Macaroni and cheese is a staple in American culture. It is a favorite hearty meal enjoyed by all – young and old.
The best mac and cheese is the homemade one. The best news is that there are many different recipes and variations you can choose from.
But what if you are lactose intolerant, if you are vegan, or have simply run out of milk? The good news is that there are ways to prepare macaroni and cheese even without milk.
Here is a list of milk alternatives so that you can choose the best substitute for milk in mac and cheese for your needs and preferences.
We have included other dairy products in this list. There are also plant-based replacements for those of you who do not want to or cannot consume milk.
Mac and Cheese
Macaroni and cheese is a delicious filling and is very easy to make comfort food. All you need is macaroni pasta, melty and stringy cheeses such as cheddar, gouda, gruyere, parmesan or other, and béchamel sauce.
The béchamel or mornay sauce is made of melted butter and flour for the roux, and some slowly added milk. The sauce is heated and stirred until it thickens.
It is poured over the macaroni pasta and the cheeses of your choice, and then you only need to bake it.
There are different other ingredients that you can add to the mac and cheese, such as breadcrumbs, grated cheese, and others.
But how about finding a suitable substitute for the milk in the recipe?
Milk Substitutes in Mac and Cheese
Here is our ultimate list of the best alternatives for milk when preparing macaroni and cheese.
We have included the basic info and the proper proportions to use.
There is also information regarding the expected changes to the taste and texture of the dish when you use each one as a replacement for regular milk.
Thanks to its slightly sweet and mild taste, which resembles milk’s flavor, cream cheese is an excellent option to use instead of milk when making mac and cheese.
The main difference between the two dairy products is in their consistency. Milk is obviously liquid, and cream cheese is spreadable and thicker. This means that if you use cream cheese instead of milk, you can expect that your macaroni and cheese will be even creamier and more delicious.
The right way to use cream cheese as a milk substitute is to use the same amount of cream cheese as you would milk when preparing the béchamel sauce. You can even leave out the melted butter altogether because cream cheese is creamy enough.
To make it easier to use cream cheese when cooking mac and cheese, you can melt it or soften it prior to adding it to the sauce.
For some added flavor, you can use cream cheese with herbs or with other flavors you like.
Another dairy product that can easily be used instead of milk in the mac and cheese recipe is sour cream.
Sour cream is more similar in texture to milk and is only slightly thicker.
The main difference between the two is the sour and tangy taste of the sour cream, which will add a new and unexpected flavor to your mac and cheese.
If you plan to substitute the milk in your macaroni and cheese dish with sour cream, you should add the same quantity of cream as you would milk. This will result in achieving the right texture and taste at the end.
Keep in mind that due to its specific taste, the sour cream will not bring that sweetness to your mac and cheese. So you may want to add some other ingredients to compensate for this if you prefer a sweeter flavor.
To help balance the acidity of the added sour cream, you can add different dried herbs or some freshly minced garlic.
Even if you are planning on adding milk to the sauce of your macaroni and cheese, you can add some sour cream to it to achieve a more complex flavor. An excellent way to do it is to use half the quantity of milk and half sour cream for making the béchamel sauce.
Sour cream is an excellent substitute for plain Greek yogurt too. If your recipe calls for the use of yogurt, you can safely replace it with sour cream for a more intricate tang.
Another very suitable replacement for milk in a mac and cheese dish is plain yogurt.
Since plain yogurt is a dairy product with a consistency similar to that of sour cream, you can expect it to add similar tanginess and a mildly sour flavor to your meal.
It is recommended to use Greek yogurt if you want a creamier and thicker sauce, especially when compared to low-fat or fat-free yogurt.
One thing to keep in mind if you decide to use yogurt in this or any other recipe is to heat it as slowly as possible to prevent the sauce from splitting.
Heat the plain yogurt in a saucepan or over a double broiler as slowly and gently as possible before mixing it into the roux for the béchamel sauce.
Keep stirring the sauce as you add the heated yogurt over low heat. This will ensure that the sauce doesn’t split and has a nice and smooth texture.
If you choose cream as a milk substitute for your mac and cheese recipe, it is best to choose whipping cream instead of double cream. The reason is that whipping cream has a thinner texture and will mix into the roux much easier.
In case you don’t mind the thicker texture, you can use double cream as a milk substitute. In this case, you can even leave out the butter from the béchamel sauce mix too.
