It’s no surprise that dairy free alternatives to common milk-based products such as cream cheese are increasingly popular.
For one, vegan diets — which exclude all animal products, including milk — are on the rise. In fact, it’s been estimated that nearly 10 million Americans follow a vegan diet, up from just 290 thousand people in the early 2000s (1).
Instead of milk, dairy free cream cheese is typically made from plant-based ingredients such as almond milk or tofu. It can be spread on nutritious grains like 100% whole wheat bagels or whole grain crackers. It can also be used in recipes, from savory dips to sweet desserts.
However, not all cream cheese substitutes are created equally.
Here are the pros and cons of dairy free cream cheese plus 5 of the best options based on their GreenScore — an evidence-based rating that evaluates a product across four categories: nutritional value, level of processing, safety, and environmental footprint.
Benefits of dairy free cream cheese
Whether you are avoiding dairy due to dietary restrictions, health, or other reasons, there are several benefits to choosing a dairy-free substitute over traditional milk-based cream cheese:
- Allergy-friendly. Over 6 million people in the United States have an allergy to milk (3). Dairy free cream cheese is typically safe to consume if you have a milk allergy, assuming you are not allergic to other ingredients in the product such as tree nuts.
- Intolerance-friendly. Regular cream cheese contains small amounts of lactose (around 1 gram per 1-ounce serving) (4). Though this amount can be tolerated by many people with lactose intolerance, others are more sensitive to this sugar. Since dairy free cream cheese is not made with milk, it does not contain any lactose.
- Vegan-friendly. From better health to ethical and environmental benefits, there are many potential pros to following a vegan diet. As dairy free cream cheese is typically made with a plant-based milk or tofu, it is vegan-friendly.
- Lower in saturated fat. When compared with conventional cream cheese, some (but not all) dairy free cream cheese is much lower in saturated fat — a type of fat that may negatively affect heart health when eaten in excess. Most health professionals agree you should limit your saturated fat intake to less than 10% of your daily calories, which is around 20 grams per day for the average person (5).
Downsides of dairy free cream cheese
While there are certain benefits to choosing dairy free cream cheese, there are also some downsides:
- Level of processing. To mimic the taste and texture of conventional cream cheese, dairy free cream cheeses are often highly processed. Several studies have linked higher intake of ultra-processed foods to heart disease, cancer, depression, and other common health conditions (6).
- Additives. Gums — such as xanthan gum and guar gum — are the most common types of additives in dairy free cream cheese. They are derived from natural sources, used to thicken products and to prevent separation. Though they are not absorbed by the body and have been deemed safe to consume, their presence is an indicator the product is more processed. It’s important to point out that gums are a common additive in regular cream cheese as well (7).
- Taste and texture. Despite the additives to help, some proponents of traditional cream cheese suggest the taste and texture of dairy free cream cheese simply doesn’t stack up. As this downside is based on opinion, consider trying a dairy free cream cheese for yourself before completely ruling them out.
1. Miyoko’s Organic Cultured Vegan Cream Cheese
Miyoko’s Organic Cultured Vegan Cream Cheese is our top pick.
It’s made out of cashews and coconut milk and is available in three savory flavors: Plain, Sensational Scallion, and Fish-Free Lox.
There are no artificial additives or flavors in any of these cream cheeses — instead, they are flavored with actual herbs and spices and colored with vegetable juice.
2. Kite Hill Non-Dairy Cream Cheese
Instead of using cow’s milk, Kite Hill non-dairy cream cheeses are made with almond milk.
They contain some additives, including xanthan and guar gum.
However, these cream cheeses contain no artificial ingredients. Instead, mushroom extract is used as a natural preservative.
3. Tofutti Imitation Cream Cheese
Tofutti “Better Than Cream Cheese” is a moderately processed dairy free cream cheese made with a blend of vegetable oil, soy protein, and tofu.
It contains additives, including various types of natural gums (locust bean, guar gum, cellulose, and xanthan gum) and maltodextrin.
Maltodextrin is a starchy carbohydrate, added to enhance texture. It’s typically derived from corn, potato, or rice and is safe to consume (7).
4. Daiya Cream Cheeze Style Spread
Diaya dairy free cream cheeses are made using a variety of ingredients such as coconut oil, coconut cream, plant-based proteins, and natural starches to enhance texture.
Like other dairy free cream cheeses, Daiya also uses various gums in their products.
Depending on the type of cream cheese, real-food ingredients such as herbs and spices are used for flavor. However, they also use “vegan natural flavors,” a much more ambiguous additive.
5. Go Veggie Vegan Cream Cheese Alternative
Go Veggie Vegan Cream Cheese is made using coconut oil, sunflower oil, soy protein, and various additives to improve taste and texture.
Like others on the list, it contains gums and natural flavors. In addition, it contains tricalcium phosphate, an additive used to prevent clumping. This additive has been deemed safe, but is an indicator that the product is highly processed.
Because it’s made using coconut oil, this brand is relatively higher in saturated fat compared to other cream cheese alternatives.
Key takeaways for choosing dairy free cream cheese
Dairy free cream cheeses area a great alternative to conventional brands if you have a milk allergy, are lactose intolerant, or if you are avoiding dairy products for environmental or ethical reasons.
However, there are certain downsides to dairy free cream cheese. For one, it is often highly processed — sometimes even more processed — than regular cream cheese. Additionally, many individuals argue that the taste and texture of regular cream cheese can’t be beat.
Overall, opt for dairy free cream cheese with minimal additives. As for flavor, consider shopping around until you find one that satisfies your taste buds!
GreenChoice, PBC has evaluated and rated more than 340,000 food & beverage products across hundreds of attributes related to diet, health, and sustainability. Easily find the best products for you, the planet, & your budget. Download the free GreenChoice app for Apple iO or Android!