Dairy alternatives are ingredients used to replace dairy components in food products.

Dairy Alternatives

Also known as dairy substitutes

What are dairy alternatives?

Dairy alternatives are ingredients used to replace dairy components in food products. Demand for such ingredients has been driven by consumers’ concern about dairy allergies, lactose intolerance, hypercholesterolemia, high caloric foods and adoption of special diets such as vegans.

Classes of dairy alternatives include:

  • Nut based
  • Legume based
  • Cereal based
  • Pseudo cereal based
  • Seed based


Dairy alternatives have been around as early as 1200 AD when the term milk was associated with plant liquid extracts. Coconut milk is probably the oldest plant-based milk which originated in India and Southeast Asia. Other dairy alternatives include milk of soy, almond and others.2


Here is a brief summary of the most commonly used dairy alternatives in bakery products. The choice of a given ingredient depends on the dairy component to be replaced: 1,2,3

Dairy Product Common Milk Substitutes Function
Eggs Moisture replacement: Plant-based milks, non-dairy yogurt

Egg replacers for structure building: mostly starches from potato, tapioca, gums, soy flour, flaxseed meal.

Egg replacers for leavening: chemical leaveners.

  • Moisturizing
  • Aeration of batters
  • Binding
Butter Margarine, non dairy shortening, complex polysaccharides.
  • Texturizing, mainly reduced toughness and enhanced tenderness.
  • Moistness, improved mouthfeel and eliminating grittiness.
  • Leavening and air incorporation during creaming and baking.
  • Delayed staling: a result of butter interference with starch gelatinization
Milk Milk from nuts, seeds, cereals and legumes as well as apple sauce.
  • Dissolve sugars
  • Increase crust softness
  • Flavor blends
  • Provide moisture
Yogurt Non dairy yogurts, coconut milk creamer, non-dairy milk with applesauce
  • Dissolve sugars
  • Increase crust softness
  • Flavor blends
  • Provide moisture
Buttermilk Plant based milks mixed with an acid such as lemon juice, vinegar, apple cider vinegar, etc
  • Dissolve sugars
  • Increase crust softness
  • Flavor blends
  • Provide moisture


Dairy alternatives offer many health benefits such as added calcium and B- vitamins, no/low cholesterol or lactose. Some dairy alternatives provide a high protein content (soy milk) or soluble fibers (oat milk). 2

Commercial production

Plant- based milk alternatives are typically produced through the following process: 2

Wet processing

  • Soaking: cereals, legumes, nuts or seeds are placed in a kettle with water and salt for up to 12 hours.
  • Rinsing and draining
  • Grinding: soaked cereals, legumes, nuts or seeds are ground into a smooth puree.
  • Formulation: water, flavors, vitamins and minerals are added.
  • Thermal processing to ensure food safety.

Some further processing may be added depending on the plant-based alternative.

Dry processing

  • Drying: cereals, legumes, nuts or seeds are dried.
  • Grinding: dried cereals, legumes, nuts or seeds are ground into a fine powder.

The fine powders are later used as a base for baking, beverages or other formulations.


Dairy alternatives are used to replace dairy products in a variety of baked goods, such as: cakes, cookies, brownies, bread, among others. 2,3

When working with dairy alternatives some considerations must be taken into account: 2,3

Dairy Alternative Baked Good Substitution (general guidance)
Water or plan-based milks Bread, pastries, biscuits and cookies 1 cup substitutes 1 cup of milk.
Soy Flour Sugar cookies, cake, muffins and pancake Replace 1 egg with 1 tablespoon of soy flour and 1 tablespoon of water
Flaxseed Powder Cake, biscuits and custard Replace 1 egg with 25 g of flaxseed and 25 mL of water
Tofu Cheesecake Replace with 50% firm tofu and 50% soft tofu.
Margarine Cake, biscuits, and cookies Replacing butter in 1:1 ratio provides a mild flavor
Plant-based Milks Cakes with buttermilk Add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice to 1 cup of plant-based milk
Applesauce or fruit purées Brownies, cookies muffins Replace 1 egg with 3 tablespoons of applesauce


There is an ongoing debate regarding the labeling of plant-based dairy alternatives.

In the US, the FDA defines milk as the secretion of a mammal, and thus plant-based alternatives do not fall under this labeling category. No clear legislation has been put forward  for plant based labeling status.4

In the EU, the terms milk, egg, butter, yogurt, cream and buttermilk are reserved for animal derived products according to the EU Commission No 1308/2013.5


  1. Hui, Y. H., Corke,H., DeLeyn, I., Nip, W-K and Cross,N. Bakery products: science and technology. 1 st ed., John Wiley & Sons, 2006.
  2. McHugh, T. “How plant-based milks are processed.” Food Technology  72 (2018): 63-64.
  3. Figoni, P. How Baking Works: Exploring The Fundamentals Of Baking Science. 2nd ed., John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2008.
  4. US Food and Drug Administration. “Statement from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., on modernizing standards of identity and the use of dairy names for plant-based substitutes”. 27 September 2018.
  5. European Commission (Ec). Commission Regulation (Eu) No 1308/2013 Of The European Parliament And Of The Council Of 17 December 2013 Establishing A Common Organisation Of The Markets In Agricultural Products And Repealing Council Regulations (Eec) No 922/72, (Eec) No 234/79, (Ec) No 1037/2001 And (Ec) No 1234/2007 . Official Journal Of European Communities, 12 December 2013.

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