What is a dairy-free substitute for heavy cream?

Heavy cream, also known as heavy whipping cream, is a dairy product used frequently in cooking and baking. It contains a high fat content, usually around 36-40%, which results in a thick, rich texture. Heavy cream is commonly used to make creamy sauces, soups, custards, whipped cream, and to add richness to desserts. However, some people need or prefer to avoid dairy products due to lactose intolerance, milk allergies, or dietary preferences. Luckily, there are several good non-dairy substitutes available that can be used in place of heavy cream.

Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is one of the most popular and effective substitutes for heavy cream. Canned full-fat coconut milk contains around 17-24% fat, giving it a thick, creamy texture when chilled. Make sure to use full-fat coconut milk, not “light” varieties. Shake the can well before opening to distribute the fat evenly. Refrigerate cans of coconut milk overnight, then scoop out the solidified cream on top and use it just as you would heavy cream. Coconut milk has a hint of coconut flavor that works especially well in sweets and curries but can also be subtle enough for savory dishes like soups and sauces. Reduce other liquids slightly to account for the moisture in coconut milk.

Best Uses for Coconut Milk

  • Whipping into dairy-free whipped cream
  • Adding to coffee drinks instead of half-and-half or cream
  • Making coconut-based custards or puddings
  • Adding richness and body to soups, stews, and creamy vegetable dishes
  • Using in curry dishes

Full-Fat Canned Evaporated Milk

Evaporated milk is a shelf-stable canned milk product where about 60% of the water content has been removed. It is creamier than regular milk and contains around 7.5% fat. For a dairy-free option, look for evaporated coconut milk which is thicker than regular canned coconut milk. You can also use evaporated goat’s milk. Use full-fat varieties only. The thickness of evaporated milk makes it a great substitute for heavy cream in savory dishes and desserts. Be aware that evaporated milk has a cooked flavor that may be noticeable in some recipes.

Best Uses for Evaporated Milk

  • Adding creaminess to soups, sauces, casseroles, macaroni and cheese
  • Making creamy desserts like panna cotta or rice pudding
  • Adding richness and moisture to baked goods like muffins, breads, and cakes
  • Whipping with sugar into dairy-free whipped topping

Full-Fat Canned Coconut Cream

Coconut cream is very similar to the solidified cream at the top of a can of coconut milk. However, it comes already thickened and rich. Look for cans labeled as “coconut cream” at well-stocked grocery stores, not just the cream skimmed off coconut milk. Coconut cream contains around 22% fat, giving it nearly the same consistency as dairy heavy cream straight from the can. It can be whipped into stiff peaks making it an ideal heavy cream substitute in desserts. The coconut flavor is a little more pronounced in coconut cream than coconut milk.

Best Uses for Coconut Cream

  • Whipping into dairy-free whipped cream
  • Making coconut-based pastry fillings and cream pies
  • Using in desserts like cakes, custards, mousses
  • Adding a rich finish to hot chocolate, milkshakes, smoothies

Cashew Cream

For a nutty, dairy-free alternative, cashew cream is a great choice. To make it, soak raw cashews overnight then blend them with water until completely smooth and creamy. For a heavier cream, use a ratio of 1 cup cashews to just 1/4 cup water. For a thinner consistency, add more water. Cashew cream can also be strained for an even silkier texture. It works beautifully as a rich finishing touch for both sweet and savory recipes. The mild flavor of cashews also lets other ingredients shine. Keep cashew cream refrigerated for up to 4 days.

Best Uses for Cashew Cream

  • Adding richness and body to sauces, soups, risottos, mashes
  • Making creamy nut-based desserts like puddings and cheesecakes
  • Topping desserts, pancakes, or fresh fruit
  • Stirring into coffee drinks in place of half-and-half or cream

Full-Fat Canned Soy Milk

For a soy-based alternative, look for full-fat, barista-style soy milk which contains around 4% fat. This is thicker and richer than regular soy milk. Shake the can well before using to disperse the fat. The mild flavor of soy milk allows it to work well in both sweet and savory recipes. However, be aware that soy milk curdles more easily when heated compared to dairy milk. Some brands also add thickeners and stabilizers which impact texture.