The cream will make your macaroni and cheese much richer and creamier in texture and taste.
You will also notice that the color of your cheese sauce is whiter than usual when using whipping cream instead of milk. If you love a yellower color, then use orange cheddar as part of the sauce.
When using whipping or double cream instead of milk, make sure that you use the same amount you would use with milk.
In case you are replacing the milk in the recipe to avoid animal-based products, then one of the best options for making mac and cheese is to use coconut milk or cream.
Even though coconut milk has a very distinctive taste and will transfer some of it to the dish, it is not overwhelming when you use the right quantities.
You can use some water or dried or fresh herbs to kill off some of the coconut taste from the coconut milk too.
Using coconut cream instead of milk will make your macaroni and cheese dish much creamier and richer.
We recommend that you choose full-fat unflavored coconut milk from cans for the best results when using it as a replacement for milk when cooking mac and cheese.
Apart from coconut milk, there are many other kinds of nut milk that you can use as plant-based alternatives to regular milk when preparing macaroni and cheese.
You can use the nut milk of your preference. The most suitable plant-based replacements for milk include soy milk, oat milk, hemp milk, almond milk, cashew milk, or other non-dairy nut-based milk made of macadamia, peanuts, walnuts, pistachios, quinoa, hazelnuts, and more.
These different vegan-friendly milk alternatives are an excellent choice for making tasty and healthy smoothies or for enjoying non-dairy lattes.
You can use a ready-made nut or plant-based milk, or you can make your own at home with the help of a blender and a nut bag. By making your own plant-based milk at home, you can be certain of all ingredients added to the mix.
There are sweetened and unsweetened versions of nut milk available, so which one you choose to use for making mac and cheese depends on your personal preferences.
Due to the technology of making the nut milk with water, it is usually thinner than dairy-based milk. This means that you may want to compensate with more roux when using this type of plant-based milk as a dairy milk alternative for mac and cheese.
The main benefits of nut milk are that it is rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and amino acids, and is eco-friendly and vegan-friendly.
Powdered or Evaporated Milk
Using powdered milk is an excellent option if you happen to run out of fresh milk.
Powdered milk is something that you can store in your pantry or cupboard for months without it going bad. This will ensure that you always have an easy milk alternative when needed for prepping mac and cheese or other recipes which call for milk.
It just needs to be mixed with water and then used in the same way as you would use regular milk. Keep in mind that it is creamier and sweeter than regular milk.
Another alternative is to use evaporated milk instead of regular milk for your macaroni and cheese dish. It is even creamier and sweeter than powdered milk. This is why we recommend that you dilute it with some water or regular milk before adding it to the roux for the mac and cheese sauce.
Please note that evaporated milk is not the same as condensed milk. Condensed milk has a very rich and sweet flavor which is almost like syrup and is not very suitable for use for making mac and cheese.
Rice milk is another plant-based milk alternative. It is an excellent replacement for milk when making mac and cheese or cooking or baking other foods.
It has a similar flavor to that of regular milk but is thinner and less creamy.
This difference in consistency can be balanced by using more flour and melted butter for the roux.
What to Use Instead of Butter in Mac and Cheese?
If you don’t have butter or simply want to omit it from your diet, then you can use ghee or margarine instead when mixing the roux for the mac and cheese.
If you are looking for a butter substitute that will add that rich and buttery flavor to the dish, then you can use mascarpone, cream cheese, heavy cream, margarine, or melted ghee as a replacement too.
Can I Use These Substitutes in Any Variation of Mac and Cheese?
Since then are many different mac and cheese recipes, it is hard to give one definitive answer to this question.
Our recommendation is to experiment with the different milk alternatives. Use the one which you like more in regard to texture and flavor.
The type of milk substitute you use also depends on the specific recipe you are making. For example, if your recipe calls for the use of ground beef, then soy milk is a better alternative than the sweeter almond milk.
Are These Substitutes Nutritious?
Each of these alternatives for dairy milk has its nutritional pros and cons.
Regular milk contains a lot of healthy minerals, vitamins, and essential nutrients. Unfortunately, not everybody can consume dairy, and not everyone wants to eat animal-based products.
Plant-based milk alternatives are also rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. But due to the fact that they are made of strained plants or nuts and are diluted in water, they can contain less essential nutrients than milk.
To find out the nutritional values and content of your milk replacement, check its contents. This will allow you to ensure that they meet your personal preferences and dietary needs.