Does rice pudding contain dairy?

Quick Answer

Traditional rice pudding recipes often contain dairy ingredients like milk, cream, or evaporated milk. However, there are dairy-free rice pudding recipes that use non-dairy milks, such as coconut milk or almond milk. So whether rice pudding contains dairy or not depends on the specific recipe.

What is Rice Pudding?

Rice pudding is a dessert made by simmering rice in milk or cream until thick and creamy. It’s flavored with sugar, spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, and often enriched with eggs, raisins, or other dried fruits.

The basic process for making rice pudding is:

  1. Cook rice in water or broth until partially tender.
  2. Add dairy (milk, cream, evaporated milk) and sugar.
  3. Simmer, stirring frequently, until creamy and thickened.
  4. Stir in spices, eggs, dried fruits, etc.
  5. Chill and serve.

Rice pudding has a soft, creamy, velvety texture and comforting, mildly sweet flavor. It’s popular around the world and can be served warm or chilled.

Traditional Rice Pudding Recipes Contain Dairy

In traditional recipes, rice pudding contains some type of dairy ingredient that gives it the distinctive creamy texture. Common dairy ingredients used include:

  • Milk – Whole milk or 2% milk are frequently used. The milk helps cook the rice and provides creaminess.
  • Heavy cream – Whipping cream or heavy cream contributes rich dairy flavor and velvety texture.
  • Evaporated milk – Evaporated milk has a concentrated, creamy texture that makes it perfect for rice pudding.
  • Sweetened condensed milk – Condensed milk makes an especially rich, sweet rice pudding.
  • Half and half – Half and half (half milk, half cream) strikes a nice balance between milk and heavy cream.
  • Eggs – Beaten eggs contribute thickness and a soft custard-like texture.

So traditional rice pudding relies on dairy products to achieve the characteristic creaminess. Dairy also enriches the flavor providing a sweet, milky taste.

Dairy-Free Rice Pudding

While traditional rice pudding contains dairy, there are ways to make dairy-free rice pudding for those who can’t or don’t want to consume dairy products.

The main substitute is to use plant-based milks, such as:

  • Coconut milk – Coconut milk naturally has a thick, creamy texture perfect for rice pudding.
  • Almond milk – Almond milk works well and provides nutty flavor.
  • Soy milk – Soy milk has a natural creaminess that adapts well to rice pudding.
  • Oat milk – Smooth, mild oat milk makes a nice base for dairy-free pudding.
  • Cashew milk – For extra creaminess, try using cashew milk.

The non-dairy milk is combined with the rice and other ingredients like cinnamon, raisins, vanilla, etc. and simmered until thickened.

A binder like cornstarch or arrowroot powder helps thicken the pudding without dairy. Some recipes also use coconut cream for extra richness.

For extra creaminess without dairy, you can blend up raw cashews or soaked cashew butter. Overall, non-dairy milks like coconut and almond work quite well at producing a creamy dairy-free rice pudding.

Nutrition Comparison: Dairy vs. Dairy-Free Rice Pudding

Rice pudding made with dairy milk vs. non-dairy milk will have some differences in nutrition:

Nutrient Dairy Rice Pudding Dairy-Free Rice Pudding
Calories Higher due to full-fat dairy Lower with low-fat non-dairy milks
Fat Higher from cream, whole milk Lower; from rice, nuts, coconut
Protein Higher from dairy milk, eggs Lower without dairy proteins
Carbs Lower net carbs Higher net carbs
Calcium Higher with dairy milk Lower; fortified non-dairy milks have some
Vitamin D Contains Vit. D if dairy milk is fortified May be fortified depending on milk used

As shown, dairy-based rice pudding is higher in calories, fat, and protein compared to dairy-free versions made with low-fat non-dairy milk. The dairy pudding also contains more calcium, an important nutrient found naturally in milk.

However, those avoiding dairy due to allergies, intolerances, or diet find nutritionally-comparable non-dairy milks make a good substitute. Fortified non-dairy milks provide nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, B12 and more. Overall nutrition can be quite similar.

Lactose Content in Rice Pudding

Traditional rice pudding made with dairy milk contains lactose, the natural sugar found in milk. Lactose content depends on the type and amount of dairy ingredients used:

  • Whole milk – 12g lactose per 1 cup
  • Heavy cream – 5g lactose per 1/4 cup
  • Evaporated milk – 10g lactose per 1/2 cup
  • Condensed milk – 9g lactose per 1/4 cup

So a cup of rice pudding could easily provide over 10g of lactose depending on the recipe. People with lactose intolerance may experience digestive issues, gas, bloating, etc. after eating dairy-based rice pudding.

However, the rice pudding cooking process may make it somewhat easier to digest. Simmering helps break down some of the lactose naturally. Using lactose-free milk is another option for lactose-sensitive diets. But fully dairy-free rice pudding avoids lactose completely.

Common Questions

Does rice pudding have milk in it?

Traditional rice pudding recipes call for milk or cream. Milk helps make the pudding creamy and tender. Whole milk, 2% milk, evaporated milk, or coconut milk are commonly used. But dairy-free recipes use plant milks instead.

Can you make rice pudding without milk?

Yes, dairy-free rice pudding is made using non-dairy milks. Almond milk, coconut milk, oat milk, and soy milk all work well in place of dairy. The plant milk gives a creamy texture and flavor.

Is rice pudding gluten-free?

Plain rice pudding without added grains is naturally gluten-free. Rice does not contain gluten. As long as the recipe doesn’t include wheat, barley, rye or oats, rice pudding can be prepared gluten-free.

Can I use water instead of milk for rice pudding?

It’s possible but not ideal – milk or cream provides the characteristic creamy texture and richness in rice pudding. Water alone makes the pudding thinner and less flavorful. For best results, use a dairy or non-dairy milk.

What kind of rice is best for rice pudding?

Short-grain white rice varieties like Arborio or sushi rice work best. The plump, starchy grains cook up into a creamy consistency. Long-grain rice can also be used but may make the pudding less thick.


Traditionally rice pudding contains dairy ingredients like milk, cream or sweetened condensed milk to create a creamy texture and rich flavor. But non-dairy milks like coconut, almond or soy can be substituted to make dairy-free rice pudding. While the nutrition differs slightly, both dairy and dairy-free versions make for delicious, comforting rice pudding. Those with lactose intolerance or dairy allergies can enjoy rice pudding by choosing lactose-free or completely dairy-free recipes.

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