Best Uses for Full-Fat Soy Milk

  • Stirring into coffee drinks in place of cream
  • Pouring over cereal or porridge instead of regular milk
  • Adding to creamy soups, risottos, and sauces
  • Using in desserts like custards, ice cream, and baked goods

Full-Fat Canned Oat Milk

For a grain-based option, look for canned full-fat oat milk which contains around 2-4% fat. It has a naturally creamy, opaque texture from the whole oats, especially when shaken well before using. Oat milk has a subtle natural sweetness that makes it perfect for both savory cooking and desserts. Be sure to use canned or barista-style oat milk from the refrigerator section, not shelf-stable cartons. The canned version contains stabilizers for better performance when heated or whipped.

Best Uses for Full-Fat Oat Milk

  • Adding creamy richness to soups, stews, sauces
  • Pouring over hot cereals and porridge
  • Using in custards, ice creams, creamy desserts
  • Stirring into coffee drinks instead of cream

Refined Coconut Oil

Refined coconut oil can be used in place of butter or shortening in recipes, adding a vegan alternative for fat and richness. Look for refined (not virgin) coconut oil which has a neutral flavor. Measure carefully as coconut oil is 100% fat so a little goes a long way. Replace 1:1 for butter, shortening, or oil in recipes. The liquid state of coconut oil at room temperature makes it a good choice for recipes like frostings, doughs, and condiments. Refrigerate coconut oil to solidify it when a firmer fat is needed. The flavor is quite mild so coconut oil can be used in both sweet and savory recipes.

Best Uses for Refined Coconut Oil

  • Replacing butter or oil in baking recipes
  • Frying and sautéing
  • Making vegan frostings and doughs
  • Roasting vegetables
  • Stirring into hot cereals or soups for richness

Full-Fat Canned Pumpkin Purée

While pumpkin purée contains only a small amount of fat, it can add body and richness similar to heavy cream in some recipes. Make sure to use canned 100% pumpkin purée, not pumpkin pie filling. Replace up to a quarter of the heavy cream called for in savory dishes with an equal amount of pumpkin purée, adding creaminess without heavy fat. The natural sweetness of pumpkin purée also allows it to replace some heavy cream in desserts and baked goods. However, too much can throw off moisture levels. Start by replacing no more than half the cream.

Best Uses for Pumpkin Purée

  • Adding richness and color to soups, risottos, pasta sauces
  • Replacing some cream in custards, ice creams, cakes
  • Using in pumpkin breads, muffins, and pies

Full-Fat Silken Tofu

Silken tofu is a soft, undrained style of tofu that can blend into creamy sauces. Full-fat silken tofu contains around 5-9% fat. It can be blended or mashed smoothly, replacing some heavy cream in recipes. Start by substituting about 1/4 of the cream with an equal amount of crumbled silken tofu. The soy flavor is quite delicate. Silken tofu works best in small amounts in savory dishes where its protein content is also beneficial. Use sparingly in sweets to avoid changing the texture too much.

Best Uses for Silken Tofu

  • Blending into creamy salad dressings, dips, spreads
  • Puréeing into soups, sauces, smoothies for richness
  • Replacing some heavy cream in quiches, custards, creamed vegetable dishes

Homemade Vegan Cream

For the texture of real dairy cream, try making DIY vegan cream at home. Blend 1 14-ounce can full-fat coconut milk with 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. The acids will coagulate the coconut milk into thick cream. Sweeten to taste with 2-3 tablespoons sugar or other sweetener. For completely dairy-free whipped cream, chill cans of coconut milk overnight, scoop out the solidified cream layer and whip it with sugar. Cashew cream made by blending soaked raw cashews with water can also be whipped into dairy-free cream. Store homemade creams in the fridge for 3-4 days.

Best Uses for Vegan Cream

  • Whipping into dairy-free whipped topping
  • Adding a rich finish to desserts, drinks, porridge
  • Using in creamy no-bake desserts like mousses, cheesecakes
  • Thickening and enriching soups, risottos, sauces


Heavy cream can be excluded from many recipes without sacrificing richness and texture. Coconut-based products like canned coconut milk and cream are some of the most convenient and effective substitutes, mimicking the thickness of dairy cream beautifully. For a nutty alternative, blend soaked cashews into luscious cashew cream. Other suitable options include full-fat evaporated or canned milk, silken tofu, pumpkin purée, and refined coconut oil. With so many plant-based substitutions available, heavy cream can be omitted easily from recipes when required.

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