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I have an Italian cookbook and I really like the Bolognese Meat Sauce. However, I have learned I really do not do well with dairy and one of the steps is to “cook the meat in milk before adding wine and tomatoes to protect it from the acidic bite of the latter.” Is there a non-dairy substitute that would protect ground beef from the acidic bite of tomatoes?

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  • What is meant by acidic? If it is flavour you can just just choose tomatoes that are not too ripe. They are still acidic, but not in the flavour. If instead you mean the acid in terms of acid action you could add some sodium bicarbonate.
    – FluidCode
    Mar 20, 2023 at 13:06
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    Dear all, please don't use this space to discuss ways to manage a lactose intolerance. We have a rule against medical advice, and we make the assumption that the OP knows their condition better than us and has made an informed decision about their own diet.
    – rumtscho
    Mar 22, 2023 at 11:45
  • @rumscho That is right. But why did you leave for so long posts that gave misleading information and intervene only after another post corrected them?
    – FluidCode
    Mar 22, 2023 at 12:32
  • @rumtscho It is surprising that mentioning ingredients on a cooking site could be taken as medical advice.
    – Biblasia
    Mar 22, 2023 at 17:54
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    ... statement about a physiological/medical result is true and which is wrong, and this is something we cannot deliver, and don't want to get into discussions about. So we are left with 3) - remove all of them. To know which ones we remove: information on which ingredients can be used in a tomato sauce is OK, information based on assumptions of which ingredients the OP should avoid consuming, given what they told us about their medical condition, is not OK here.
    – rumtscho
    Mar 23, 2023 at 9:16

7 Answers 7

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There are many 'bolognese' recipes – although purists will say they do not count as authentic to the Italian origin – that do not use dairy. Indeed, bolognese is very popular in the UK and I think most people would be surprised to learn that the Italian standard recipe includes dairy (as well as white wine, not red).

You will be fine just leaving out the milk from your existing recipe; 'protecting from the acidic bite' is just a florid way to say 'tastes a bit better' and the difference won't be dramatic. This is also somewhere you could experiment with substitutes like non-dairy milks. You could also search for bolognese (or meat ragu) recipes and pick one without dairy that sounds appealing.

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  • My experience with soy milk is that it behaves mostly like regular milk when cooking, but if you use more than a small amount it makes your dish taste like soy, which can be unpleasant (especially in savory dishes). Mar 20, 2023 at 20:37
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    @Bass I thoroughly disagree with everything you've written there. Many recipe books explicitly encourage adapting recipes according to taste, dietary needs, or ingredient availability. There are some types of recipe (cakes come to mind) where ratios or timings have to be fairly precise, but for everything else "follow it to the letter" will more likely lead to anxiety than enjoyable food. The important thing is to understand what the ingredient / instruction you're changing was doing, and what effect a change is likely to have - which is exactly what is being discussed on this page.
    – IMSoP
    Mar 22, 2023 at 12:32
  • Modify recipes all you want. You are the master of your own destiny.
    – Daron
    Mar 22, 2023 at 15:07
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A small amount of sugar (tsp or less) can help balance acidity of tomato. I mainly use half a grated carrot, rather than sugar for the same purpose, in my basic tomato sauce. As @dbmag9 suggests there are many bolognese recipes, the one I favor only uses tomato paste, which is less acidic than other forms of tomato. ...and I agree, no problem leaving milk out if you must.

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    Adding sugar should be the solution of last resort. If you can select the tomatoes for the sauce from the flavour point of view the result will be way much better. Tomatoes that are red, but the pulp is still firm. Those are the best choice, if they are San Marzano it is even better.
    – FluidCode
    Mar 20, 2023 at 13:38
  • I also use carrot. Mar 20, 2023 at 14:39
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    @FluidCode most of us cook on a budget.
    – RonJohn
    Mar 21, 2023 at 1:07
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My interpretation is that you're not looking for any potential way to reduce "sharpness" in a tomato-and-wine sauce, but that you love this particular recipe and want to match the taste as closely as possible.

For that purpose, it is best to use a non-dairy cooking cream imitation. It is not the only way to reduce the sourness, but mixing tomatoes with a fatty emulsion produces a rich and mild taste that is very different from adding sugar, carrots, or other ways of controlling the sour taste. You could in principle also try a milk substitute such as oat or almond milk, but the cream substitute will work better.

