Thursday, October 23, 2008

Casein Free Milk and Butter

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     Casein, from Latin caseus meaning cheese, has a pretty interesting history. Since ancient times casein, as an individual milk protein, has been well known among humans, with artists being recorded using casein paints since at least ancient Egypt. Industrial uses for casein are found within the plastic and fiber industries to provide structural support to their products.

      In a more familiar setting, casein is often found in protein supplements such as bars, drinks, and powders. It is known for a slow release of protein due to the clot it forms in the stomach and intestine when ingested in high volumes. 

     Casein is also responsible for coagulation during butter and cheese making, providing structure to the delicious end products. This binding and structural support is the key issue here. The casein molecule is very similar to the gluten molecule in structure – one of the many reasons they work so well together in baked goods.

     This similarity, however, can cause havoc for some individuals with Celiac. Ingesting casein will often cause a reaction similar to ingesting gluten as the body cannot tell the two proteins apart, for a very simple explanation. This is not just for newly diagnosed patients with a healing small intestine either, as many lifelong Celiac patients cannot tolerate casein.

     So now that the why part of the question is out of the way, we can get down to what the hell we’re going to do about eating without casein.

Substitutes and Pinch Hitters
     Dairy products from all animals fall into one of three categories: cheese, milk, and butter, and all dairy products have casein in them including skim milks and 0% milks. Many products that are marketed as “dairy-free” will contain high levels of casein as they put additional quantities in their products to enhance flavor and texture.

     Those of us following a casein-free diet are on the hunt for reliable replacements for these items to make our food tasty and our life easier.

First, let’s talk about casein-free cheese…
     Casein is found in mammal milk, so consequently all cheese – which is made from mammal milk – is out of the question on a casein-free diet. There are a few substitutes available for this dilemma, however. Daiya, a casein-free cheese, is a relative newcomer to the game and seems to have staked out a place to stay in the last five years or so. I’m happy with that as their products are gooey, melty, pure deliciousness. They are also a splurge at upwards of $6.00 per bag of shredded cheese that covers just one family meal.

     Beyond fake cheese products, using other ingredients to mimic the umami flavor that many cheese and dairy products provide is a good way to satisfy any cravings. Nutritional yeast is a traditional substitute for vegans and vegetarians in pseudo-cheese sauces and popcorn toppings. I find it fairly cheap in the bulk section at my local grocery store and use anywhere from a couple tablespoons to cover popcorn to 1/3 cup in soups or stews.

My butter and milk of choice
Casein-free milk options…
     For everyday use I turn to plain, unsweetened soy milk. We use it for coffee in the morning, cooking in the evening, and cookie-dunking before bed. If you are able to purchase good quality soy milk then do so – it will usually taste better than the store brand available.

     Beyond soy, many people use almond or rice milk. Hemp milk also works well in most recipes. Mass marketing has allowed many of these niche markets to develop and no longer will you find the dull, chalky consistency of the 1990s.

Casein-free butter…
     Normal butter derived from cow’s milk is also chalk full of casein, making it another ingredient we need a substitute for. I know what folks say about margarine and hydrogenated oils, so when I was no longer able to use my beloved butter I was a bit heartbroken.

     Olive oil is the natural choice we can turn to here. It’s a great substitute in cakes and brownies, but not so great for pie crusts or biscuits. When I really want a flaky crust or want to give my potato soup a more satisfying, home-cooking flavor I opt for Earth Balance Original Spread. It has no hydrogenated oils, it is vegan, gluten free, and has no casein. I use it all the time and enjoy it on pancakes, in pie crusts, biscuits, and toasted sandwiches.

A Glimmer of Hope?
     There is one true dairy product I know of that is, in theory, casein-free. However, this comes with a huge warning about cross contamination, so proceed with caution.

     Ghee is going to be the only true dairy product those following a casein-free diet will be able to tolerate. However, even this comes with a risk of containing casein as ghee is made by removing the solidified milk proteins and residual proteins is a possibility for the finished product.

     I hope this has cleared up a few questions you might have had. I know I was pretty disappointed when I finally realized the full extent of the casein in the average diet. It gets easier, as all things do, with time, so keep up the dedication and browse around here for some casein-free recipes and meal ideas.

