Everybody loves a steaming homemade bowl of macaroni and cheese. It’s a genuine American classic, and with good reason. It’s comforting, heartwarming, and goes with just about anything. It’s very easy to make, and there are plenty of variations to suit anyone’s tastes. Learn about the best substitutes for milk in mac and cheese here!
It can get a bit repetitive, though. And some people prefer not to have that much dairy, or any at all. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to change things up, and the easiest way to do this a milk substitute. This will change the flavor and texture of your cheese sauce, and you’ll be able to experiment and see what you like best.
Our favorite substitutes for milk in mac and cheese are in the article below. Really, any creamy or milk-based product is a great substitute for plain milk in mac and cheese. You can use animal products or plant based milks. We love using cream cheese, sour cream, and yogurt, or for plant based options, coconut milk, almond milk, and soy milk.
In this article we’re looking at some of the best substitutes for milk in a mac and cheese recipe. We’ll consider consistency and flavor, and how to substitute them.
Mac and Cheese
Macaroni and cheese is a pasta dish with a creamy, melted, stringy cheese sauce. There are plenty of variations on the macaroni and cheese recipe, many of which are regional. It’s often garnished with grated cheese or toasted breadcrumbs for a bit of crunch factor.
As with many pasta dishes, the sauce is the real hero. Macaroni and cheese is made with a cheesy bechamel style sauce. Making this sauce is pretty easy, too. All you need to do is combine melted butter and flour to create a roux, slowly add milk, and constantly stir over heat until the sauce thickens.
After that you mix in your favorite cheeses and add them to the macaroni before baking. By using other ingredients instead of milk, you can add an entirely different flavor profile to this dish.
Milk Substitutes for Mac and Cheese
Various milk substitutes act differently from one another. Bear that in mind when making your sauce, as some will require more roux.
1. Cream Cheese
We love using cream cheese instead of milk. Its mild, sweet flavor is pretty close to that of milk. Its similarity to milk is one of the things that makes it such a great milk substitute.
The most obvious difference between these two ingredients is the consistency. Cream cheese is thicker and spreadable, compared to milk’s low viscosity and pourability. This will help make your mac and cheese a little creamier.
You can replace the milk in your mac and cheese recipe with equal parts cream cheese. Because of its consistency, you could leave out the butter in your recipe, but that’s up to you. This will give you a very thick, creamy sauce.
You might want to consider melting your cream cheese before adding it to your sauce. You can use different brands of cream cheese, and different flavors, too. Herb flavored cream cheese goes really well in mac and cheese. It adds more flavor without adding any work!
2. Sour Cream
Sour cream is another great option when you’re looking for a milk substitute. It offers similar texture, but a very different flavor. Sour cream is thicker than milk, and slightly thicker than cream. It’s tangy, which adds a very different flavor to the mac and cheese palate.
You can substitute sour cream for milk in an equal ratio, and the sauce will be made exactly the same way.
The taste of sour cream is very different from cream cheese, however. It’s less neutral, and less sweet. You might want to consider adding other ingredients if you want to balance out the flavor profile.
You can break up the acidity of the sour cream with freshly minced garlic or some other dried herbs. This won’t change the tangy flavor, but will help balance it out.
You can also use sour cream in addition to milk rather than in its place. A good ratio is half milk, half sour cream. This will create a complex, balanced sauce with quite a lot of character.
You can also use sour cream instead of Greek yogurt as they are quite similar in taste and texture.
3. Plain Yogurt
You can also use plain Greek yogurt. This is an effective substitute as it is very similar to sour cream in taste and texture. Plain yogurt will give your mac and cheese such a creamy, saucy texture. It adds a tangy flavor, too, that you can play with when preparing your sauce.
Full-fat Greek yogurt will also give you creamier, thicker sauce than an ordinary non-fat yogurt.
❗ Remember that, when using yogurt with heat, you’ll need to heat it slowly. Rapidly heating yogurt will cause it to split. The water and fat will separate and they can’t be recombined.
The best bet is to slowly heat the yogurt separately, or extremely slowly in a small saucepan before adding it to the roux.
Be sure to constantly stir your yogurt while heating, and use a very low heat to make your sauce.
4. Whipping Cream
It’s good to substitute cream for milk, but you’ll want to use whipping cream. Whipping cream’s thinner consistency will make it incorporate into the roux much more easily than double cream would.
You can use double cream interchangeably with whipping cream, but bear that in mind.
