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I still get asked plenty of questions about what exactly is casein free in the dairy isle and I want to address some of those more common ones here today. Many of the questions that come in regarding casein are wondering if their favorite diary product has casein in it. Does butter have casein? Does being dairy free really mean no casein? Is there casein in soy products? What about skim milk or reduced fat milk? Does sheep or goats milk have casein? What cheeses are casein free or have low casein amounts?
To give a brief run down on casein, it is one of the proteins that make up all animal milk usually contributing around 80% of the total proteins. Casein is often used in protein powders and meal supplement bars to help boost nutrition and give the consumer a full feeling thanks to the wonderful coagulation properties of the protein which allow for long-term digestion and absorption of the protein.
This sticky coagulation property is one of the reasons folks with Celiac will have a problem digesting it – the protein is strikingly similar to the gluten molecule and the body will react very similarly to it.
Now for a brief run down on what is and what is not safe in your dairy isle…
All animal milk is off limits. I have yet to find one that says “casein free” on the label. There are plenty of lactose free milks available, but lactose is not casein, it is another protein entirely so be sure not to confuse these two. Skim milk has a higher concentration of protein - including casein - than full fat milk does, so don’t make this mistake either. The higher protein in skim milk is caused from taking the milk, spinning off the fat and using the remaining liquid as the final product. So this has the same protein content as before, with a smaller overall volume, thus the higher protein concentration. Boiling or heating milk does not remove the casein, either.
Rice, soy, hemp, cashew, almond, and coconut are all popular replacement milks for those of us who find animal based milks off limits. You might find that you prefer one over the other or even one brand over another, so shop around and see what you like and what works best for your kitchen. Everyone’s preferences are going to be different.
Just as all animal milk is off limits, so is all animal based cheeses. Remember how casein is a great coagulator and kind of sticky? Sadly, this is how cheeses come out so deliciously solid making it off limits for us, as well.
There are many cheese alternatives available on the market today, but a good bit of them still contain casein, so this is where label reading skills come in especially important (you are reading those labels, right?). Some good brands that I look for include Daiya, HeidiHo, and Tofutti. They all look, act, and taste like the real thing. I’ve been away from cheese for a good bit now, but the spouse, who is a devoted dairy consumer, seems to enjoy them all the same. I’ve also heard good things about Follow Your Heart, and Teese Vegan Cheese. Check around your local grocers and see what they have. If you can’t find something for you, ask the manager to order a product for you. Chances are if you want it, someone else does too.
Butter also falls into the same off-limit category as the above animal-based milks and cheeses. Anything that is made with animal milk needs to be avoided 100% to be sure of a fully casein free diet.
There are several alternatives on the market that are very tasty and act just the same for cooking and baking. I’ve enjoyed using Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks and Spread for several years now and haven’t had any issues with it. I enjoy the flavor and the fact that I can bake and cook with it. Coconut oil is another popular alternative that many folks turn to. I’m not a huge fan because of the smell, but it’s wildly popular nonetheless. Country Crock might work for you, but it does contain whey and lactic acid in some of their varieties, so proceed with caution here. Check around your dairy isle and see what products they have for you.
Ghee is the last category that I want to cover. Ghee is tricky. In theory, it should be safe for those of us with a casein allergy. Ghee, or clarified butter as it is sometimes referred to, is made by simmering pure butter until it separates into layers. The top layer is whey and becomes foamy and is removed during cooking with a spoon or other method. The very bottom layer is the milk solids where the casein resides. The middle section is the ghee. The ghee is very carefully poured off the solids and usually strained through a sieve or cheesecloth to ensure all solids are removed from the ghee. This process should leave the end result with no casein, but there is a high chance of cross contamination and left over solids, so this is where caution comes in. I still indulge in Indian food and most of the time I do not have any issues. Use your own judgment on this one.
I hope this clears up any questions you might have regarding a casein free diet. Feel free to comment below or email me any additional questions you might have or issues you would like me to address.