What’s In Your Non-Dairy Creamer? The Healthiest Dairy-Free Options
Dairy-free coffee creamer has come a long way from powder or tiny shots of shelf-stable liquid labeled non-dairy creamer. These days, it’s all about plant-based creamers, which are crowding out dairy creamers by number and variety. With so many consumers following plant-based diets or dealing with lactose intolerance, this growth is hardly surprising. While plant-based may check an important box for many of us, what is in a vegan creamer, because there's not technically cream? Here's what you need to know.
Is Dairy-Free Creamer Healthier?
Let’s face it, whether it’s part of your daily caffeine fix or a once-in-a-while treat, coffee creamer can be an indulgence. That doesn’t necessarily mean unhealthy, especially when your creamer is plant-based. “Compared to dairy-based creamers, plant-based creamers are superior because they don't have hormonally active compounds, dietary cholesterol, or other elements found in dairy associated with adverse health outcomes,” says Julieanna Hever, a plant-based dietitian and author of The Choose You Now Diet and Plant-Based Nutrition (Idiot's Guide). However, most creamers contain sugars and often oils and preservatives, she adds.
A healthier choice to splash up your coffee, says Hever, is plain, unsweetened, plant-based milk. But, it doesn’t bring quite as richness to the mug as a creamer, and it often separates, or curdles, in the heat of the brew. Creamers help cut coffee’s bitterness while bringing a smooth consistency and flavor, whether an unsweetened hint or a satisfy-your-sweet tooth punch. As with any packaged food, the ingredient and nutrition information label is your most direct decision-making guide. According to Hever, “The fewer ingredients, the better. And the most recognizable and wholesome the ingredients, the better too.”
Non-Dairy vs Dairy-Free
Before diving into ingredients, it’s important to note that plant-based creamers, as well as dairy creamers, may be labeled as “non-dairy” or “dairy-free.” They are not the same. Creamers labeled “non-dairy” may not be free of dairy ingredients. They just have to contain less than 0.5 percent milk. Dairy ingredients, such as lactose, casein, and whey are fair game. While it’s not likely enough to trigger a reaction in people with lactose intolerance, it may trigger a reaction from those avoiding animal products for ethical or environmental. Vegans, for example, as well as people with more serious dairy allergies should look to creamers labeled “dairy-free,” as they are completely free of dairy.
Different Kinds of Dairy-Free Creamers
Making milk and creamers out of plant foods never ceases to amaze. Nuts, grains, seeds, even legumes — this is a clear case of so much to try, so little time. Not only are there creamers, but also plant-based half and half, which is a combination of more than one plant ingredient, such as coconut cream and oat milk. You can find these creamers refrigerated, shelf-stable, and powdered. If you’re already partial to a particular kind of plant-based milk, such as almond, you might also be drawn to an almond creamer, but branch out and taste the nuances in the many other common plant-based creamers:
- Macadamia Nut
Each has its own flavor. Some are more subtle and some bolder, but they all have a natural sweetness, which is sweet enough for some people. If you choose not to add sugar to your coffee yourself, you can definitely find a creamer to do it for you. Vegan creamer varieties range just as wide as dairy ones, including vanilla, caramel, chocolate, pumpkin spice, hazelnut, and more, but flavor means added flavoring, which may mean sugar. Sugar means more calories than unsweetened varieties.
What’s in Vegan Creamer?
In addition to the plant ingredient, such as coconut cream or milk, almond milk, or oat milk, plant-based dairy-free coffee creamers likely contain:
- Vegetable oil, such as coconut oil or sunflower oil for a creamy texture
- Sugar or another sweetener such as agave or molasses
- Flavorings and food colors, which may be natural or artificial
- Emulsifiers and thickeners, such as sodium citrate, gellan gum, or sunflower lecithin
(You may want to avoid products that contain carrageenan, a thickening additive, as some evidence suggests it may cause inflammation and other hard to the digestive system.)
- Some creamers contain added nutrients, such as pea protein, turmeric, mushrooms, calcified algae, or are fortified with calcium.
Best Brands of Dairy-Free Creamers
There is a dizzying array of plant-based vegan creamers out there, and they are certainly not all the same. We recommend you start with brands, such as these, that are transparent with their ingredients. That way, you can focus on sampling products that check your personal boxes, whether it’s unsweetened, soy-free, or decadently flavored.
- Nutpods: Choose from almond & coconut and oat blends, both unsweetened and sweetened in more than a dozen crave-able flavors of each with straightforward ingredients. Both shelf-stable and refrigerated creamers are available.
- Califia Farms: Creamers are made with almond milk or oat milk and their half and half varieties are made with coconut cream and almond milk. There are several no- and low-sugar flavors to enliven your java. Some varieties are fortified with bone protective calcium.
- Ripple: This brand contains no nuts and no soy, making it an option for those with sensitivities and allergies. Its plant is the pea, so the half and half contains a protein boost along with all-natural ingredients.
- Silk: This well-known brand is easy to find and offers creamers made from soy, oat, and almond, as well as half and half and heavy whipping cream. Two creamers are enhanced with pea protein.
- So Delicious: This brand’s original coconut milk creamer has just five ingredients that get the job satisfyingly done. It also has flavored varieties and oat milk creamers.
Bottom Line: Choose plant-based coffee creamers over dairy creamers
Plant-based coffee creamers may not be as healthy as their plant milk counterparts, but there’s something to say for that added boost of creaminess and flavor to that coveted cup of coffee, whether it’s a daily routine or occasional treat.
The healthiest creamer will be unsweetened with ingredients that are familiar. “Look for the wholest possible product or consider making your own,” says Hever. Begin with our list of the best brands, try a few, and then let your palate be your guide.
For more of the best vegan products, check out The Beet's plant-based product reviews.