A guide to the world of alternative milks
Updated: Oct 2
Got milk? Neither have we.
Thanks to the rise in popularity of alt milks, it's never been easier to opt for an oat milk latte at your favourite cafe. Even if you’re not a full-time vegan, alternative milks are a great way to cut down on your dairy intake in a casual, effortless way.
With our guide to alternative milks, we’ve made all of the varieties available, as well as their uses and ideas for clever swaps, straightforward and easy to understand. So, if you’re intrigued about what the alt-milk scene has to offer, let us delve into the world of non-dairy.
What can I substitute my dairy milk with?
There’s a huge variety of alternative-to-dairy milk options out there, each of which boasts their own unique taste and nutritional properties. A bit of investigation (and taste-testing) will also probably help you to find that, for example, your favourite addition to a cup of tea would be soy, whereas coffee and oat milk make your idea of a perfect partnership.
So, without further ado, here’s a small round-up of our six favourite alt milk varieties, plus a small description of the benefits that each unique type can boast of.
Quite possibly the Godfather of the alternative milk world, soy milk is an absolute vegan staple. It is made with soybeans or soy protein. The beans are soaked, blended and strained, then it is made more conventionally milk-like with thickeners and vegetable oils. This milk variety often comes highly sweetened, in order to disguise the naturally quite bitter flavour of soy.
Soy is also super nutritious, containing a similar amount of protein as standard dairy milk - and it is even one of the very few plant-based ‘complete’ protein sources (this is because it contains all of the essential amino acids that our body cannot produce for itself). It also boasts lots of antioxidants, fibre and nutrients. Soy also has about half of the calories fats and carbohydrates of its dairy counterpart.
Yet, there is some contention around the debate of soy’s environmental impact. This is because soy production is known to be responsible for a lot of deforestation (yet our dairy and meat industries, as animal feed is responsible for 90% of the soy we import, is definitely the main culprit behind this).
Soy milk tastes mild, creamy and works very well in savoury dishes, or to pour over your morning bowl of cereal.
Another super-popular variety, almond milk is a yummy substitute to dairy milk. It possesses a light texture and a lovely sweet flavour (you can even find vanilla-flavour versions), which makes it a very popular addition to cake batters, desserts, smoothies or milky coffee brew methods like lattes or cappuccinos.
Almond milk is made with blitzed almonds and water. It has significantly less fat and carbohydrates than standard cows’ milk. It is also one of the lowest-calorie alt milks out there, so it works very well for a healthy food swap. Although it does possess a lot of nutrients (including vitamin E and antioxidants), because some brands of almond milk contain as little as 2% in actual almonds, the concentration of these properties is significantly lower than if you were eating your almonds whole.
However, one important thing to consider is that not all brands of almond milk are good for the environment. Many almonds are grown in heavy drought areas, and they require a vast amount of water to grow. So, where possible, try to support UK almond milk makers, or even have a go at making your own almond milk.
Gradually rising in the alt milk rankings, oat milk is becoming increasingly renowned for its porridge-Esque flavour. It is naturally sweet, and of a thick, creamy consistency. This thickness, as well as its fibre levels, can have the effect of helping you to feel fuller for longer.
Oat milk is made by soaking oats in water. Although they are not as high in health benefits (they are lower in protein, vitamins and mineral levels compared to many other alt milk options), they are definitely a good eco-conscious option. Growing oats requires just a sixth of the water that almonds need. It is also a great (and very cheap) milk to make for yourself at home.
Silky? Flavourful? Tropical feel? Trendy? Coconut milk ticks all of the boxes. It possesses a characteristically coconutty flavour, which makes it a delicious addition to a wide range of drink, food and dessert recipes. It is made by using white coconut flesh, which is then grated, soaked, and the milk is extracted. Although it is quite an expensive variety, and is quite high in fat and calories, it contains a whole lot of different vitamins and minerals (such as iron, magnesium, and vitamins B, C and E). In addition, coconut growing requires less water than many other alt milk options, and produces far less greenhouse gas than dairy is responsible for.