- Patricia


  1. I am very interested in your comment about writing off the cost of the gluten/casein free diet....I have 2 boys with ADHD and am doing research now about this diet. How would I go about writing it off, or doing government aides, etc. Any help would be great.

  2. Hey Cyndi - While I'm not a tax professional and you should carefully consider your own situation, the basics of writing off food expenses for Celiac's is as follows:

    It falls under medical expenses, so you will need a letter from your doctor for each person on a special diet stating that it is medically needed for them.
    You can write off the difference between the cost of a gf product and a regular product. Ex: GF bread costs you $5.99 a loaf, but would normally cost you $2.99, so you can write off $3.00 as medical expenses. This is where saving your receipts come in handy so you can prove what you paid for the items. With out copies of your receipts, you will not be able to do this.

    Another thing to remember is that to claim this expense, you will have to use the itemized deduction. This means that the total amount you are going to write off is greater than the standard deduction that the IRS provides for a person with 2 kids. For a single person, it's somewhere around $5k per year, so unless you're spending above and beyond that in medical and gf food costs, it's not worth itemizing.

    I tried to do this a couple years ago when I first went GF and I was vigilant about adding it all up and I only spend about $1,500 more per year than a person with out Celiac's on groceries. That did not push me over the $5k that that standard deduction would give me, so it was smarter for me to just take the standard rather than trying to itemize everything.

    Sorry this was so long, and I hope this helped a bit! I'll try to do a post about this soon - it is tax season after all!

  3. Patrica..thank you so much for the advice and information. Have you heard of people getting the deduction for an ADHD diet? I'm wondering if would have a hard time getting that 'approved'.

  4. As far as I know, as long as you have a letter from your primary care doctor or specialist stating that the diet is medically needed to keep you or your dependent healthy then you should be okay using that deduction I explained above. It might be hard to get a doctor to write you that letter for ADHD as there are many factors involved above and beyond dietary intake, such as lifestyle and environment, that make ADHD difficult to treat with diet alone.
    Always feel free to contact the IRS regarding the tax laws and what you can and cannot do. They are surprisingly helpful (ask to speak with a supervisor if you feel you need to) and knowledgeable about the tax laws and their duty is to help you pay your taxes properly. They want their money, hahaha!

  5. I recently tried a dairy free, soy free, gluten free ice cream made with coconut milk. The ice cream is called "Purely Decadent". I got the mango flavor and it was surprisingly delicious. I bought it at a Sprouts market and it's made by Turtle Mountain (Eugene, Or). It had the same consistency as ice cream and tasted like a tropical coconut/mango variety.

  6. I love Purely Decadent ice cream! Its just like the real-deal moo juice ice cream, huh? I couldn't believe it when I scooped into it and didn't have to chisel my way through the container like you have to with many soy or rice based ice creams. Thanks for the comment!

  7. I cannot get on board with the use of soy milk or anything with soy in it. It's known to trigger hypothyroidism and mimic estrogen in the body. You really should go for something like coconut milk or rice milk. If you look up soy you will find a lot of info on this. It's not fermented in these forms and are not good to have on a daily basis.

  8. I couldn't agree more about soy. Stay far, far away from it! I use almond or coconut milk, if you can't do those, rice milk works too.

  9. Hi. I live in a place where I cannot find these products. And my son loves milk. What should I do?

  10. Hey Anon - If you're in an area that doesn't have good access to non-dairy milk (I'm assuming that's what you're looking for), try ordering online! and have good products you can buy from. There are milk products that do not need to be refrigerated, you see them sometimes on the shelf at the grocery store. Almond, hemp, soy, and rice milks come this way. Once you open them, stick them in the icebox, but they last for a while unopened. As far as the butter goes, you could sub olive oil or even ask your grocer if they will order a product for you. Chances are if you want it, someone else does too!

    Good luck -

  11. Hello I need to replace my toddler son's milk habit With a casein gluten free option but it must similier nutrion or higher nutrition then to milk what do you suggest? Many thanks.



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