A comprehensive guide to MILK ALTERNATIVES

(Approx reading time 5 mins 33 secs)

Milk is in my list of basic ingredients because it is used in so many recipes, as well as being used on its own for things as common as coffee and cereal, or just a good ol’ glass of milk!

However, this doesn’t mean you have to stick to dairy milk. There are many plant-based milk alternatives in the market, with more coming out each year.

There are options for all budgets, and with so many to choose from, there’s definitely one you will like.

Check all the posts where I talk about milk.

Some things to keep in mind

All nutritional values I mention are based on 100 millilitres of milk. The numbers can change by brand and if the milk is homemade, they are only approximate numbers.

It’s important to notice that most commercial plant milks have added calcium, vitamin, and B12 vitamin so that their amounts are equivalent to dairy milk.

Plant-based milks can be bought as UHT or fresh (from the fridge), just like dairy milk. UHT milk will last for months and months, while fresh milk (even if it comes in an UHT-looking carton) will go off in a few days.

All plant-based milks can be made at home with just a blender and a cheesecloth (soya milk needs to be boiled too). But keep in mind that they usually go bad very fast because they don’t have any preservatives. Don’t keep them around for more than 3 days.

I have never been able to find powdered plant-based milks (other than for babies), so if you have, let me know in the comments. However, you can buy powdered soya and coconut milk mixed with powdered dairy milk. Those can be found in large supermarkets, ‘ethnic’ food shops (I’ve had luck in Indian and Chinese supermarkets), and online.

Plant milks can have a lot of fibre! So if you use a lot of milk and suddenly swap from dairy to plant-based, you might notice some unexpected changes in your toilet routine (speaking from experience here!), but you’ll be back to normal after a few days when your body has had time to adjust.

Semi-skimmed dairy milk (for comparison)

I’m going to be listing the nutritional information of most of the milk alternatives I talk about, so here are the details of the most commonly consumed dairy milk: semi-skimmed.

  • Fat: 2 grams, saturated 1.2 grams, polyunsaturated 0.3 grams
  • Protein: 3.5 grams
  • Sugar: 5 grams
  • Fibre: 0 grams

Soya milk

Soya milk is probably the plant milk with the closest mouthfeel to semi-skimmed dairy milk. Depending on the brand, the taste of the beans could be quite strong or virtually undetectable. You need to try several before you find one you like, and even when you find one you love you might find the flavour changed again. For some reason brands change their recipes quite regularly.

Soya milk can be unsweetened or sweetened (different brands use different sweeteners). Always double check the ingredients as ‘original’ will mean sweetened for some brands and unsweetened for others. If you’re going to use the milk in savoury cooking, you need unsweetened soya milk. For drinking or baking you can use either, but make sure you adjust sugar levels.

Soya milk is also the cheapest and easiest to find of all the dairy alternatives. Supermarket own-brands are often the same price as dairy milk.

Tofu is made from soya milk, which means soya milk curdles like nobody’s business! To avoid that, there are some tips you can follow: make sure you don’t mix it with very acidic liquids, make sure you don’t mix it with boiling liquids, and make sure you always add it last. The perfect cup of coffee or tea would be: a low acidity tea or coffee (one that is not very strong), wait for a minute or two for the temperature of the drink to go down, and add the milk last. If you like your drink boiling hot, just pop it into the microwave for a few seconds!

  • Fat: 1.7 grams, saturated 0.3 grams, polyunsaturated 1 gram
  • Protein: 3 grams
  • Sugar: 0.1 grams (sweetened can go up to 3 grams)
  • Fibre: 0.5 grams

Almond milk

Almond milk is thinner than semi-skimmed milk, and quite similar to skimmed dairy milk. Depending on the brand the flavour can vary quite dramatically, even more than with soya milk. And brands also like to change their recipes all the time!

As with soya milk, almond milk can also be sweetened or unsweetened.

  • Fat: 1.1 grams, saturated 0.1 grams, polyunsaturated 0.3 grams
  • Protein: 0.4 grams
  • Sugar: 0.1 grams (sweetened can go up to 3 grams)
  • Fibre: 0.4 grams

Oat milk

Oat milk is also quite similar to semi-skimmed milk and it is probably the plant milk with the most subtle flavour. These characteristics make it a good ‘newbie’ or transitioning milk. It also steams and froths beautifully, which makes it a great milk for hot drinks.

