What can I use instead of heavy cream in vodka sauce?

Heavy cream, also known as heavy whipping cream, is a common ingredient in many pasta sauces like vodka sauce due to its rich and creamy texture. However, it is high in calories and fat. If you are looking for lower-calorie substitutions for heavy cream in vodka sauce, there are several options to consider.

Low-Fat or Fat-Free Milk

One of the easiest substitutions is low-fat (1%) or fat-free milk. Milk has a creamy texture that can mimic heavy cream once heated and reduced. The milk proteins also help thicken the sauce slightly. Simply use the same amount of low-fat or fat-free milk as the recipe calls for heavy cream.

Keep in mind that fat-free milk may not thicken as well, so you may need to use a little less milk or supplement with a small amount of all-purpose flour to help thicken the sauce. Start with 3 tablespoons of flour per 1 cup of milk and adjust as needed.

Evaporated Milk

Evaporated milk, sometimes labeled as condensed milk, is milk that has been reduced by heating it to remove about 60% of the water content. This gives it a thicker, creamier texture while still being lower in fat than heavy cream.

Replace heavy cream with an equal amount of evaporated milk. Be sure to buy evaporated milk and not sweetened condensed milk, which has added sugar. Evaporated milk will impart a mildly sweet, nutty flavor to the sauce.

Greek Yogurt

Plain Greek yogurt is an ideal substitute for heavy cream. Its thick, creamy texture works perfectly in pasta sauces. Make sure to use plain, full-fat Greek yogurt for the best consistency.

Swap out the heavy cream for an equal amount of Greek yogurt. The proteins in the yogurt will also help stabilize the sauce. Just be aware that Greek yogurt can impart a slight tangy flavor to the vodka sauce.

Silken Tofu

Blended silken tofu is a vegan alternative to heavy cream that can replicate its luxurious mouthfeel. Silken tofu has a custard-like texture when blended that works well in creamy sauces.

Use about 3/4 cup blended silken tofu for every 1 cup of heavy cream called for. You can blend it smooth with a little water or vegetable broth to thin it to a pourable consistency before adding it to the cooked sauce.

Cashew Cream

For a nutty, dairy-free option, try using cashew cream. This is made by blending raw cashews with water until smooth and creamy.

Use a 1:1 ratio of raw cashews to water, then blend until very smooth. Add to your vodka sauce just as you would regular heavy cream. The cashew cream will gently thicken the sauce.

Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is an ideal non-dairy substitute for heavy cream, with a smooth, creamy texture when well-shaken. Use full-fat coconut milk for the richest consistency.

Replace the heavy cream with an equal amount of full-fat coconut milk. Shake the can well before opening to disperse the coconut fat and emulsify the liquid. The coconut milk will add a subtle sweetness to the sauce.

Vegetable Purees

For a lower calorie, nutrient-dense alternative, try using pureed vegetables to replace some or all of the heavy cream. Good options are cauliflower, butternut squash, carrots, or potatoes.

Cook the vegetables until very soft, then blend or puree them until completely smooth. Replace up to half of the heavy cream called for with an equal amount of vegetable puree. This will help thicken and add creaminess to the vodka sauce.

Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast is a vegan substitute that can lend a creamy, cheese-like flavor to sauces when used in the right amounts. It also helps thicken sauces slightly.

Whisk about 2-3 tablespoons of nutritional yeast into the sauce after removing from heat. Add slowly and taste as you go until it reaches the desired creaminess. The flavor of the nutritional yeast should not overpower the other ingredients.

Cornstarch Slurry

A cornstarch slurry is a useful ingredient to help thicken and stabilize creamy sauces. It can replace some of the heavy cream’s thickening power.

Mix 1-2 tablespoons cornstarch with 2 tablespoons cold water until dissolved. Slowly whisk this into the hot sauce until it reaches the desired thickness. Adding more cornstarch slurry will make the sauce thicker and creamier.

