More and more people are moving away from dairy milk for any number of reasons, including health benefits and environmental causes.
Increasingly, people are looking to plant-based alternatives for their tea, coffee, and breakfast cereal.
So, what is non-dairy milk?
Non-dairy milk is any milk that does not contain cow, sheep, or goat’s milk (or milk from any other mammal). It is usually plant-based and is made from a variety of different things, so it’s a good idea to try different plant milks and see which one suits your tastes. The great news is that you have a lot of options.
How Do I Find A Non-Dairy Milk That Suits Me?
There are a lot of options out there, so how do you know which one is right for you? What kind of non-dairy milk should you choose?
This will differ for every single person, and you may find that you prefer different plant alternatives for different situations. Some people love almond milk on their cereal, while others prefer soy milk. You might find oat milk useless in coffee, but cashew milk is perfect.
It’s a good idea to try a variety of milks. If you have friends who drink plant milks, ask for a taste and see what you think. If you don’t know anyone else, buy a carton of something and try it out.
Bear in mind, it may take a while for your tastes to adjust. If you have been used to cow’s milk for your whole life, you will probably find the plant alternatives a bit strange to begin with. After a while, though, you’ll wonder why you ever drank cow’s milk because you’ll be so used to the taste of plant milk.
The only way to find a non-dairy milk that suits you is to keep trying them. If you come across one you actively dislike, try using it up in cooking so it doesn’t go to waste and pick up another.
Some people find that it helps to do half and half for a while so that the flavor is less starkly different. Swap half of your milk for soy milk and continue adding cow’s milk for the other half. Gradually alter the quantities until you are drinking exclusively plant milk.
What Plant Milks Are There?
So that you know what you have to choose from, let’s run through a list of the plant milks.
- Almond milk
- Coconut milk
- Peanut milk
- Soy milk
- Cashew milk
- Oat milk
- Rice milk
- Hemp milk
- Flax milk
- Pistachio milk
- Hazelnut milk
- Walnut milk
- Pea milk
- Banana milk
- Macadamia milk
- Pecan milk
- Quinoa milk
The last few on this list are still pretty rare, but you should be able to find them in large stores, or you can have a go at making your own at home. We’ll go into more detail on that later.
Of the others, you can pick any or mix and match to see what suits you. The most environmentally friendly is probably oat milk, as this can be grown in many countries (and so has low food miles) and does not take excessive amounts of water.
Almond milk is very popular, but it does require a lot of water to produce. While it is still a more environmentally friendly alternative to dairy milk, almonds are a thirsty crop and most almonds are produced in California, which has been struggling with drought issues for years.
You may also wish to avoid cashew milk, as cashew nuts are ethically dubious on the whole. These soft nuts, unfortunately, require hand-shelling because they are quite delicate, and some exploited workers suffer horribly from a toxin within the shells, which is the same toxin that is found in poison ivy.
Gloves can’t be worn while processing cashews, and the shelling procedure can’t be done by machines, so cashews often come at a human cost. However, you can source ethical cashews from some places, such as the East Bali Cashew Company, so this nut does have a viable future if the industry moves in this direction.
Cashew nuts are still environmentally preferable, but the human abuse aspect puts many buyers off cashew milk. However, even with these restrictions, you have many options to choose from, and it’s easy to make plant milks at home if the price is putting you off!
How Do You Make Plant Milks At Home?
There are a lot of recipes for creating plant milks available online, although it does depend on what kind of plant milk you want to make. You will generally need a blender and a sieve, or some fine fabric, or a nut milk bag. That is about it, on the whole!
The advantage of making milk at home is that you can perfect a recipe to your exact taste, and make it any time you need it. No more nipping to the store for a pint of milk and finding that you have bought ten other things you didn’t need.
Some milks, like oat milk, can even be made without a blender if necessary (although some recipes recommend blending). Try soaking the oats in water overnight, and then straining them through a fine sieve or a cloth. The resulting water is the milk.
You can use the oat pulp up in oatmeal or flapjacks, or as a lovely bath soak for dry skin. You may want to sweeten your homemade oat milk, add vanilla extract, make other alterations, or leave it plain. Experiment with different things. Some people add dates, but this does then require blending.
Other plant milks can be made by blending the ingredient with water. These may then need straining. They can be kept in a bottle in the fridge. Be aware that they often won’t last as long as store-bought plant milks because they don’t contain preservatives.
However, this is a great way to cut back on the complexity of food and understand exactly what you are eating. If you have concerns over the chemicals in food, making your own is an excellent solution.
What Problems Might I Run Into?
Let’s look at some of the potential drawbacks of using plant milk – because, of course, there are a few.
Perhaps the biggest problem is that plant milks don’t tend to contain as many nutrients as dairy milk, so you should keep an eye on the nutrition facts and make sure you are sourcing the vitamins you need.
Many plant milks are fortified with vitamins for this reason but bear in mind that you won’t get those if you make your plant milk at home. Look for plant milks that contain vitamin B12, vitamin D, and calcium. If you make your own, ensure you increase your sources of these vitamins in other ways.
Some plant milks contain a lot of sugar or sweeteners, and these are best avoided. This is particularly true if you are buying plant milk for a child. If you can, try to acclimatize yourself to a non-sweet version of the drink.
If you can’t, don’t worry too much about a little sugar, but don’t buy the chocolate or toffee plant milks except as a treat. These are very sweet and contain a lot of artificial flavors, and should be saved for special occasions.
Although this issue is being addressed, some plant milks turn lumpy when they are heated. Oat milk, in particular, turns into a substance like oatmeal when poured into coffee or tea. Soy milk can curdle.
Most commercial plant milks contain ingredients to reduce this issue, which is another reason it’s a good idea to experiment with store-bought plant milks before you try making your own.
The problem can be overcome by letting your drink cool a bit and not using the “difficult” plant milks in hot drinks, but bear it in mind as a teething trouble you might encounter when first making the switch.
One of the ways in which the dairy industry has attacked plant milks is by pointing out that they have a lot of extra ingredients. As you may have already realized, these are often to replace vitamins or to help with stability, but it is a good idea to skim through the ingredients list before you buy a plant milk.
As with most foods, fewer ingredients is generally considered better, so try to select plant milks that don’t have excessive additives in them.
If you graduate to making the milk yourself at home, you can just add the single ingredient (rice, quinoa, oat, etc.) and water, and you’ll know exactly what you are consuming!
Plant milks are an excellent, healthy alternative to dairy milks, and their popularity is exploding. Many coffee shops now offer plant alternatives, and there is a massive benefit to the environment as our dependence on dairy decreases.
Of course, non-dairy milks are not the sole answer to the environmental challenges that we face, but they are a significant life change that many people can make – and enjoy having made. Plant milks are varied and some of the options taste fantastic!