I am hearing more and more these days about people having specific food allergies or intolerances. Most schools are now “peanut free zones” and there are so many more products on the market that are gluten-free than ever before. I recently had a question about a dairy-free diet for a child. According to the National Food Service Management Institute, milk allergies are found in two to five percent of children under the age of three. Cow’s milk allergy is the most common cause of allergic reactions in young children. This allergy is usually outgrown in the first few years of life but not always. And many people, as they get older, find it more difficult to digest dairy products.
Although many proteins in milk can cause an allergic reaction, the two main proteins in milk are Casein (found in the solid part) and Whey ( found in the liquid part). Avoiding milk and cheese on a dairy-free diet is what is expected but beware as many non-dairy products and processed foods contain casein and whey. In addition, the term “dairy-free” does not have an FDA-regulated definition, so there is no assurance the product does not contain milk proteins. It is important to always read labels. Even some brands of soy-based products may contain casein or are made in production facilities on equipment shared with dairy.
So, what can you substitute for various dairy products in cooking and baking? Water or fruit juice along with any of the commercially-produced cow’s milk alternatives (i.e. soy, rice, almond, coconut) can be substituted in equal amounts. Goat’s milk however should not be used as a substitute.
If substituting for butter in baked goods, use a dairy-free margarine with a low water content and a high fat content. Stick margarine usually contains less water than tub. If substituting for butter as a spread, I have had good results with the Earth Balance brand.
Cheeses are sometimes more difficult to find an agreeable substitute for as they do not taste or melt the same as traditional cheeses. Although there continues to be more milk-free cheeses available from different brands.
If your recipe calls for sweetened condensed milk or evaporated milk, you can make your own. Start by making evaporated milk which means the milk has had it’s water content reduced by 60%. Three cups of soy or rice milk simmered down to one cup will work for evaporated milk. To make sweetened condensed milk, add one and one-fourth cups sugar to that one cup of evaporated milk and heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. If your recipe calls for buttermilk, simply add one tablespoon vinegar to one cup of milk alternative.
Regardless of which food allergy or intolerance you or someone you are caring for may have, there are many options available to fit into your lifestyle/diet.