Oat milk can be a bit pricier than soya or almond milk, and also harder to find in smaller non-specialised shops.

Most varieties are unsweetened as oats are already quite sweet. Before using you always need to give it a good shake, oat milk likes to settle at the bottom and if you don’t mix it, you’ll end up with white water on top and a weird thick goop at the bottom.

  • Fat: between 0.5 and 1.5 grams, saturated 0.2 grams, polyunsaturated 0.7 grams
  • Protein: 1 grams
  • Sugar: 4.1 grams
  • Fibre: 0.8 grams

Coconut milk

Coconut milk can come in cans or in cartons. Generally speaking, when talking about dairy milk alternatives, people refer to the carton one.

Coconut milk has a very distinctive flavour, which can be fantastic for the right recipes (hot chocolate or muffins, for example) or absolutely disgusting for the wrong ones (like mash potatoes).

It is also feel quite fatty compared to other plant milks, even if the fat content is quite similar to semi-skimmed milk. If you haven’t had dairy milk in a while and don’t regularly have coconut milk, the extra fat could feel strange.

  • Fat: between 1 and 2 grams, saturated between 1 and 2 grams, polyunsaturated 0 grams
  • Protein: 0.1 grams
  • Sugar: 1.8 grams
  • Fibre: 0.1 grams

Rice milk

Rice milk comes in two varieties: regular and brown. The milk made with brown rice tends to be a bit nuttier in flavour, and also harder to find.

Both are quite thin, similar to skimmed milk, and usually only come in the unsweetened variety. Many people refer to rice milk as ‘white water’, but it is a good option for when you want (or need) milk but want to keep your drink or recipe light.

  • Fat: 1 grams, saturated 0.1 grams, polyunsaturated 0.6 grams
  • Protein: 0.1 grams
  • Sugar: 3.4 grams
  • Fibre: 0.3 grams

Hemp milk

Hemp milk is the most expensive of the commonly available plant milks.

The flavour is quite nutty and the high fat content makes it similar to coconut milk and semi-skimmed milk in mouthfeel, even if it is usually somewhat thinner than those.

  • Fat: 2.8 grams, saturated 0.3 grams, polyunsaturated 2 grams
  • Protein: 0.6 grams
  • Sugar: 0.1 grams (sweetened can be up to 2 grams)
  • Fibre: 0.5 grams

Pea milk

Pea milk is the new kid on the block of plant milks. It is made from yellow peas and is a cream colour. The texture is creamy, much like full-fat milk, and it can be a bit chalky.

There are only a few brands of pea milk in the market, which means it is quite expensive for now (even if the base ingredient is ridiculously cheap). It comes in sweetened and unsweetened versions.

  • Fat: 1.9 grams, saturated 0.3 grams, polyunsaturated 0.8 grams
  • Protein: 3.2 grams
  • Sugar: 0.2 grams
  • Fibre: 0.1 grams

Cashew milk

Cashew milk is very creamy and similar to full-fat milk in texture, with a subtle nutty flavour. It is still quite hard to find in shops, it almost always comes in small cartons and it can be very expensive. If you’re a fan, making it at home is a good option.

  • Fat: 2.5 grams, saturated 0.4 grams, polyunsaturated 0.4 grams
  • Protein: 0.9 grams
  • Sugar: 0.3 grams
  • Fibre: 0.3 grams

Peanut milk

Peanut milk dates back to the Incas, but it has only become a commercial product in the past few years.

It resembles cashew milk in texture, but tastes very much like peanuts! This makes it a great addition to baked good, porridge and recipes that would benefit from that peanut flavour.

  • Nutrition varies between brands

Tiger nut milk

Tiger nuts are used to make traditional drinks from Spain (horchata de chufa) and some West African countries (kunnu aya). Generally, these drinks are sweetened with sugar. It is usually drunk on its own, either hot or cold, but can also be used as any other plant-based milk.

The flavour is very distinctive, but the texture is similar to semi-skimmed milk.

  • Nutrition varies between brands

Other plant-based milks

Some other alternatives available on the market include milks made with:

  • barley
  • brazil nuts
  • buckwheat
  • flaxseed
  • hazelnuts
  • macadamia nuts
  • millet
  • pecans
  • pistachios
  • pumpkin seed
  • quinoa
  • sesame seed
  • sunflower seed
  • walnuts

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