A dairy-free diet should be simple: just don’t eat anything with dairy products in! Unfortunately, things aren’t that easy: there are all sorts of items hidden away on product labels that mean they may well contain milk. On the other hand, several ingredients sound dairy-ish but aren’t. The list below should help to sort things out.
Synonyms: caramel colouring
Sometimes OK, sometimes not. Best to avoid.
Casein NOT OK
Synonyms: anything “caseinate”, hydrolysed casein
Casein is milk protein. Probably OK for the lactose-intolerant, but definitely out for those allergic to dairy products.
Cocoa butter OK
Made from mashed-up cocoa beans, so is completely dairy free. Chocolate lovers rejoice!
Coconut milk MAYBE
This is made by mashing coconut flesh up in water, so is completely dairy free. However, some cheap-and-nasty suppliers bulk it out with guar gum and xanthan gum and starch and thickener E479 and gum arabic and sawdust and carageenan and floor sweepings and cockroach droppings and other things, and it’s not unheard of for milk powder to slip in there. Check the ingredients: if there aren’t any listed (or it simply says “Coconut, water”) then it should be fine. Asian brands are generally more likely to contain proper coconut milk than Western brands, so having most of the label written in Thai is a good sign! As an ingredient in other things (such as commercial Thai sauces and the like) coconut milk should be fine.
The powdered version of coconut milk is starting to appear on the shelves of the larger supermarkets, but I have yet to find a brand which is milk-free.
Coconut cream MAYBE
As coconut milk, but thicker. This is much more likely to be adulterated with dairy products, in our experience, so read the label carefully before purchase!
Creamed coconut OK
As coconut cream, but solid. This seems to be almost universally OK, consisting of coconut and little else.
Cream of tartar OK
Another name for potassium hydrogen tartrate, which is a scary-sounding-name but is not actually at all scary. Completely safe and dairy-free.
Creamed honey OK
Partially-crystallised honey. No actual cream. Safe.
Synonyms: clarified ghee, clarified butter
Ghee appears in much Indian cooking. It is clarified butter i.e. butter that has been melted, the oil collected and the water fraction discarded. The water fraction contains most of the milk proteins, so the mildly dairy allergic may be OK with it: you’ll have to experiment to find out. It should be fine for the lactose-intolerant, however.
Lactic acid OK
Synonyms: anything “lactate” or “lactylate”
Lactic acid is (despite the name) produced by bacterial fermentation, and so should be fine. This isn’t the same thing as lactose!
The effect of this one depends on several factors. If you’re dairy-free due to lactose intolerance, then obviously this is a no-no. If you’re allergic to some other milk component, then it will probably be OK unless you are extremely sensitive. Lactose is produced from milk, but is usually quite highly refined and will contain only tiny traces of milk proteins.
Paneer NOT OK
Indian cheese. All milk, all the way.
Peanut butter OK
Mashed-up peanuts. Again, safe.
Vegetable Fat NOT OK
This is the biggie: vegetable fat often (but not always) means margarine, which often (but not always) means “contains milk”. Some products containing vegetable fat are perfectly OK, but in our experience most aren’t. Avoid if possible.
Whey NOT OK
Synonyms: whey powder, whey protein, milk solids, milk protein
Milk solids. Definitely not dairy-free
Yoghurt NOT OK
Synonyms: yoghurt coating, yoghurt powder
OK, so you knew this. Some people don’t.
Creme fraiche NOT OK
A lighter version of dairy cream, meaning the fat content is slightly lower. Still just as toxic as regular cream.
Fromage frais NOT OK
A soft white very young creamy cheese with a French name. Lovely, but all milk and therefore off the menu.