Dairy Alternatives: TJ’s Coconut Creamer And Vegan Cream Cheese

I enjoy (ethically-produced) full-fat dairy products, especially milk, butter, and cheese. But I also like to try dairy alternatives and have been pleasantly surprised by how tasty some of them are. Can coconut creamer replace grass-fed whole milk in my tea? Will vegan “cream cheese” pair as delightfully with lentil sprouts on toast?

On a recent shopping trip, I picked up some Trader Joe’s coconut creamer to try in my morning tea. It came in a pint container, and I verified that it didn’t (like many dairy and non-dairy products) contain carrageenan. It’s labeled as vegan, soy-free, dairy-free, and gluten-free. I was hoping it would be richer and creamier than the refrigerated coconut milk I had tried previously, and, most importantly, less gritty!

Pouring it, the beverage is thicker than the refrigerated coconut milk was, but not as creamy as dairy milk. It seemed to take a lot of it to lighten the color of the tea appreciably, too. Flavor-wise, it was neutral, without any residual coconut. I also didn’t encounter any gritty residue at the bottom of the cup. I found this dairy alternative to be a reasonably good substitute for milk in tea, though more like a skim or 1% milkfat in consistency than whole milk.

The vegan cream cheese was labeled dairy- and lactose-free. While it looks very similar to dairy cream cheese, the texture reminded me more of solid coconut oil: thick and a bit greasy. This product contains both coconut oil (the second ingredient) and sunflower oil, which explains the appearance. When spread on toast, it melted like coconut oil, rather than retaining its creaminess. Flavor-wise, the taste was pleasant and slightly cheesy. It didn’t provide the fluffy foil for my lentil sprouts that I had hoped for, though.

Verdict: I think that an individual with specific dietary needs or intolerances may find these a perfectly acceptable alternative to dairy. I’d have to use far too much of the creamer to lighten my tea to the point that whole milk does, and real cream cheese just works better with my toast and sprouts. From an ethical standpoint, though, using dairy alternatives obviates the need to ensure that a truly ethical dairy is supplying the product (and sadly, even regulated labels sometimes fail to guarantee that, like in this case). Would I eat either of these non-dairy products again? Sure – I’d eat either in a heartbeat instead of drinking factory-farmed milk or eating conventional cream cheese. 

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