Thursday, May 14, 2009

Dairy-free alternatives
Cream cheese

Friends of mine recently discovered that their young son is lactose-intolerant, a fact which will undoubtedly result in an adjustment for the whole family, if only in accommodating his dietary needs differently than for the rest of the group. This got me thinking about the knowledge I've acquired in terms of how to get around my own dietary restrictions, and how few resources I was able to get my hands on while I was looking into ways to still do something I love — cooking — while having to find cheats for the dairy components.

A lot of the time, having to make a non-dairy component to a recipe separately, then adding it in later, means that you're often working on a couple of, or several, recipes at a time. This is an unfortunate fact about cooking non-dairy recipes. Some of the time, you'll be able to track down and buy a product that is ready to use right away, but this usually isn't the case. That said, making your own dairy-free substitutes gives you control over the ingredients you use in a way that finding a pre-packaged product can't.

For this post, I want to cover cream cheese substitutes. I've blogged about "chezz" in the past, but have since made some new discoveries, so I wanted to update. Here's a breakdown of the four options, and some of their pros and cons:
  • Tofutti's Better Than Cream Cheese: my "go to" choice for baking. It's the most convincingly cream cheese-like option I've tried in terms of flavour and texture and costs less than the priciest alternative. The downside is that it contains trans fats. I try to limit its use to baking, so that individual serving sizes contain only trace amounts of trans fats.

  • Tofutti's Better Than Cream Cheese (No Trans Fat): costs the same as the above option. It's "stiffer" in texture than Tofutti's other offering, and slightly sweeter. Since it contains no trans fats, however, this is my preferred option for spreading on toast.

  • Bute Island's Original Creamy Sheese: the most expensive choice listed (and possibly out of all dairy-free cream cheeses, period). That said, its texture and flavour are comparable to Tofutti's trans fatty Better Than Cream Cheese, without any of the trans fats it is a tiny bit grainier in texture, but it's a small price to pay for the lack of hydrogenation. It's ingredients are also less dubious in origin. Additionally, this is truly vegan, something which Tofutti's products can't claim. This is definitely a splurge item, but when I want to have "real" cream cheese on or in a dish, this is what I choose.

  • Yoso's Spreadables: There is not enough ick in the world to describe. Pass this one up.

  • Homemade Cream Chezz: a recipe I found in a vegan cookbook calls for curdling soy milk with lemon juice and allowing the resultant mixture to drain in a cheesecloth-lined sieve overnight before adding salt to taste. I've attempted this once and found it so unappealing that I threw most of it out, being unable to find a recipe that I could salvage it in.

For those looking into ways to eliminate or reduce dairy from their diets, my key bit of advice is to look into vegan recipes. The vegans are a bunch who refuse to consume anything derived from animals, yet crave a lot of the guilty pleasures the majority of us consider almost daily weaknesses (like my personal favourites, Cheetos). If you're looking for a dairy-free food you love, ask the vegans first, odds are good one of them has developed something to suit you.



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