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Vegan Coffee Creamers: Are They Any Good?
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Kermit the Frog had no idea how easy he had it.
Memo to Kermit: If you think it’s not easy being green – try being a vegan. (No, Kermit isn’t a vegan; he told Esquire magazine that he eats “flies, crickets, beetles, mayflies, horseflies, cicadas, and if I’m having friends over, millipedes.”)
Vegans, as you probably know, can’t eat anything that contains animal products. Obviously, that means no steak, burgers, chicken, fish or eggs, just vegan alternatives made from products like soy, beans, soy or vegetables.
They also can’t drink milk or cream, since dairy products come from cows. That might seem like no big deal – until you realize that just like everyone else, vegans need their morning cup of coffee, too.
That’s a thornier problem than you might think, because the coffee creamers that many of us use to replace milk or cream aren’t options. Even though they’re prominently advertised as “non-dairy,” conventional creamers like Coffee-Mate and International Delight aren’t “dairy-free.”
Yeah, we know, that doesn’t make much sense. But it’s true. Let’s sort it out, and figure out what vegans can put into their coffee.
“Non-Dairy” Doesn’t Mean Dairy-Free
This bizarre distinction bedevils vegans and the lactose-intolerant, until they figure out which products simply contain no lactose, and which actually have no dairy whatsoever in them.
To understand the difference between non-dairy and dairy-free, we’ll start by looking at the chemical makeup of dairy milk. It has three main components; milk sugar which is commonly known as lactose; milk fat (cream); and two types of milk protein, commonly known as casein and whey. Milk and other dairy products can be processed to remove any of their ingredients. That’s how 1% milk and lactose-free milk are produced.
Once upon a time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was pressured by the dairy industry to distinguish between “actual” dairy products like milk and cream, and others that were similar, but without much milk in them. So the FDA created a rule to satisfy the industry. It said “non-dairy” could be used to describe products containing less than one-half of one percent milk, as long as it was in the form of milk proteins.
That rule was eventually repealed, but the FDA continues to follow those general guidelines. The agency says non-dairy products can contain caseinate milk derivatives; in other words, milk proteins. Dairy-free products, on the other hand, should have no dairy ingredients at all. They can’t contain either lactose or milk protein.
There’s one big problem with that, other than the fact that it makes very little sense. There are no regulations spelling out that distinction, and the FDA can’t enforce what it doesn’t regulate. That means the only legal recourse, if a manufacturer mislabels their products, is for a consumer to contact the FDA and ask them to investigate a violation of truth-in-labeling rules.
To be clear, most companies don’t violate the spirit of the non-rules; the vast majority use the terms non-dairy and dairy-free correctly, and include phrases like “milk derivative” on their ingredient labels when they haven’t removed the casein. Even so, the onus is on vegans (and those with lactose intolerance or milk protein allergies) to carefully read the labels on any non-dairy or dairy-free products they buy.
Or, if they’re shopping for creamers, they can simply consult our listings to get the honest scoop on the best vegan coffee creamers.
Warning: Most Creamers Are Non-Vegan
We alluded to this at the start, but it bears repeating. Most commercial coffee creamers are not vegan-friendly.
For example, Coffee-Mate’s regular creamers contain either sodium caseinate or micellar casein, milk derivatives that make them non-dairy but not dairy-free. However, the company does produce a smaller line of dairy-free “Natural Bliss” creamers that use oat milk, almond milk, cashew milk or coconut milk as their base, instead of dairy milk. They appear to be vegan according to their ingredient labels, but they’re not certified vegan. They don’t come in cool flavors, either.
It’s the same story for Starbucks creamers - most aren’t vegan, but a few are. The majority of Starbucks creamers contain both milk and cream, so no detective work is required. The company has introduced three dairy-free flavors, though: caramel macchiato, hazelnut latte and pumpkin spice latte, all made with a base of almond and oat milks. Once again, they appear to be vegan but they’re not certified.
The picture is clearer for International Delight creamers. They all contain sodium caseinate and are not vegan.
There’s no need to stick to Coffee-Mate Natural Bliss creamers, however. An enormous number of companies now sell terrific dairy-free coffee creamers that are all vegan-friendly.
The Best Vegan Coffee Creamers
Here’s the possible downside to these creamers: most of them don’t come in those little cups or packets that are served in restaurants. Some have to be refrigerated, some only have to be refrigerated after they’re opened, and others must be added to your coffee as powder. Only a few companies make vegan creamers you can pack with your lunch.