Summary Table

Substitute Ratio Notes
Low-fat or fat-free milk 1:1 May need flour to thicken
Evaporated milk 1:1 Adds mildly sweet flavor
Greek yogurt 1:1 Tangy flavor
Silken tofu 3/4 cup per 1 cup cream Blend smooth before adding
Cashew cream 1:1 cashews to water Nutty flavor
Coconut milk 1:1 Use full-fat
Vegetable purees 1:1 up to half the cream Cauliflower, squash, carrot
Nutritional yeast 2-3 Tbsp Adds cheesy flavor
Cornstarch slurry 1-2 Tbsp cornstarch + 2 Tbsp water Thickens sauce

Tips for Using Substitutes

When using any of these substitutions, there are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Taste and adjust seasonings after switching out heavy cream. The flavor may need a bit more salt, pepper, or Parmesan to balance out.
  • If the sauce seems too thick, thin it with a bit of milk or vegetable broth as needed.
  • When using milk, yogurt, or plant-based subs like coconut milk, take care not to curdle them by overheating. Gentle warming over medium heat is best.
  • Stir cornstarch slurries slowly into hot sauce to prevent lumps. It will start thickening immediately.
  • When pureeing veggies, strain for a silky texture if desired. Small bits of vegetable fiber can alter the mouthfeel.
  • Substitute only part of the heavy cream to retain some of the rich dairy flavor if desired. Half dairy cream and half substitute works well.

How Does Heavy Cream Work in Vodka Sauce?

To understand the best substitutions, it helps to know the role that heavy cream plays in vodka sauce:

  • Creaminess – The rich mouthfeel and velvety texture of heavy cream is vital to the indulgent taste of vodka sauce. Substitutes need to mimic that texture.
  • Thickness – Heavy cream helps thicken vodka sauce so it nicely coats the pasta. Alternatives like yogurt and purees thicken as well.
  • Flavor – Heavy cream has a subtle milky sweetness and buttery flavor. Substitutes should avoid altering the tomato-vodka flavor too much.
  • Richness – The high fat content of heavy cream gives vodka sauce a luxuriously rich, velvety consistency. Low-fat swaps may reduce that richness.

Sample Recipes

To give you an idea of how some of these substitutions would work in practice, here are a couple sample vodka sauce recipes using heavy cream alternatives:

Vodka Sauce with Greek Yogurt

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup vodka
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp basil
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup parmesan, grated
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Heat olive oil in a pan over medium high heat.
  2. Cook onions for 3-4 minutes until translucent.
  3. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute until fragrant.
  4. Pour in crushed tomatoes, vodka, tomato paste, basil and red pepper flakes.
  5. Bring sauce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes to reduce slightly.
  6. Remove from heat and stir in Greek yogurt until fully incorporated.
  7. Add parmesan and season with salt and pepper.
  8. Toss with cooked pasta and serve.

Vodka Sauce with Cashew Cream

  • 1/4 cup raw cashews
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
  • 3 Tbsp vodka
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 tsp maple syrup
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. In a blender, blend cashews and water until very smooth and creamy.
  2. In a pan, heat olive oil over medium heat and sauté shallot for 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute until fragrant.
  4. Add tomatoes, vodka, basil and red pepper flakes. Simmer for 10 minutes.
  5. Remove sauce from heat. Stir in cashew cream and maple syrup.
  6. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve sauce over pasta.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is plain yogurt a good substitute for heavy cream?

Plain yogurt can work as a substitute, but Greek yogurt is a better option since it is thicker and creamier. Make sure to use whole milk yogurt, not low-fat or fat-free, to get the right consistency.

Can I use almond milk instead of heavy cream?

Almond milk is quite thin compared to the rich texture of heavy cream. For best results, use thicker nut milks like cashew or coconut milk instead of almond milk.

Is half and half a good substitute for heavy cream?

Half and half contains 10-18% milkfat, while heavy cream has 36-40% milkfat. So while half and half can be used in a pinch, it won’t provide quite the same richness and thickness as heavy cream.

Should I use sweetened or unsweetened coconut milk as a substitute?

For savory recipes like vodka sauce, unsweetened coconut milk is the best choice. Sweetened coconut milk would alter the flavor profile too much. Shake the can well before using to evenly distribute the thick coconut cream.

Can I make a vodka sauce without any cream or milk products?

It is possible to make a dairy-free vodka sauce using coconut milk, cashew cream, or blended tofu as your base. However, it may lose some of the signature creaminess. For best flavor, use at least a small amount of dairy like Greek yogurt.


When cooking for dietary needs or just looking to lighten up, don’t let a lack of heavy cream prevent you from enjoying a delicious vodka sauce. With so many easy substitutions like Greek yogurt, evaporated milk, vegetable purees, coconut milk, and more, you can recreate that rich creaminess without all the calories. The options shared here will help retain the flavor and luxurious texture you expect in a classic vodka sauce.

As with any substitution, you may need to experiment and tweak flavors as you go, but these alternatives provide an excellent jumping-off point. With a few simple ingredient swaps, you can health-ify recipes without sacrificing taste. So toss up your pasta and dig into a creamy, dreamy vodka sauce minus all the extra dairy fat.

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