Macaroni and cheese – the ultimate comfort food – transcends age. We remember the blue box that mom used to take from the cupboard, and within a few minutes, we were sitting in front of a bowl of happiness.
As adults, we experiment with different takes on the soothing taste of mac and cheese, with lobster and beef only two additions proposed by chefs who go beyond the box. All use milk to create the roux or sauce. What happens when you make mac and cheese without milk? Don't worry – comfort is still just around the corner.
Still Inventing Macaroni and Cheese
Italy is credited with being the source for macaroni and cheese. The origins of what we know today as mac and cheese came from southern Italy in the late 13th century. While it was made with lasagna sheets cut into squares, the preparation called for boiling the pasta and tossing it into a dish of Parmesan cheese, where the heat of the pasta melted the cheese.
Americans took their turn with the dish, creating a church supper casserole or macaroni pudding. Either take was a riff on the macaroni and cheese we know today. Even Thomas Jefferson jumped into the mix, having sampled it when he traveled to Italy. It is suggested that he brought home a pasta-making machine for his personal use, but more likely, the recipe was tucked into his luggage. Both creations called for macaroni and cheese without the use of milk.
Mac and Cheese Without Milk
For those whose refrigerator is empty of milk, there are substitutes when making macaroni and cheese sauce. While the roux may carry a slightly different taste and consistency, your dish will still be tasty and comforting.
When Kraft introduced its blue box of macaroni and cheese in 1937, milk was the only addition you needed after ripping open the envelope containing the cheesy powder. That's the dish on which we grew up. However, creativity crept into the kitchen as more men and women experimented due to health reasons or simply out of need.
Dairy and nondairy alternatives to milk are available on every supermarket shelf, and either choice answers health concerns, including those of vegans. Even gluten-free pasta can be used for a tasteful dish without ruining memories of days gone by. You may have to adjust those memories to incorporate eating habits of today, but after one bite, you'll be hooked.
Dairy Substitutes for Milk
If you've ever tasted hot chocolate made with water instead of milk, you'll know the letdown you'll get when you use water instead of milk in your macaroni and cheese sauce. Other alternatives exist, all impart flavor and enhance your dish and most will probably already be in your refrigerator, so don't run out to the market right away.
You can use sour cream or yogurt as easy substitutes. You'll need to adjust the quantities and start with 1/4 cup of sour cream and add more until the dish reaches the consistency you want. Sour cream has more fat and calories than yogurt but works when you need to make a cheese sauce without milk.
You'll get a creamier mac and cheese, and the taste may be a bit more tangy than the original. You may find that adding a bit of pasta water to the mix instead of adding more sour cream or yogurt makes the consistency more even.
Using Nondairy Substitutes
Milk substitutes made with almonds, cashews, soy, coconut and rice and even milk made from hemp are considerations when making mac and cheese. The proportions are the same as using dairy milk. The taste is changed but not significantly, though all require additional seasonings to be added to enhance the taste. Coconut milk yields the creamiest mac and cheese if you use the unsweetened version.
Vegan mac and cheese is also possible, with ground cashews and nutritional yeast used in place of cheese. Preparing the dish is more labor intensive and requires grinding raw cashews after they've been soaked in water. Add almond milk, vegan butter and seasonings to taste, including Dijon mustard and paprika. While the mixture will be thinner than if you used other dairy substitutes, adding seasonings and topping with breadcrumbs enhances the flavor and comes close to what you may remember from the blue box.