Cream, instead of milk, will make your mac and cheese very rich, and very creamy, as you’d expect. You can leave the butter out, but we love using butter for mac and cheese so we prefer to keep it in.
Remember that the cream will change the color of your cheese sauce, so if you want a yellow mac and cheese, be sure to use a brightly colored cheese. An orange or red cheddar is best.
You can substitute whipping or double cream in equal parts with milk.
5. Coconut Milk
Coconut milk is a great option for vegans and people who don’t eat dairy.
Coconut milk, of course, has a notable and distinctive coconut flavor. This won’t carry over too much into your mac and cheese, but traces of the coconut taste will remain. It’ll be a different flavor profile from typical mac and cheese.
We recommend diluting the coconut milk with some water or herbs and garlic. You can use coconut cream rather than milk for a creamier sauce. Try unsweetened full fat coconut milk, preferably canned as this is usually thicker and richer than bottled versions.
6. Almond Milk
Almond milk is both very accessible and dairy free.
Almond milk has a pretty distinct nutty flavor. You can use sweetened or unsweetened, but we prefer sweetened as it better echoes the slight sweetness of dairy milk. Because almond milk is thinner than cow milk, you’ll need to thicken the sauce with roux or cheese.
7. Soy Milk
Soy milk is a classic non dairy substitute. It does have a distinctive taste that can be a little polarizing, but you can balance that out with other ingredients.
We recommend using a fragrant, aromatic cheese with your soy milk for a nicely balanced flavor profile. Use unsweetened, unflavored soy milk to complement the natural flavors of mac and cheese.
8. Other Dairy Based Milks
You can also use goat, sheep, or camel milk. These all have different, unique flavors, but that might suit your mac and cheese recipe. They can often be tangier and sharper than cow’s milk.
Many of these milks are also lower in lactose than cow’s milk, which lactose intolerant people might appreciate.
9. Powdered or Evaporated Milk
Powdered milk, thanks to its longevity, is a great substitute. You just need to combine it with water to make the sauce. It’s creamier and sweeter than regular milk, which is easy to balance out in the recipe with some salt.
Evaporated milk has a lower water content than regular milk, but is not powdered. It’s sweeter still than powdered milk. We recommend avoiding condensed milk due to its syrupy consistency.
10. Oat Milk
Oat milk has a pretty neutral flavor and it’s plant based. It’s best to use unsweetened oat milk and you can simply swap out your regular milk for oat milk if need be.
11. Cashew Milk
Cashew milk has a milky flavor and a silky consistency. It’s probably the closest non-dairy substitute for milk in mac and cheese. Use unflavored, unsweetened cashew milk, and be wary that you should avoid cashew products if you have a nut allergy.
12. Quinoa Milk
This is not as well known a plant milk but it’s pretty handy. It’s sweeter and nuttier, with a distinct quinoa taste. It can be a nice complement to a strongly flavored cheese in a macaroni and cheese recipe.
13. Rice Milk
Rice milk is pretty close to cow’s milk in terms of flavor. It is, however, much thinner, with a more watery consistency. We’d recommend using more roux to make your sauce so it’s thick and creamy.
14. Hemp Seed Milk
Hemp seed milk is very nutritious and has a thick, creamy texture. You can use less roux when using hemp seed milk because your sauce might become too thick. The nutty taste might come off as bitter, so be sure to balance out the flavor with herbs, cheese, and salt.
15.Water or Butter
You can use water and butter as a last resort, but it requires a bit of ingenuity.
To do that, you’ll need to:
- Make a roux of equal parts butter and flour. Add water, then cheese.
- Use a small amount of water. Start with a little and add more if you need to. The water is just a base for the cheese to melt into.
- The cheese can be your liquid base for the sauce. You’ll need to use a soft, easy melting cheese like gouda or cheddar.
- Once you’ve reached the desired consistency, add butter for richness, and cook until you reach the correct consistency.
- Season the sauce well.
You can use margarine or ghee as a substitute for butter in the roux. You can use heavy cream, cream cheese, mascarpone, and melted ghee or margarine for the flavor.
It’s important to experiment when you’re varying a recipe. Use your best judgement and decide whether the substitute is appropriate for your variation. Almond milk won’t go well with a ground beef mac and cheese. Be sure to take notes to come back to.
It depends on your own health goals and lifestyle. Dairy milk is not nutritious to some, but for others it’s a staple of their diet. Animal milks tend to contain plenty of vitamins and minerals. Plant milks are typically not as nutritious.