Now, for something a little different. Who’s ever heard of pea milk before? This newbie to the alt milk block is made by milling yellow split peas into a flour and the pea protein is isolated, which is then blended with water, oils and other ingredients and emulsifiers to turn it into a milk.
It’s quite a thick milk, which is quite rich. It’s filled with nutrients and healthy properties, including the ability to add a significant boost to your heart’s health. Plus, it is a great environmentally friendly option, as the yellow pea-growing areas already receive lots of rain.
Rice milk is a mild-tasting, natural sweet alt milk, that is not dissimilar to the taste of a rice pudding. It is made by combining milled rice with water, then adding thickeners to get the right texture.
Although it does have the tendency to curdle when mixed with acids, rice milk makes a great addition to your desserts, vegan cooking, and other drinks. Plus, it also provides a great choice if you have a nut allergy - rice milk is the least allergenic alt milk option.
Other alt milk varieties that are out there for you to try on your cereal include hazelnut milk, flax milk, quinoa milk, peanut milk, hemp milk, macadamia milk, or even blended varieties to better mimic the best properties of dairy milk. And we’re certain that more varieties will make their way onto the alt milk scene in the years to come.
Keen to try your hand at making your own alternative milk? With this super-easy recipe, you can whip up a batch of your own macadamia milk. All you need is two ingredients and a little bit of elbow grease.
Recipe for homemade macadamia nut milk
Macadamia nuts, one cup, raw and organic
Water, 3.5 cups
Fill a large bowl with water and then add in the macadamia nuts, ensuring that the nuts are fully submerged. Leave the nuts to soak for around 2-4 hours.
Rinse the nuts thoroughly with clean water.
Blend the nuts with 3.5 cups of water. Add the blitz nuts to a nut milk strainer. Squeeze the pulp so that the milk is extracted. Your fresh macadamia milk can then be stored in the fridge in a mason jar for up to three days.
Why make the swap?
Now, it’s no longer the realm of hipsters - alt milk varieties are becoming more popular across the board, and are being appreciated as a fabulous addition to cereals, hot drinks, smoothies and home baking in their own right.
The flaws of this staple of the western diet are being increasingly discussed, which means that now, people can choose to try non-dairy milks for a huge number of reasons. This could be because they’re vegan, lactose intolerant, want to help the environment, or just because they think alternative milks taste delicious - coconut mochas are simply to die for.
As you can see with our round-up above, the existing alt milk options vary considerably in terms of flavour, cost, allergens, nutritional properties and environmental impact, so take your time to try the full range and choose a variety that’s best for you. Look out for unsweetened, high-quality varieties that are fortified with calcium and vitamin B12.
Making a conscious effort to swap out dairy milk for an alternative vegan variety - whether it’s a permanent practice or just something that you try to do once a day - is a great habit to get into for a number of reasons. It’s perfect for the eco-conscious milk lover, as the rise in popularity of these natural options mean that we depend less on methane-producing cows for our milks. Plus, many people find that non-dairy milks agree with their tummy a whole lot more.
If you’re on the lookout for other little eco-friendly steps to take, our FridgeCam is a must for your wish list. This innovative kitchen gadget is the perfect way to ensure that your kitchen is helping the environmental effort.
With the FridgeCam, you are given full remote control of your fridge from your phone. With your new smart fridge, you can keep a closer eye on expiry dates - meaning you are throwing out far less wasted food. What’s more, you can use this cleaver device to help govern your food shop, to stop you buying anything in double! You can get your hands on a FridgeCam via our Smarter online store and, thanks to our super speedy delivery option, it’ll be with you within 72 hours at no extra cost - all ready for you to try out some delicious alt milk varieties at your next food shop.
*Homemade macadamia milk recipe and image from www.poosh.com