenti Gelato Dairy Free Cold Brew sold at most major stores. Note that this option contains eggs and cane sugar.
Many people think they can live without cream cheese until they…try to live without cream cheese. For years the options were subpar but now they are really amazing! Our favorite brand for ingredient integrity and useability is Kite Hill brand, available in many flavors. I will also note that I have used this in baking as a 1-to-1 alternative and it works beautifully! I recently have also become fond of Violife’s cream cheese on a bagel, and it is wonderful for eating that way. NOTE: If you were to buy that brand, it does NOT bake well. Learn from me and my recent cheesecake soup that I’m still cleaning off my oven.
Buttercream used to be near impossible to make if a guest was dairy free. While I have wonderful homemade recipes, Simple MIlls recently came out with a canned frosting and it’s all you’ll ever need! Use this on gluten-free cake layers, your favorite cake recipes, or however you’d like and it will NOT disappoint. It can be found at most major grocery stores and on Amazon. Available in a few flavors as well, this product will make celebrating so much easier!
If you were to walk down the yogurt aisle, you would find almost as many options now as regular milk options! To stay true to ingredient watching, I try to find brands without added corn, sugar, soy and other unnecessary ingredients! My current favorite is Oatly Plain yogurt found in my local store which resembles plain yogurt! I also really enjoy Kite Hill’s greek yogurt and Forager brands yogurt. If you don’t mind a little added sugar, Yoplait’s OUI line has a dairy free option that is truly divine!
Depending on if your guest is lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy will determine what option you should choose. Lactaid is a brand made with cow’s milk that has the lactose removed. However my go-to brand is Calafia for almond milk! It is really fresh, contains no fillers, and is great for whatever you need it for! If your guest has additional allergies such as nuts, oat milk is really wonderful and surprisingly thick and creamy as well! Just note that if you need to use it in cooking, avoid getting flavored options such as vanilla and go for the plain option.
Do you NEED queso? Well, that’s a tough question. I’ll say yes. Siete is a terrific brand to be aware of for absolutely wonderful, high quality, nutrient rich, creative options for special diets. They have developed a white and regular queso that can be used in recipes or as a dip found in your local stores refrigerated produce section.
Ok, cheese is by far the most difficult part of going dairy-free. While the options are getting better I’ll be the first one to say they still are not 100%. So, what I’ve done is looked for the options that are the best with what’s available. I have found that the VIOLIFE brand, found in your store’s produce section, cooks and tastes the best! Sometimes people with dairy sensitivities can tolerate goat milk, so ask them! If they can, Trader Joe’s has a whole shelf of goat milk based cheese, e.g. brie and cheddar! Those would be your best bet.
Butter is in everything, and rightly so! While there are many dairy free butter options on the market, they are not created equal! Many are made with soy and other ingredients that many people try to avoid! I have found that two of the newest brands not only have the best nutrients BUT taste and cook the best! They may be a little harder to find, but it’s worth checking! Kite Hill & Forager brands sell their butter in tubs and let me tell you, you’ll lick it off the spoon! Use this option in anything you need butter for!
Is there something you need to swap for your upcoming hospitality event? We want to be a continued resource for you! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions about cooking for dairy-free guests!