One of my family’s go-to meals in the winter is a smooth and creamy soup, served with crusty bread and a side of roasted vegetables. Often, we’ll pour in a nice glug of heavy cream for richness and luscious flavor in the soup.

But heavy cream is not always the answer when it comes to silken soups. Maybe there’s none in the fridge. Perhaps the night’s menu needs to be plant-based or dairy free. And it’s just nice to have something a bit lighter. Whatever the reason, know that there are several great alternatives for creamy soups without the cream. Here are a few particular ingredients to consider instead.

Coconut milk

Canned coconut milk – not the refrigerated stuff intended for drinking – is an easy, pantry-friendly stand-in for heavy cream. Of course, depending on the recipe, the coconut flavor may come through, though it may not be noticeable when paired with such assertive ingredients as onions, garlic, ginger and cruciferous vegetables. Keeping a can or two around makes it simple to whip up an improvised pureed soup. As long as you have the coconut milk and some aromatics, you can cobble together a satisfying meal with whatever vegetables you have on hand.


Like coconuts, cashews are a plant-based option for adding creamy richness with plenty of fat for luxurious texture. You can maximize the potential with a high-speed blender such as a Vitamix.


If you don’t have a high-speed blender, you can set yourself up for success by soaking the nuts overnight in the fridge or in just-boiled water for 15 to 30 minutes. This will help soften them for a smoother texture, if not exactly as silken as those processed in a high-end blender.


To add creaminess with more protein and fiber and less fat, it’s beans to the rescue. Use canned or home-cooked beans from dried, both of which are pantry staples. If you use dried, hang on to some of the cooking liquid to use in place of the broth or water called for in the recipe – it’s packed with flavor and can help with a thick, smooth texture, too. White beans are perfect when you want a mild flavor that will allow the other ingredients to shine. Navy, cannellini and chickpeas are all accessible go-tos.

Simmering the beans for a least a little while will make them easier to blend to a smooth consistency.

But don’t discount black beans. Sometimes their distinctive earthy flavor is just what a recipe calls for. Two cans of black beans cook for just about 10 minutes before half (or more) gets pureed. As with several other dishes here, canned coconut milk is part of the supporting cast for ultimate creaminess.

Squash and potatoes

Yes, you can have a creamy soup even if you add none of these enhancements. Some of the silkiest soups we’ve had at home have been primarily made with butternut squash, supplemented with varying amounts of potato. If the soup is on the thick side, you can always thin with additional broth or water, no need to turn to cream, which can dull the vibrancy of the vegetable’s flavor in addition to adding more fat.

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