Whether you’re lactose intolerant, vegan, or just looking to switch up your milk routine, nondairy milk alternatives can offer healthy nutrition profiles and different flavors to keep things interesting.
What is Nondairy Milk, Anyway?
Nondairy milks can be made from things like beans, nuts, and seeds through a process of grinding and squashing to extract the liquid from these nutritious sources. And when it comes to milk alternatives, the choices on the shelves these days can be a little overwhelming.
Do I want almond milk, soy milk, or coconut milk? What’s the difference between original, unsweetened, and vanilla? How does the nutrition profile of nondairy milk compare with cow’s milk? We’ve answered all your questions here.
What’s Wrong With Cow’s Milk?
Before you decide whether to ditch cow’s milk, consider this: cow’s milk contains proteins like whey and casein that are some of the best sources of amino acids that maintain lean muscles and improve metabolic health. If you drink the milk of grass-fed cows, you’re also getting a good source of healthy fats like omega-3. It’s also a great source of vitamin D and calcium.
Unfortunately, life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows (and grass) for most cows. They’re often fed a cheaper diet of corn and soy, which leaves them vulnerable to getting sick more frequently. When they get sick they’re given antibiotics, which pass into the milk we drink. While antibiotics are largely banned from supermarket milk these days, some farmers’ milk may be slipping through the cracks.
The release of antibiotic residue in cow’s manure into lakes and streams could be an upstream environmental concern, as stunted reproduction in fish has been noted as a consequence of certain leaked hormones. The jury is still out on the ramifications of antibiotic use in cows, but in general, overuse of antibiotics has been linked to the development of increasingly resistant strains of bacteria.
If you’re lactose intolerant or vegan, cow’s milk is an automatic no-no. But not all milk alternatives are environmentally friendly either. Keep in mind that milks like almond milk require a huge amount of water to cultivate the almonds.
There are always pros and cons to food alternatives, so keep an open mind and do your research.
How to Choose the Right Milk For You
Scour the shelves for milk alternatives and you’ll find almost too many to choose from: almond, soy, rice, coconut, hemp, cashew. You may even find less-common varieties like flax, oat, macadamia, and hazelnut milks. When it comes to taste, you can assume that each type of milk will have some flavor characteristics from its solid ancestor. Soy milk tends to be on the beanier side while almond milk retains a distinctive nuttiness.
But the biggest thing to watch out for when picking out your milk at the supermarket is its nutrition profile. While some pack a healthy punch, others can be loaded with added sugars, making them about as nutritious as a soft drink.
Out of six major alternatives (almond, soy, rice, coconut, hemp, and cashew), original soymilk is the best alternative for protein. It has the same amount of protein as skim, 1-percent, and 2-percent cow’s milk. Unsweetened cashew milk has the fewest carbs and calories, while unsweetened almond and unsweetened hemp win for lowest sugar content.
Which Milk For Which Occasion?
Milk alternatives vary widely in flavor. Here’s when to use each type of milk:
Soy and cashew milks have a rich, creamy consistency which makes them a perfect alternative for milk or cream in coffee. They’re also great for making hot oatmeal, pancakes, muffins, and mashed potatoes.
Coconut milk is a star when it comes to culinary applications. While coconut milk beverages are ideal for drinking as is, the thick, creamy coconut milk from a can is perfect for making ultra-creamy Asian-inspired curries and naturally sweet desserts. Rice milk is ideal for lighter and thinner soups and sauces.
Almond milk has a light, fresh flavor that makes it a great base for desserts. It offers the perfect subtlety for homemade ice cream and French toast, and adds a sophisticated dimension to savory dishes like creamed spinach and rosé pasta sauces. It’s also great for smoothies, as it doesn’t overpower the flavor of the other ingredients.
Hemp milk has a distinctive nutty flavor, which makes it best suited for savory dishes. It’s perfect for spicy Moroccan tagines, quinoa salads, and nutty salad dressings.
Make Your Milk at Home
One of the fun possibilities with alternative nondairy milks is you can make them at home. Here are recipes for the top two alternatives: almond and soy.
Recipe by Kumiko Mitarai
- 1 cup dried soybeans, rinsed, drained, and soaked overnight
- 3 ½ cups water
- vanilla bean or almond extract (optional)
- honey or agave nectar (optional)
- Rinse and drain the soaked soybeans. Transfer to blender with 1 cup water and puree until thick and creamy.
- Transfer puree plus 2 cups water into a large saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until foamy and just beginning to boil.
- Strain mixture into a large bowl with a cheese cloth. Open up the cheese cloth, add the remaining ½ cup of water and strain again.
- Return the soy milk to the saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to medium slow and simmer until the milk tastes sweet and has lost its raw bean flavor. Stir in additional flavor or sweetener to taste.
- Serve warm or cold. The soy milk will last for a few days.
So whether you’re lactose intolerant, vegan, or just looking for a change, the world of milk has evolved drastically from your grandparents’ days. Just make sure to scrutinize the labels on store-bought milks and don’t automatically dismiss the humble cow.
This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Fix.com/blog
Looking for more health dairy free milk recipes:
About the author:
Nicola is passionate about travel, food, digital media, and psychology. An award-winning writer and communication consultant, she is owner and principal of Think Forward Communication and Editor-in-chief at AnewTraveller.com