Mexican cuisine is known for its bold flavors, varied ingredients, and reliance on staples like corn, beans, avocados, tomatoes, and chili peppers. This makes it a great option for those looking to avoid dairy, as many classic dishes are naturally dairy-free or can be easily modified.
Why Avoid Dairy?
There are many reasons one may wish to avoid dairy products:
- Milk allergies or lactose intolerance – Milk allergies affect 2-3% of children under 3. Lactose intolerance impacts 65% of the global population.
- Casein sensitivities – Casein is a protein found in dairy that some find inflammatory.
- Autoimmune conditions – Some autoimmune conditions are aggravated by dairy.
- Digestive issues – Many find dairy exacerbates digestive problems like gas, bloating, and stomach pain.
- Ethical reasons – Some wish to avoid the environmental impact of dairy production or have ethical concerns around the dairy industry’s treatment of animals.
- Weight concerns – Dairy products like cheese and cream are high in calories and fat, so some avoid them for weight management.
- Skin issues – Dairy consumption has been linked to acne and other skin problems in some individuals.
- Cholesterol concerns – Dairy products contain cholesterol and saturated fat that may raise cholesterol levels.
Fortunately, with its focus on plants, meat and seafood, herbs and spices, Mexican cuisine offers abundant options for those avoiding dairy.
Naturally Dairy-Free Mexican Dishes
Many popular Mexican dishes are naturally dairy-free. These include:
Salsas are a cornerstone of Mexican cuisine. They add fresh flavor atop tacos, enchiladas, tostadas, and more. Popular salsas like pico de gallo, salsa verde, and salsa roja contain no dairy products, just veggies, spices, and sometimes tomatillos or avocados as the base.
Made from mashed avocado, onion, garlic, tomatoes, lime juice, cilantro, and salt, traditional guacamole has no dairy. Some modern versions add sour cream, so check ingredients if store-bought.
Corn tortillas stuffed with meat, onions, cilantro, and salsa make classic Mexican street tacos. With no cheese or sour cream, they’re a go-to dairy-free option.
Crispy corn tortillas layered with beans, lettuce, tomatoes, onion, cilantro, and salsa or guacamole make fresh, customizable tostadas with no dairy in the traditional preparation.
This bright, citrus-marinated seafood dish contains no dairy. The mixture typically includes raw fish or shrimp, onion, chiles, cilantro, tomatoes, avocado, and lime juice.
A hominy and pork stew, pozole contains no dairy in basic recipes. Garnishes like radish, onion, cabbage, lime, oregano, and chile peppers complement the rich broth.
Filled with meat, cheese, or veggies and wrapped in a masa (cornmeal) dough casing, traditional tamales use no dairy in the masa dough or fillings.
While cheese is common in quesadillas today, traditionally they contained no dairy, just grilled masa dough stuffed with meat, veggies, or beans.
This comforting casserole of tortilla chips simmered in salsa is naturally dairy-free. Some modern recipes add cheese or crema, so check ingredients.
With origins dating back thousands of years, rich mole sauces traditionally contain no dairy, just ingredients like chiles, nuts, seeds, spices, tomato, onion, garlic, fruit, and chocolate or cacao.
Meaning “fresh waters”, these sweet fruit juice drinks are a Mexican staple with no dairy added.
Pico de Gallo
This simple fresh salsa of chopped tomatoes, onion, chiles, cilantro, and lime is a great dairy-free topper for adding flavor and color.
A hearty bean stew made smoky with bacon and rich with peppers and spices. No dairy added in traditional preparations.
Modifying Mexican Dishes to be Dairy-Free
While many Mexican dishes are naturally dairy-free, others rely on ingredients like cheese, cream, or sour cream. With simple substitutions, these dishes can often be modified to suit dairy-free needs:
Skip the cheese and sour cream toppings. For “meatier” dairy-free fillings, mushrooms or jackfruit can replace beef.
Use corn tortillas, fill with beans, grilled veggies, or ground meat instead of cheese, and top with salsa verde, mole, or salsa roja instead of cheese sauce.
Omit cheese filling and coat peppers with salsa verde or mole sauce instead of egg batter.
Skip crema topping and use corn tortilla strips instead of cheese crisps for garnish.
Saute meat and veggies in oil rather than butter. Serve in corn tortillas without cheese or sour cream toppings.
Fill masa dough quesadillas with beans, grilled nopales, mushrooms, or sautéed veggies instead of cheese.
Arroz con Pollo
Omit crema and cheese toppers from this classic chicken and rice dish.
Replace milk in the custard base with non-dairy milk like coconut, almond, or oat milk.
