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What can I use instead of milk in cream soups?

When making creamy soups, milk is often used as the base to create a rich, velvety texture. However, some people cannot consume cow’s milk due to lactose intolerance or dietary preferences like veganism. Luckily, there are several nutritious dairy-free alternatives that can be substituted in cream soup recipes.

What is the purpose of milk in cream soups?

Milk is commonly added to cream soups to:

  • Create a creamy, smooth texture
  • Add richness and body
  • Bind ingredients together
  • Contribute a subtle sweetness
  • Provide an underlying background flavor

When choosing a non-dairy milk for soup, it’s important to pick an option that will mimic these qualities of dairy milk as closely as possible.

Non-Dairy Milks

Here are the most popular plant-based milk varieties that can work well in cream soups:

Soy Milk

Soy milk has a creamy, velvety consistency that makes it a great 1:1 substitute for cow’s milk in soups. It has a relatively neutral flavor that won’t overpower other ingredients. When using soy milk, be sure to buy unsweetened varieties to avoid adding unnecessary sugar to savory cream soups.

Coconut Milk

Canned full-fat coconut milk can perfectly mimic the texture of dairy cream. It adds a subtle coconut flavor that works especially well in Thai and curry-inspired soups. Light coconut milk has a thinner consistency similar to milk. Shake cans well before use.

Almond Milk

Almond milk won’t thicken soups as well as soy or coconut milk, but its mild nutty flavor can pair nicely with certain soups like butternut squash. Opt for unsweetened varieties and add a pinch of cornstarch or flour to help thicken the soup if needed.

Oat Milk

Oat milk has a mild oat-y taste that can give a nice undertone to cream soups. It has a creamy consistency, but not as thick as soy or coconut milk. Make sure to stir soup well while simmering to prevent oat milk from separating.

Cashew Milk

Cashew milk has a subtly sweet, creamy flavor. It can add richness without overpowering other ingredients. The consistency is not quite as thick as dairy milk, so you may need to add thickeners like cornstarch.

Non-Dairy Substitutions for Different Types of Dairy Milk

Here are some recommendations for substituting different varieties of non-dairy milk in place of common types of dairy milk:

Dairy Milk Non-Dairy Substitution
Whole milk Full-fat coconut milk or soy milk
2% milk Lite coconut milk or almond milk
1% milk Almond milk or oat milk
Skim milk Unsweetened soy milk
Half and half Full-fat coconut milk mixed with unsweetened soy milk in equal parts
Heavy cream Full-fat coconut milk

Tips for Using Non-Dairy Milk in Soup

Here are some helpful tips for getting great results when using non-dairy milk in cream soups:

  • If soup seems too thin, whisk in a slurry of cornstarch or flour to help thicken it to the desired consistency.
  • Stir soups frequently to prevent plant-based milks from separating or curdling.
  • For richer flavor, try using vegetable broth in addition to non-dairy milk as the liquid base.
  • Add nuts, coconut flakes, or avocado to further increase the creaminess.
  • Non-dairy milks tend to have a slightly sweeter taste than cow’s milk. Adjust other seasonings like salt as needed.
  • If soup tastes too strongly of the plant-based milk, add a splash of lemon juice or white wine vinegar to round out the flavors.

Recipe Ideas for Non-Dairy Cream Soups

Here are some delicious cream soup recipes that can easily be made dairy-free:

Dairy-Free Potato Leek Soup

Sauté leeks and potatoes before simmering in vegetable broth and soy creamer. Purée and garnish with chives.

Coconut Curry Butternut Squash Soup

Cook squash, onions, and carrots in coconut milk broth seasoned with curry powder, cumin, and ginger.

Creamy Broccoli Almond Soup

Simmer broccoli in almond milk mixed with vegetable broth. Blend until smooth and top with roasted almond slices.

Cashew Cauliflower Soup

Roast cauliflower florets and purée with cashew milk, garlic, and onions for a creamy base.

Dairy-Free Tomato Basil Soup

Sauté onions and garlic, add tomato puree and vegetable stock. Finish with soy milk, basil, and nutritional yeast.

Pantry Essentials for Non-Dairy Cream Soups

Having these ingredients on hand will help you easily whip up dairy-free cream soups anytime:

  • Non-dairy milks (soy, almond, coconut, oat, etc.)
  • Vegetable broth or bouillon
  • All-purpose flour or cornstarch
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Nuts (almonds, cashews, etc.)
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Olive oil or avocado oil
  • Dried herbs and spices

Possible Drawbacks of Non-Dairy Milks

While plant-based milk alternatives offer more options for those avoiding dairy, there are a few potential downsides to be aware of:

  • May curdle or separate more easily when heated
  • Often thinner and less creamy than dairy milk
  • Can have added gums or stabilizers to improve texture
  • May impart subtle plant-based flavors like coconut or nuts
  • Typically more expensive than cow’s milk
  • May be sweetened with sugar if not buying unsweetened
  • Contain less protein and calories than whole dairy milk

Frequently Asked Questions

Does non-dairy milk make soup taste weird?

Non-dairy milks can change the flavor of soup slightly depending on the variety, but they don’t make soups taste weird when used properly. Sticking to unsweetened, neutral-tasting options like soy or almond milk prevents the soup from tasting unusual. Many people find the subtle flavors imparted by coconut, cashew or oat milk complement the other ingredients nicely.

How can I thicken cream soup without milk?

To thicken non-dairy cream soups, whisk in a slurry of cornstarch, arrowroot powder or flour while simmering. Slowly add it bit by bit until desired consistency is reached. Cooked potatoes or starchy vegetables like cauliflower can also help thicken without dairy. Silken tofu, soaked cashews or soaked almonds blended into the soup also add natural creaminess and body.

Do I need special recipes for dairy-free cream soups?

Most dairy-based cream soup recipes can be adapted very easily to be dairy-free. Simply replace the dairy milk with an equivalent amount of non-dairy milk like soy, coconut or almond milk. Add thickeners if needed and season with herbs, spices and vegetables as you normally would. Following a vegan cream soup recipe guarantees it will be dairy-free. Minor adjustments to get the perfect texture may be needed based on ingredients.

What can make non-dairy cream soups taste richer?

Adding ingredients like nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil, coconut milk, soy creamer or vegan cream cheese will make dairy-free cream soups taste richer. Roasting vegetables before puréeing develops deeper flavor. Umami-boosting ingredients like nutritional yeast, miso paste, mushrooms, tomato paste and soy sauce also help enhance savoriness. Acidic components like lemon juice, white wine and vinegars balance out creaminess.

Do I need to avoid certain ingredients when making dairy-free soup?

When preparing plant-based cream soups, avoid any ingredients containing traces of dairy like whey powder, casein and milk solids. Check broths and condiments for hidden dairy derivatives. To be safe, use vegetable broth, coconut aminos instead of soy sauce and dairy-free Worcestershire sauce. Some thickeners like roux rely on butter so opt for cornstarch slurries instead.


With so many nutritious and great-tasting non-dairy milk varieties available today, there’s no need to miss out on creamy soups just because you avoid dairy. Soy, coconut, almond, oat and cashew milks can all substitute for regular milk in soup recipes with proper adjustments. Focus on unsweetened varieties and add thickeners if needed for best results. With a few simple tweaks, you can easily recreate the rich, velvety texture of classic dairy-based cream soups in a plant-based form that everyone can enjoy.