Here’s the definite upside for the brands we’ve chosen: they’re delicious, they’re good for you, and they’re all vegan-friendly.
Liquid Vegan Creamers
This company offers a wide variety of dairy-free vegan creamers made with plant-based milks and natural ingredients. They’re also gluten-free, certified non-GMO, BPA- and carrageenan-free products that are generally low in calories, carbs and fat. Califia Farms products are shelf-stable until opened.
The product lines include almond milk creamers, oatmilk creamers, and a new hemp milk barista blend with exceptional creaminess; there’s also a “Better Half” line that combines almond milk and coconut cream as the creamer’s base. Some of the available flavors are vanilla, pecan caramel, hazelnut, pumpkin spice and an unusual mushroom oat. There are both sweetened and unsweetened options.
nutpods doesn’t offer as wide a variety as Califia Farms. In fact, very few companies do. Their products, however, are just as good and they are all certified vegan (as well as certified non-GMO) and keto-friendly. Most nutpods dairy-free creamers are made from almond milk and coconut cream, plus natural ingredients; there are two options made with oat milk. Like Califia Farms creamers, these don’t have to be refrigerated until they’re opened.
There are four naturally-sweetened flavors: sweet crème, French vanilla, caramel and cookie butter. Eight other flavors are unsweetened, including hazelnut, cinnamon swirl, and toasted marshmallow (yes, the marshmallow flavor is plant-based, too).
Silk is best known for its vegan milk; its nut and soy milks are available in nearly every supermarket in America. But the company also produces some excellent almond, oat and soy creamers. There are eight almond milk-based flavors including crème brulee and dark chocolate peppermint, three made with oat milk including maple brown sugar, and two soy creamer flavors.
Silk’s vegan coffee creamers are dairy-free and low-calorie, low-fat and low-carb. They’re also verified non-GMO and gluten free.
Here’s the best choice for those on keto or paleo diets. To be accurate, not all of this company’s creamers are vegan, since some include milk protein isolate. However, Super Creamer’s zero-carb coconut mocha, toasted hazelnut and French vanilla flavors use pea protein instead of milk protein, making those options vegan-friendly. These creamers also include MCT oil, which helps keto dieters stay in ketosis.
Most people probably haven’t heard of Forager Project, but those who live an organic lifestyle probably have. They specialize in producing certified organic, sustainable, vegan plant-based foods, from vegan cheeses to desserts. Forager Project also makes a delicious dairy-free almond milk that can be turned into one of the best creamers you’ve ever tasted, just by heating it with cinnamon, maple syrup and a vanilla bean.
Yeah, the name fits. These almond and coconut milk creamers are certified vegan and non-GMO, they’re low-fat and low-carb (although the carbs come from added sugars) and there are three flavors of each. The most interesting? Snickerdoodle oat milk creamer, with cinnamon and natural flavorings doing the heavy lifting to create a yummy vegan creamer.
Trader Joe’s Vegan Creamer
You read that right; this dairy-free creamer isn’t sold in grocery stores or on Amazon; you can only get it at Trader Joe’s, although it’s not always available. When they have it, there are coconut milk and soy milk vegan creamers, sold in both refrigerated and shelf-stable containers – and of course, for a great price.
You get three guesses what type of milk Oatly’s vegan creamers are made from, and the first two don’t count. This company has a wide range of oat milk-based products, and their creamy oat milk (chocolate and low fat available, too) is just as good as their ice cream and yogurt (or oatgurt, as they call it).
Powdered Vegan Coffee Creamers
There are 12 varieties of this powdered vegan creamer, and they’re not just dairy-free, they’re also keto-friendly, non-GMO and gluten-free. Why “Superfood?” They add a number of healthy, so-called superfoods like turmeric, functional mushrooms and aquamin (calcium sourced from marine algae) to the creamers. These vegan creamers use powdered coconut milk or oat milk as bases, and there are delicious options like cacao, pumpkin spice and vanilla flavors.
Dairy-free ingredients – and the choice of large canisters or single serving packets for some flavors like salted caramel – highlight the offerings from this company that sells vegan coffees, cocoas and of course, coffee creamers. The coconut cream-based creamers are designed to work with keto diets, with MCT coconut oil among the natural ingredients; the only negative here is the inclusion of processed maltodextrin as a sweetener. There are six flavors to choose from.
Other brands you might want to also check out include Chobani’s Oat Barista Edition, Ripple Foods’ Original Half & Half, Walden Farms dairy-free creamers, New Barn Organics creamers, and Elmhurst Milked Oats. They’re all very good, too.