Mexican Hot Chocolate
Substitute dairy milk with non-dairy milk and omit any sweetened condensed milk from the recipe.
Dairy Substitutes for Mexican Cuisine
When modifying dairy-laden Mexican dishes, these substitutes can mimic the character of the original ingredients:
|Grilled mushrooms, roasted peppers and onions, mashed avocado, crumbled tofu or tempeh
|Sour cream (crema)
|Cashew cream, coconut cream, crema de coco, tofu-based “sour cream”
|Non-dairy milks like almond, coconut, oat, soy, rice, hemp
|Coconut yogurt, almond yogurt, soy yogurt
|Vegan butters, olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil
|Non-dairy ice creams like coconut milk, cashew milk, almond milk, or sorbet
Naturally Dairy-Free Mexican Ingredients
Take advantage of these inherently dairy-free Mexican pantry staples:
- Corn tortillas – Used for tacos, tostadas, enchiladas, chips, and more
- Salsas – Endless varieties add fresh flavor
- Guacamole – Creamy texture without the cream
- Frijoles (beans) – Rice & beans are a Mexican staple
- Masa harina – Corn flour used for tortillas & tamales
- Variety of chiles – jalapeño, poblano, ancho, chipotle, serrano
- Epazote herb – Distinctive flavor used in beans, moles, soups
- Horchata – Sweet rice milk drink flavored with cinnamon
- Jicama – Crisp, juicy vegetable enjoyed raw or cooked
- Nopales – Edible cactus pads taste great grilled
- Mole sauces – Complex spice & chile based sauces
- Mexican rice – Flavorful, dairy-free side dish
- Limes – Key for rich flavor in salsas, guacamole, aguas frescas
Tips for Ordering Dairy-Free Mexican Food
When eating out, keep these tips in mind to get the best dairy-free Mexican fare:
- Ask about preparation methods – ensure no butter or cheese used
- Request corn over flour tortillas
- Hold any crema, cheese, or sour cream toppings
- Ask if beans are cooked with lard – opt for vegetarian beans
- For tacos, get meat, veggie, or bean fillings without cheese
- Enjoy fajita meat and veggies without tortillas, cheese, or sour cream
- Order cheese-less tamales with salsa, rice, and beans
- Ask for aguas frescas, horchata, or soda over milk drinks
- Seek out dishes like ceviche, pozole, or mole that are dairy-free
- Specify no cheese in chilaquiles, quesadillas, or enchiladas
Easy Homemade Dairy-Free Mexican Meals
With a few pantry staples, it’s simple to whip up dairy-free Mexican meals at home. Some options:
Corn tortillas, pinto or black beans, salsa, guacamole, lettuce, onion, cilantro
Crispy corn tortillas, refried beans, shredded lettuce, pico de gallo, avocado
Corn tortillas filled with beans, tofu crumbles, or grilled veggies, topped with salsa verde
Ground beef or turkey, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, onion, salsa over crunchy tortilla chips
Corn chips, black beans, pico de gallo, guacamole, salsa
Day old tortilla chips simmered in salsa verde and topped with onion, cilantro
Mexican Rice and Beans
Cilantro-lime rice with pinto or black beans
Dairy-Free Mexican Desserts
Finish your Mexican meal with these sweet treats:
Mexican Hot Chocolate
Warm up dairy-free milk like almond or coconut milk with cocoa powder, cinnamon, and chile powder.
Make a classic crème caramel with coconut milk instead of dairy milk.
Mexican Chocolate Pudding
Avocado mousse sweetened with agave nectar or maple syrup and flavored with cinnamon.
Fruit & Chile Paletas
Sweet and spicy fruit pops made with fresh mango, pineapple, watermelon, strawberries, and a hit of chile powder.
Toasted almonds, rice milk, vanilla, cinnamon, and sugar blended into a creamy beverage.
Fruit & Yogurt Bark
Blend coconut or almond milk yogurt with strawberries, mango, or pineapple and freeze into popsicle-like treats.
Mexican food offers a treasure trove of bold, flavorful dishes that fit perfectly into a dairy-free lifestyle. With its focus on fresh vegetables and proteins, time-honored cooking techniques, and pantry staples like corn, beans, salsa, and guacamole, enjoying authentic Mexican cuisine is easy without dairy. A few simple substitutions and an awareness of preparation methods make it possible to savor enchiladas, tacos, tamales, mole, and more while avoiding ingredients like cheese, cream, and sour cream. With so many naturally dairy-free options, as well as creative workarounds, Mexican food joins the list of versatile, inclusive cuisines that can be enjoyed by anyone regardless of dietary needs.