Foods that Contain "Hidden" Dairy

If you are dairy-free, you may want to steer away from these products

illustration showing foods that contain hidden dairy

The Spruce / Bailey Mariner

If you are keeping a dairy-free diet, you may rely on labels reading "dairy-free," or perhaps go through the process of scanning the ingredient lists on each package. But you may be surprised to know that many seemingly dairy-free food products actually contain some form of dairy, whether it be in the form of casein, lactalbumin, whey, or another dairy derivative. Once you have an idea of some of the food products out there that can contain hidden dairy, you will be able to make better choices when it comes to purchasing food completely free of dairy. 

  • 01 of 11

    Boxed Cereals and Cereal Bars

    Pan of Fruit and Nut Chewy Cereal Trail Bars
    Annabelle Breakey/Digital Vision/Getty Images

    More boxed cereals than you'd ever suspect actually contain some form of dairy, even "health food" and "natural cereals." Usually, these will contain casein, nonfat milk powder, or whey protein or whey protein isolates. These products will list in bold what allergens are present within, namely milk, nuts, and soy, to make label-scanning a little easier. If you'd rather just make your own dairy-free cereal, you can try toasted muesli and vegan breakfast quinoa.

    Aside from the obvious "yogurt" varieties, many cereal bars also contain some form of dairy, typically butterfat, casein, milk powder, or whey. While there are some dairy-free varieties available, you can also try making some of your own dairy-free cereal bars for breakfasts on the go.

  • 02 of 11

    Prepared Breadcrumbs

    Breaded Chicken Breast with Linguine
    Lauri Patterson / Getty Images

    It is easy to think that breadcrumbs are simply dried and ground up bread, but prepared breadcrumbs more often than not contain some form of dairy—be it butterfat, casein, dry milk powder, whey, or some combination. An easy and delicious solution is to substitute traditional prepared breadcrumb varieties with panko breadcrumbs, which are usually not only dairy-free but also lower in sodium content. You can also make breadcrumbs from dry, day-old dairy-free bread simply by crumbling the bread with your hands.

  • 03 of 11

    Processed Sandwich Breads

    Food Lunch
    Brian Macdonald / Getty Images

    Processed sandwich bread, both white and wheat varieties, often contain casein, whey, or nonfat milk powder and sometimes all three. Although there are exceptions, it is a good idea to seek out sandwich bread that is located in the refrigerated or frozen section of your local health food grocer, such as Ezekiel bread, as these rarely contain any dairy—and are delicious! If you are so inclined, you can make your own dairy-free bread, such as an Irish soda bread.

  • 04 of 11

    Quick Breads

    Vegan Zucchini Bread

    The Spruce

    Quick bread, such as banana, corn, and pumpkin, almost always contain butter and milk. While some processed varieties may not include actual butter, they will usually contain whey protein isolates and nonfat milk powder. Generally, if quick bread is non-dairy, they will be advertised as such. The nice thing about quick bread, however, is that they are, indeed "quick" to make and "quick" to bake, such as a vegan banana bread or zucchini bread.

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  • 05 of 11

    Yeast Breads

    Yeast bread

    eleonora galli / Getty Images

    While many yeast breads do not typically contain dairy products in their actual dough, such as French bread and sourdough, bakers will often bake these loaves in buttered pans or brush the crusts with butter as they bake. And the only way to really be sure if this has been the case is to ask the baker.

    There are, however, many yeast breads that almost always contain dairies, such as Babka, biscuits, Brioche, cinnamon bread, and croissants. While it is rare to come across these items without dairy, it is possible to make them dairy-free, as well as very satisfying when they come out of the oven, even a quick dairy-free biscuit

  • 06 of 11


    Tetra Images / Getty Images

    Store-bought crackers almost always contain butter, butterfat, or nonfat milk powder, although some natural and organic companies have started producing non-dairy alternatives that can be found at natural and health food stores. Crispbread crackers are an easy and healthy cracker replacement as well, such as Kavli and Wasa crispbread crackers, which rarely contain dairy.​

    Making your own dairy-free crackers, however, is really easy and gives you the ability to make festive shapes and add the seasonings and flavors of your choice.

  • 07 of 11

    Deli Meats

    Deli sliced meat
    Omer sukru goksu / Getty Images

    Dairy products such as lactose, casein, and caseinates are often added to processed meats and deli meats to act as an emulsifier or contribute to the flavor of the meat. Reading labels for most of these products is imperative in determining if they are dairy-free or not, but to make the process easier, look for meats labeled "Kosher" as these will be dairy-free.

  • 08 of 11


    Plate of homemade granola
    Westend61 / Getty Images

    Granola is traditionally prepared with a mixture of raw grains, dried fruits, nuts, and seeds that have been tossed with a sweetener and either butter or oil. While there is no rule of thumb as to which granolas will use which fat, it is often the case that those that are oil-based will be labeled as such. Luckily, granola and granola bars are incredibly easy to prepare and will make your home smell wonderful as they bake.

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  • 09 of 11

    Non-Dairy or Vegan "Cheeses"

    Homemade almond cheese

    The Spruce


    While it is often the assumption that soy, nut, and rice-based "cheeses" are non-dairy, it is also often the case that these contain some form of casein or whey proteins. Usually, products will be labeled as "vegan" if they are dairy-free. Some dairy-free varieties to try are "Follow Your Heart," "Tofutti" and "VeganRella." You can also try making your own dairy-free cheese.

  • 10 of 11

    Protein Bars and Energy Bars

    Granola Bar
    4kodiak / Getty Images

    Countless brands of protein bars consist of primarily whey protein, but even many soy protein bars contain dairy in the form of casein, lactose, and milk powder, as well as whey protein or whey protein isolates. Your best bet is to look for vegan protein bars, of which there are several on the market.

  • 11 of 11

    Vegetarian "Meat" Products

    Vegan meatless balls in tomato sauce in a cast iron pan
    Westend61 / Getty Images

    In order to provide additional protein and act as an emulsifying and stabilizing agent, many vegetarian "meat" products contain casein or whey protein isolates. Typically, if they are dairy-free, these products will be labeled as "vegan" or "casein-free;" you can also look for vegetarian meat substitutes labeled as Pareve, as these will contain neither meat nor dairy products. Some good non-dairy vegetarian meat products are made by Health is Wealth and White Wave, but making your own seitan meat products is really easy.