If you don’t have whole milk on hand, or can’t use it for dietary purposes, you may find yourself looking for alternatives. There are several whole milk substitutes that you can use, and that you may already have in your kitchen.
Whole milk is commonly used in cooking and baking to provide rich texture and flavor. Whole milk is thick because its fat content has not been removed. This adds body to the recipes it is used in. It is used in many different types of recipes, both in baking and cooking. You can find whole milk in soups, ice cream, soft cheeses, cakes, sauces, mashed potatoes, and more.
The Best Whole Milk Substitutes
Using whole milk in baking is a little different than in regular cooking. Whole milk provides moisture content and contributes to the texture and density of your baked goods. When you use substitutions for whole milk, keep in mind that the texture and flavor may be slightly different.
Cooking sauces, soups, and other regular savory dishes won’t require you to be quite as exact. Still, you’ll want to keep in mind that any substitutions you use may result in a different texture or taste.
Here are some of the best whole milk substitutes that you can use in your recipes. We’re including dairy-based and non-dairy options so that you have alternatives in case you’re avoiding whole milk for dietary purposes.
You can generally use any other milk regardless of the fat content (non-fat, 2% milk, etc.). Use the same measurement of your substitute as is called for in the recipe. So, you would use 1 cup of fat free milk in place of 1 cup of whole milk. Because it is milk, this substitution won’t change the flavor or texture of the recipe much if at all.
All variations of cow’s milk can be substituted for whole milk in baking and cooking recipes without significantly changing the finished product.
If you have heavy cream on hand, you can replace whole milk with ½ cup of water and ½ cup of heavy cream. Because heavy cream is high in fat content, this substitution will render very similar results in your recipe as whole milk would.
Because heavy cream is still dairy based, you can use this in all cooking and baking recipes that call for whole milk without affecting the finished product.
Half and Half
You may use this for your coffee and have plenty of it in the fridge. Good news: you can use it in place of whole milk. To replace one cup of whole milk, you can use ¼ cup of water and ¾ cup of half and half.
Again, this dairy-based whole milk substitute can be used in all recipes for baking and cooking without affecting the flavor and texture of the end product.
Cream cheese is a good whole milk substitute for sauces, or hot dishes like mashed potatoes and mac and cheese. You probably don’t want to use it in cakes. But in a pinch, you can melt it, thin it out with water, and add it to your recipes as needed.
Cream cheese is very thick, with a bit of a tang, and when used in recipes, you can see a bit of the cheese pull from the stickiness of it. It’s perfect for any hot, cheese-based dish, can be added to sauces as a thickener, and can be used in some soups. If you don’t want that rich, cheesy effect, don’t use this one in place of your whole milk.
Of course there are exceptions for every rule, and many baked goods call for cream cheese, like cheesecake, some brownies, etc. But know your recipe – those call for cream cheese as a main ingredient, not as a milk substitute, so when in doubt, leave it out.
This non-dairy substitute is used in place of milk, but has a consistency closer to water. It won’t provide the creamy texture that whole milk adds, but you can use it as a substitute for cooking and baking in equal measurements.
Opt for the plain almond milk, not the flavored versions. Even the plain may change the flavor of your recipe a bit, as it has slightly sweet undertones. I love using it as a substitute in some soups and in baked goods, but I don’t like it as much in mashed potatoes or mac and cheese.
This non-dairy substitute has a high-fat content so it will have a similar consistency to whole milk and serves as a great substitute. Coconut milk does have a distinct flavor though, and will be noticeable in your recipe if you’re using it in large quantities. Small amounts as substitution shouldn’t affect the flavor much.
Also keep in mind that there is a difference between canned coconut milk and versions that are sold as ready to drink beverages. I recommend canned coconut milk as a whole milk substitute. It is a great alternative for soups and sauces.
A thicker version of coconut milk, coconut cream can be thinned out with one tablespoon of water to three tablespoons of coconut cream and used as a non-dairy replacement for whole milk in baking and cooking. Like coconut milk, when used in large quantities, the coconut flavor may be noticeable in your dish.
Use canned coconut cream as a substitute for whole milk if you’re looking for a vegan option or to avoid dairy all together. It’s a great alternative for sauces, soups, curries, custards, cakes, and other baked goods.
This is a good non-dairy substitute for whole milk. Soy milk is creamy and can be used in equal measurements as a replacement in your recipes without affecting the flavor too much.
Use soy milk as a whole milk substitute in sauces, both savory and sweet, as well as soups and baked goods. This is a good vegan alternative to dairy.
If you need a non-dairy substitute for whole milk without changing the flavor of your dish, you can swap your whole milk for oat milk in a 1:1 ratio. It works great for cooking, baking, and adding to smoothies and coffee drinks.
Oat milk can get frothy so keep that in mind when using it in your recipes. It works well for sauces, soups, curries, and baked goods.
You can use sour cream as a whole milk substitute. Just thin it out with water until you reach the desired consistency similar to that of whole milk and add it to your recipe in the appropriate called-for measurement.
Sour cream is great for adding moisture to baked goods, and is perfect for creating rich, thick sauces for pasta and potatoes.
Plain or Greek Yogurt
This is another great alternative for your baked goods and the tanginess may actually give your goodies a flavor boost. You can use this as an equal parts substitute, but you’ll want to thin it with water to the consistency of milk. Remember to add water to thin it out first, and then measure out what you need. Some sources say you can tame the yogurt tang by adding a drop of vanilla to the yogurt, but this is not essential.
If you happen to have a can of evaporated milk in your pantry, thin it out with equal parts water to evaporated milk, and use it as a substitute for whole milk in equal measure.
How To Choose The Best Whole Milk Substitute
Are you looking for a substitute for whole milk because you don’t have any on hand or for dietary purposes?
If you are trying to find an alternative based on what you have in the house, rather than going to the store to buy it, your options will be limited to what you have currently available. In this case, if you have other milk, that works just fine. And other things you most likely have in your fridge like yogurt and sour cream work equally as well with just a step or two to thin them out prior to adding to your recipe.
If you are trying to find a whole milk substitute to avoid dairy because of allergies or dietary preferences, your considerations will be different. In this case, you’ll want to consider substitutes that work best with the recipe you are planning on making. How will it affect the texture or flavor profile of the dish overall?
If you have dairy allergies or dietary preferences and would like to consider alternatives to whole milk, you’ll want to choose one of the plant-based substitutes. Almond milk, oat milk, soy milk, coconut milk, and coconut cream are your primary options listed here. Other alternatives in the plant-based category include hemp milk, cashew milk, and rice milk.
If you’re looking for something that is closest in flavor to that of whole milk, you’ll want to try oat milk or soy milk. Oat milk is thick and creamy and tends to froth a bit, with a mild flavor that closely resembles cow milk. Soy milk is a close second. It is thinner than whole milk, more like nonfat milk, but its flavor is mild and has a similar nutrition profile.
In any case, when choosing plant based milks, they often come in unsweetened, plain, and flavored varieties. Choose unsweetened or plain for baking and cooking. While it could be fine for baked goods in a pinch, you don’t want to add vanilla or chocolate flavored milk to your savory sauces.
Our Top Picks
Considering the alternatives, if you are looking for a whole milk substitute, go with any other milk or half and half. These are basically the same as whole milk, and if you have them available, use these first.
If you’re looking for a non-dairy alternative, go with oat milk. It is most like whole milk in consistency, and it has a mild flavor that won’t overpower the flavor profile of your recipe.