Labelling and a dairy-free diet

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.

Caramel MAYBE

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.

Ghee MAYBE

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!

Lactose MAYBE

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.