A couple of words to the "milk protects meat" idea: You didn't find anything, because the book uses a very misleading wording. There is no need to protect meat from acid, there are many recipes where chunks of meat get marinated in high-acid ingredients, including wine, for better taste. Also, if you mix milk and ground meat, you won't get any kind of protective layer or the like, the later ingredients will have just as much contact with the meat.

Update as lupe notes in comments, coconut milk has the desired physical properties, and does indeed change the taste of sour tomatoes into a milder one. It will move the taste very far from traditional Italian, so you have to try for yourself and see if the new combination is something you enjoy.

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    I'd be tempted to try a little coconut cream or milk - it's quite a mild flavor, it's got the right attributes, and it doesn't split. Don't know if it'd end up tasting like coconut though.
    – lupe
    Mar 20, 2023 at 13:39
  • @fyrepenguin thanks!
    – rumtscho
    Mar 20, 2023 at 14:20
  • @lupe thanks, I added it to the answer - or, if you prefer to write your own answer, I can roll back my edit.
    – rumtscho
    Mar 20, 2023 at 14:23
  • @rumtscho - definitely good - fits better as a comment from me, particularly as I've not tried it. agree with you about it being a long way from traditional italian, though with a small enough quantity it may not be super noticeable.
    – lupe
    Mar 20, 2023 at 14:30
  • Coconut milk/cream does split when heated - we tend to add it after the heat is turned off if we don't want it splitting, but it does emulsify well Mar 22, 2023 at 2:43
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Tomato juice, being acidic, may curdle many of the milk substitutes on the market. The result may be unappetizing, so you will want to experiment a little before assuming it will all work well.

Personally, I like making a sauce from cashews to replace cheese, and a thinner version can replace milk--but the thinner version may be more visibly affected by curdling, depending on the strength of the acid mixed with it. There are other options, some with soybeans, some with almonds, etc. In some places, "rice milk" is on the market, and I have even seen a milk substitute made from pistachios. Health-food stores may have some nice options; you may just have to look around a bit to see what is available in your area.

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  • Welcome! I've edited the health advice out of your answer, since it's off-topic on this site.
    – Sneftel
    Mar 21, 2023 at 16:20
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Its actually a little silly to suggest that milk will protect from acid, because as any cook will tell you ... what happens when milk and acid meet ? The milk curdles !

What I would suggest is the following:

  1. Using a seperate pan, boil off the alcohol from the wine before adding it to the meat. The alcohol is what gives the "acidic" taste. Also don't use horrid cheap wine, there's no such thing as "cooking wine", if you wouldn't drink it, don't cook with it !
  2. Same with the tomatoes really. Just dumping raw tomatoes into the dish won't give you the best flavour. Stew the tomatoes a bit before hand to concentrate the tomato flavour and (gently) evaporate some of the excess water (tomoatoes have a high water content which will obviously dilute flavour). Maybe throw some garlic and herbs in there too...
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    The tomatoes are the acidic-tasting part. Have you tried this advice?
    – wizzwizz4
    Mar 21, 2023 at 13:11
  • @wizzwizz4 "The tomatoes are the acidic-tasting part." In Italy apart for this and other recipes that explicitly include dairy it is said that cooking cream and butter are the common solution of the inexpert cooks to smooth the taste. It helps, but it is not necessary.
    – FluidCode
    Mar 22, 2023 at 12:52
  • @wizzwizz4 Tried what advice ? The one I gave ? Yeah, I've cooked my fair share of Bolognese in my life and that's how I do it. If your tomatoes are still acidic after following my advice then the problem is with your tomoatoes, not my advice. Jeez ! Mar 22, 2023 at 19:07
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I once knew an italian farmer that gave me some tomatoes just collected from the plant. They tasted as sweet as a fruit. Then I understood what a famous gangster confessed once. That he always cooked bolognese with canned tomatoes. The reason is that tomatoes for groseries and supermarkets are collected before turning red, so they are easier to move without breaking. Then they turn red after a while, but not in the plant... Canned tomatoes, are collected after becoming red, so they are sweeter.

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What about simply using lactose free milk?

Not non-dairy, obviously, but if it's just a matter of dairy sensitivity that would do the trick.

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    Not everyone’s issue with milk is lactose. Mine is casein. Sheep, goat, or A2 milk might be okay if that’s your issue, but depending on your reaction it’s often not worth the risk.
    – Joe
    Mar 28, 2023 at 14:45

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