Lactose-Free Cream Substitutes

by Michele Turcotte, MS, RD

A log of silken tofu has been sliced.

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Lactose intolerance is a disorder characterized by an inability to break down the sugar found in milk — lactose — due to low levels of lactase in the small intestine. If you're lactose--intolerant but enjoy having cream on occasion or want to use a recipe that calls for cream, several lactose--free options are available.


Lactose intolerance is common, and as the Texas Department of Health/Nutrition Services points out, its prevalence varies according to race. Roughly 25 percent of the Caucasian population in the U.S. is thought to suffer from lactose intolerance, while among Native American, Asian--American and African--American populations, the prevalence may be as high as 90 percent. If these individuals consume dairy products containing lactose, they may suffer abdominal pain, cramping and diarrhea.


Puréed silken tofu has a consistency similar to that of light cream. Another option is using a blend of soy or rice milk and dairy--free melted margarine or oil, such as extra-light olive oil. Depending on the ratio, this mixture can serve as a substitute for light or heavy cream. Coconut cream may be used as a substitute or puréed medium firm or firm silken tofu.


Firm silken tofu, puréed silken tofu and coconut cream can be substituted for light or heavy cream using a 1:1 ratio in recipes. To substitute soy or rice milk plus dairy-free melted margarine or extra light olive oil for light cream, use a 3:1 ratio of milk to margarine or oil. To substitute this mixture for heavy cream, use a 2:1 ratio. Light cream substitutes are appropriate for use in sauces, such as pasta cream sauces. Heavy cream substitutes may be used as a base for a dessert, such as chocolate mousse.


Silken tofu should be puréed in a food processor for best results; hand-mixing may result in a lumpy product. Also, while heavy cream substitutes work for recipes and in cream sauces, they don't whip like real heavy cream. Thus, they don't work well as replacements for whipping cream as a dessert topping. Flavor is also a consideration: Soy milk has a slightly nutty flavor, while coconut cream has a mild coconut flavor.


While rice and rice milk are relatively low-allergen food products, according to the Wellness website, soy and soy products are among the top seven most common food allergens. According to the same source, coconut is also a frequent food allergen. If you're allergic to dairy products, use caution when substituting light or heavy cream with soy or coconut products, as these too are common food allergens.

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About the Author

Michele Turcotte is a registered, licensed dietitian, and a certified personal trainer with the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She has more than 12 years of experience in clinical and corporate settings, and has extensive experience in one-on-one diet counseling and meal planning. She has written freelance food and nutrition articles for Trouve Publishing Inc. since 2004.