Homemade dessert doesn’t get easier than instant pudding.
Boxed instant pudding mix will usually cost you less than two dollars, and all that’s needed to turn it into a chocolatey treat is a splash of milk and a bit of mixing.
A typical instant pudding mix requires two cups of milk for every box — the one I used is 3.9 ounces.
Since there’s no specification on the box, we can assume that the recipe calls for regular dairy milk. However, we were curious about what the best milk substitute for instant pudding would be.
Using six varieties of plant-based milks, I whipped up six bowls of pudding using chocolate-flavored instant pudding mix.
The results are surprisingly varied, and I even found that my favorite version came from my least-favorite milk. Let’s get into it!
An airy, mousse-like pudding.
A slightly runny, chocolatey pudding.
A slightly-sweetened flax milk will make for a pretty satisfactory plant-based pudding!
A vanilla-flavored pudding might be better than chocolate — though experimenting with pudding-to-milk ratios might help improve this combination.
A liquidy pudding that resembles chia pudding.
Sweetened cashew milk might do better, but if you don’t love cashew milk already, I’d say to skip it.
Organic, unsweetened coconut milk, Good & Gather
Coconut milk—a blended mixture of coconut meat and water — can be found in various forms.
There’s coconut milk in a carton, which is usually diluted with lots of water to give it the thin consistency of milk, and there’s coconut cream, which is less-diluted, thicker coconut milk.
I used canned, unsweetened coconut milk for this recipe. The texture of this milk is more like a thick mousse than a milk, and the proof is in the pudding!
Mixing canned coconut milk with instant pudding mix resulted in a pudding far thicker (and better!) than the rest.
This pudding was super thick and more like an airy chocolate mousse than a thick, gloopy pudding. It was chocolatey, but not in a rich, decadent way.
While I don’t usually enjoy the taste of coconut itself, I found the hint of distinctly cool coconut flavor in this pudding to be delightful.
I’d give this mixture a ten out of ten, but if you’re looking for a milk substitute strictly to make classic pudding, you may want to choose a more liquid-like milk.
Original, Nature’s Promise
Since it’s very mild in flavor, almond milk is often used as a dairy milk substitute in everyday recipes.
However, its lack of certain proteins and fats gives it different properties than dairy milk, so they can’t always be swapped on a 1:1 ratio.
I believe that this is true for instant pudding.
Using almond milk to make instant pudding wasn’t a fail, per se, but it wasn’t a major success.
It was difficult to get a smooth texture when whisking together the almond milk and pudding mix.
The end result was sort of lumpy and pretty liquidy, though more firm than the oat milk version.
Of all six plant-based milks, however, almond milk certainly made for the most chocolate-tasting pudding. I tried again using less milk, and the mixture was a bit thicker and less clumpy.
Unsweetened, Malibu Mylk
Slightly sweetened, Malibu Mylk
Those looking for dairy-free, nut-free milk will love flax milk. Made out of whole flaxseeds, this plant-based milk is nutrient-dense, sustainable, and gluten-free.
It’s a bit thicker than almond milk with a texture more similar to that of oat milk. Flax milk has a neutral, slightly nutty flavor with a very subtle chalkiness.
This was my first time trying flax milk, and I’d like to say that it’s got a flavor that is similar to almond milk with a texture more similar to oat or soy milk.
In pudding, this milk worked pretty well.
Since the dry mix and the milk didn’t blend together fully, there was a bit of graniness. However, the texture of the pudding was satisfactory: thick, creamy, and firm.
This instant pudding was good and chocolatey, with no overpowering flax flavor to inhibit the pudding’s sweetness.
I tried the same recipe with a slightly-sweetened version of flax milk, and the results were even better. Flax milk is for sure in my top 3 for plant-based pudding milk substitutes!
Barista blend, Willa’s Kitchen
Since oat milk is so distinctly rich and creamy, it usually makes a very good substitute for dairy milk.
Pudding is super easy to make, but you’ve got to get the texture just right — thick, gelatinous, and smooth without being overly runny.
I’d assumed that oat milk would be the best contender for making a decadent pudding, but that was not the case.
After whisking together oat milk and pudding mix, I waited around ten minutes for the pudding to firm and set. However, it never really firmed up.
The pudding was pretty liquidy, though still smooth and creamy.
As for taste, the oat milk’s flavor was certainly the overpowering one in this mixture. This tasted less like a rich, chocolatey dessert and more like oat milk with a hint of chocolate flavoring.
I tried the recipe once more using less milk than the recipe called for, and the end result was definitely firmer, though not quite as firm as I would’ve liked.
Soy milk is thicker than almond milk, but I find its flavor a bit more potent than that of almond milk. I find that soy milk tastes very soy-ish to me, and I can only really enjoy it if it’s used in recipes that mask its flavor.
In instant pudding, the soy milk itself is half the recipe, so you can imagine that its flavor wasn’t very subdued.
Strangely, the dry pudding mix and soy milk did not mix very well together. As instructed by the box, I stirred each mixture with a wire whisk for two minutes.
The soy milk pudding was pretty grainy and lumpy, and kind of liquidy. It almost reminded me of the texture of chia pudding.
If you like chia pudding, this pudding might have been fine for you. I, however, could not get past the lumpy, wet texture of this pudding.
Plus, the tang of soy milk certainly overpowered the sweetness of the chocolate.
Sweetened soy milk might work better, but I would skip soy milk the next time I try making plant-based pudding.
Unsweetened, vanilla-flavored, Silk
Cashew milk, in my opinion, tastes pretty bitter and kind of sour on its own.
It adds a wonderful creamy component to smoothies and sauces, but I wouldn’t drink a cup of it alongside a slice of cake.
I purchased an unsweetened, vanilla-flavored cashew milk in hopes that the taste of vanilla would improve the pudding recipe.
Again, the pudding made from this milk was lumpy and on the runny side.
Even if I could get past its thinner texture, the taste of this mixture was not something I’d voluntarily try again.
The taste of cashew milk was prominent in each bite, creating a weirdly sour-ish flavor alongside notes of vanilla and a hint of chocolatey sweetness.
The combination overall didn’t mesh, and I think that a sweetened version of cashew milk would make this recipe infinitely better.
Best Practices for Plant-Based Pudding
Pudding is easy, even when swapping out dairy.
Since the only two ingredients you’ll use are instant pudding mix and a milk substitute, there’s a good chance that the milk’s flavor will be prominent.
So, I’d suggest starting out by using a milk substitute that you know you already like.
From what I’ve learned, however, the best options are milks with mild flavors like almond milk or flax milk — use coconut milk for a fluffy, mousse-like chocolate-coconut pudding.
One major tip when using plant-based milk for instant pudding is this: don’t substitute with the exact milk measurements that the recipe calls for.
You may have to experiment a bit, but using about ½ or ¾ of the amount of milk called for in the recipe may help ensure that you’ll still wind up with a smooth, firm pudding texture.
What's The Best Milk Substitute For Instant Pudding?
In my test, coconut milk was the best substitute for milk in instant pudding. Almond milk and flax milk also work well if you want a thinner pudding.
Keep in mind that the "best" milk substitute for you might be different depending on your taste and texture preference.
But hopefully this test gave you a good starting point!
Can I use almond milk to make instant pudding?
Almond milk is a great option for instant pudding. It creates a slightly runny texture, but the flavor doesn't overpower the pudding.
Can I make instant pudding with water?
You can use water water for instant pudding, but it may not set properly. If you want to avoid using dairy, we suggest using a substitute like coconut or almond milk instead.
Is instant pudding dairy-free?
Most instant pudding mixes don't contain dairy. However, you should check the ingredient list to be sure.