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Is there dairy in Mongolian beef?

Mongolian beef is a popular Chinese-American dish that consists of sliced beef, often flank steak or beef tenderloin, stir-fried with onions, garlic, soy sauce, and spices. The dish is known for its sweet, savory, and spicy flavor profile.

While traditional Mongolian beef recipes do not contain dairy ingredients, some modern recipes call for adding small amounts of dairy products like milk or cream. Dairy can help tenderize the meat and give the sauce a richer, creamier texture. However, dairy is not an essential ingredient for making authentic Mongolian beef.

Whether or not Mongolian beef contains dairy depends on the specific recipe used. Many restaurants and home cooks prepare it without any dairy at all. For those avoiding milk or lactose, it is possible to find or adapt Mongolian beef recipes that are completely dairy-free.

Traditional Mongolian Beef Recipes

In China, Mongolian beef originated from the Mongolian and Chinese Islamic cuisine of China’s Inner Mongolia region. Traditional Mongolian beef is made by stir-frying thin slices of beef in oil over high heat along with garlic, ginger, scallions, and Mongolian seasonings like cumin and five-spice powder.

The stir-fry is finished with soy sauce, hoisin sauce, sesame oil, and sometimes broth or water to create a thick, glossy sauce. Authentic recipes do not call for adding any dairy ingredients like milk, cream, or butter.

For example, this traditional Mongolian beef recipe from acclaimed Chinese chef Martin Yan contains:

– Flank steak, sliced
– Green onions
– Garlic
– Ginger
– Cornstarch
– Vegetable oil
– Soy sauce
– Oyster sauce
– Chicken stock or water
– Sesame oil
– White pepper
– Five spice powder

As you can see, the ingredient list does not include any dairy products. The liquid ingredients like soy sauce, oyster sauce, and stock create the velvety sauce.

Modern Mongolian Beef Recipes

While dairy is not used in traditional Mongolian beef, some modern recipes call for adding small amounts of dairy such as:

– Milk
– Heavy cream
– Sour cream
– Butter

For example, this Mongolian beef recipe uses 1⁄4 cup whole milk:

Ingredient Amount
Flank steak 1 lb
Cornstarch 1 Tbsp
Vegetable oil 2 Tbsp
Green onions 3, chopped
Garlic 2 cloves, minced
Ginger 1 Tbsp, minced
Soy sauce 3 Tbsp
Hoisin sauce 3 Tbsp
Whole milk 1⁄4 cup

The milk helps add a creamy, rich quality to the sauce. However, it is still a small amount compared to the other ingredients. Using 1⁄4 cup of milk in this recipe serves to complement the other Asian sauces rather than make it taste like a dairy-based dish.

Some cooks also use heavy cream or sour cream instead of milk to make the sauce extra silky and tangy. Butter can provide richness without thinning out the sauce too much.

These dairy additions are completely optional. Leaving them out will still result in a flavorful authentic-tasting Mongolian beef.

Reasons for Adding Dairy

There are a few reasons why some modern Mongolian beef recipes include dairy products:

Tenderize the Meat

Milk contains the enzymes and proteins casein and whey. These natural compounds can act as meat tenderizers by breaking down connective tissue.

Soaking beef briefly in milk before stir-frying can help tenderize it and add moisture. This is especially helpful for flank steak and other cuts that tend to be a bit tough.

Add Richness

Heavy cream, sour cream, and butter contain high amounts of milk fat. Just a spoonful or two adds a silky, indulgent quality to Mongolian beef sauce. The dairy fats coat the palate and round out the sharper flavors of the garlic, soy, and spices.

Thicken the Sauce

The protein casein in milk products also acts as an effective thickening agent. Adding a splash of milk or cream helps bind the stir-fry liquids into a thicker, richer sauce that nicely coats the beef.

Cool Down Spicy Heat

Some versions of Mongolian beef can have quite a kick from chili peppers or chili-garlic sauce. A bit of cooling dairy can help balance out fierce spiciness. The fats in milk, cream, or butter also help tame the burn.

Creamy Texture

Milk and cream lend a creamy, smooth mouthfeel that some cooks and diners prefer in a sauce. It makes the beef glide over the tongue with a velvety quality.

Non-Dairy Alternatives

For those who want to keep their Mongolian beef 100% dairy-free, there are easy substitutes:

– Coconut milk – Gives a rich, creamy texture.

– Cashew cream – Blended soaked cashews create a thick, velvety sauce.

– Nutritional yeast – Adds a cheesy, umami flavor.

– Cornstarch slurry – Thickens the sauce without dairy.

– Beef stock – Provides moisture and flavor.

– Gelatin – Acts as a binder for the sauce.

– Arrowroot – Used like cornstarch to thicken the liquid.

– Chili oil – Adds a spicy kick and richness without dairy.

With these plant-based ingredients, you can make dairy-free Mongolian beef that’s just as delicious. The beef flavor will still shine through.

Is There Dairy in Restaurant Mongolian Beef?

If you are avoiding dairy, be sure to check before ordering Mongolian beef at a restaurant. Some restaurants do add dairy ingredients like milk, cream, or butter to their recipes.

For your safety:

– Tell your server you have a dairy allergy or intolerance.

– Ask if their Mongolian beef contains milk, cream, butter, or any other dairy products.

– Request that your dish be prepared without dairy.

– Check that your order comes out with no dairy as promised.

Many Asian restaurants do offer dairy-free Mongolian beef. But it’s always wise to double check whenever dining out.


In summary, traditional Mongolian beef recipes do not contain dairy ingredients like milk or cream. However, some modern recipes add small amounts of dairy to create a richer tasting sauce. Dairy is completely optional in Mongolian beef. Using alternatives like coconut milk or cashew cream can keep it dairy-free. When ordering at restaurants, be sure to ask about dairy and request your dish be prepared without it. With the right recipe or customized order, you can enjoy delicious Mongolian beef while avoiding dairy.