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The best dairy-free milks for baking and desserts.


If you’re lactose intolerant, on a vegan diet or simply cutting back on dairy, we have good news for you. Dairy-free baking is gaining traction. That means it’s easier than ever to swap out cow’s milk when making your favorite sweet and savory bakes.

Generally, you can substitute any plant-based milk for dairy milk. However, some options are better than others when it comes to baking. For example, you don’t want to throw off the flavor profile of a hearty, savory bread with a distinctive taste like coconut. On the other hand, nutty almond milk or neutral oat milk could work perfectly.

The ultimate goal of dairy-free baking is to create something that looks and tastes like it contains classic dairy ingredients. Here’s how to choose the best dairy-free milks for baking.

Understanding the role of milk in baking.

Dairy milk is traditionally used in cakes, cookies, custards, breads and other bakes. Obviously, milk impacts the moisture levels in these recipes. 

But did you know milk’s sugars and proteins deliver sweetness and structure? Or that it contributes to the browning process? Fun fact: This is called the Maillard reaction. It’s the chemical reaction between amino acids and sugars that causes the delectable browning.

Today, we have a number of plant-based milk alternatives that can help replicate the baking properties traditionally achieved with dairy milk. Fat and protein content make a big difference when baking, so remember to read the labels of your plant-based milks carefully.

Almond milk

With origins that can be traced back back to the Middle Ages, almond milk is one of the most enduring plant-based beverages. In the early 2000s, it enjoyed a boom as vegetarianism and veganism gained in popularity. 

Today, almond milk remains a popular choice for many. Its neutral, slightly nutty flavor easily complements many baked goods while allowing more robust flavors to shine through. 

This versatile favorite works great in cakes and other sweet treats, like our Gingerbread Loaf Cake with Poached Pears. Just make sure to choose the unflavored variety, or you may add some flavors you weren’t expecting.

Coconut milk

With its rich texture and distinctive aroma, coconut milk is a wonderful addition to creamy sauces like the ones found in our Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese and Slow Cooker Coconut Curry.

Though subtle, coconut milk will add a coconut flavor to your finished product, so be sure to keep your flavor profiles in mind. With Pacific Foods Organic Unsweetened Coconut Milk, it’s easy to keep your favorite recipes deliciously dairy free.

Oat milk

Oat milk has long been a part of the scene at coffee shops with foamy oat milk lattes, cappuccinos and iced coffees. More recently, chefs, home cooks and bakers have started substituting oat milk for dairy milk in their recipes.

Oat milk has a more neutral flavor than other plant-based alternatives. It is also less likely to change the taste of what you’re making — its lightly toasted oat flavor actually enhances the flavor profile of many treats. In fact, many people report making the swap with nearly undetectable results. Oat milk is the unsung hero in our Dairy-Free Berry Cobbler and Non-Dairy Rosemary Biscuits.

Hemp Milk

Hemp milk, made from the seeds of the hemp plant, is a relative newcomer to the world of plant-based milks but is quickly gaining popularity for its nutritional benefits and culinary versatility. It is particularly rich in omega-3 fatty acids, making it a healthful addition to any diet.

Hemp milk’s slightly earthy, nutty taste pairs well with hearty baked goods. Its creamy texture is excellent for moistening batters and doughs without overpowering other ingredients. Try it in our Dairy-Free Strawberry Sheet-Pan Pancakes or Vegan Lemon Poppyseed Loaf.

Soy milk

There’s a vocal contingency of bakers who champion soy milk as the best-performing milk alternative for baking. Why? 

We know that the high protein content in dairy milk encourages browning and adds structure to baked goods. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a cup of whole milk contains 8 grams of protein.

Soy milk has a similar amount of protein, with 7.95 grams per cup. This makes it a great substitute for dairy milk, especially when you’re looking to enhance the browning and structure of your bakes.

Tips for baking with dairy-free milk.

Naturally, none of the milk alternatives we’ve discussed have the same exact protein, fiber, fat and sweetness as dairy milk. Luckily for us, there are ways to even the score. 

As any experienced baker will tell you, baking is a science. And in science, experimentation is part of the process. So don’t be afraid to try different ingredients and techniques to make your baked goods and desserts the best they can be.

Here are some of our best ideas to break out on your next baking day.

Incorporate eggs.

Eggs bring a lot of the same qualities to baked goods as dairy milk. As long as you’re not following a strictly vegan diet or allergic, using eggs as directed can help preserve the structure and texture of your cookies, cakes and pies. 

Adjust liquid ratios.

When selecting from milk alternatives, choose wisely. If a recipe calls for nonfat milk, choose a lighter, thinner alternative. If it calls for heavy cream, a more robust option will work best. You may also want to consider adjusting the quantity of other liquids like water, oil and flavorings to achieve your desired consistency.

Consider sweetness levels.

When it comes to dairy-free milk options, sweetness levels tend to vary. If you’re using a sweeter alternative, like coconut milk, think about decreasing the amount of sugar and other sweeteners in your bake. Read labels carefully to ensure that you don’t pick up a sweetened or flavored milk alternative if that’s not what you want.

Explore additives.

Once only accessible to professional chefs and food scientists, additives are now readily available to the home baker. Xanthan gum is a thickening agent and stabilizer that also prevents ingredients from separating. Or try lecithin, often used as an emulsifier, which helps improve the texture of foods. Explore other additives to address your individual baking needs.

Ready to get started?

A brief internet search will reveal that, given ample time and the right ingredients, you can make many non-dairy milks at home. When it comes to baking, however, you’re already committed to gathering ingredients and investing your time. Reaching for a carton is undeniably more convenient than making your own. 

That’s where Pacific Foods comes in. With a variety of delicious, shelf-stable milks at the ready, we make it easy for you to explore the best dairy-free milks for baking. 

Find Pacific Foods plant-based milks at a nearby grocery store.