A Guide to Plant-Based Milks
There are SO many plant-based milks available now. Let’s take a look at the deliciously dairy-free milk options that you can make or buy!
Plant-based milks have come a long way since I first went vegan 10 years ago. Back then, soy, almond and rice milks were really the only options available. Those are still perfectly good vegan milks, but they’ve been joined by so many other delicious milk alternatives.
Soy gets a terrible reputation, and it’s totally undeserved. A lot of the negative press about soy comes from the dairy industry. In fact, Big Dairy is so scared of plant milks, like soy, that it is lobbying Congress and the FDA to force makers of plant-based milks to remove the word “milk” from the label.
But back to soy milk. Soy milk is high in protein and delivers healthy doses of calcium and vitamin A. It’s great in coffee, cereal, baking or anywhere else you’d use a cow’s milk. Soy is the milk of choice in my house. My husband and I have been drinking and cooking with soy milk for over a decade. We also have an almost-four-year-old son who has been drinking soy milk since he turned one, and he is in perfect health.
There are so many nut milks out there! Almond, cashew, pistachio, macadamia…you name it! Like soy, I find that nut milks work well anywhere that you’d use a cow’s milk. You can buy nut milk at the store or make your own. There are two ways to make nut milk from scratch:
- From whole nuts. My cashew milk recipe is a good example of how this works. It’s pretty easy but a bit messy.
- From nut butters. This recipe takes about 30 seconds to make. Simply scoop 2 tablespoons of your favorite nut butter into a blender with 2 cups of water. You can add a little bit of salt and sweetener, if you like. Puree until you have a creamy nut milk.
Do not choose nut milks, like almond milk, if you’re looking to add protein or a serving of nuts to your day. As you can see from the recipes above, it doesn’t take a lot of nuts to make quite a lot of nut milk. That’s part of why there are barely any almonds in your almond milk.
Hemp and flax milks are also popping up on shelves now. Hemp milk delivers a good dose of protein and iron in a single serving. Flax milk doesn’t provide any protein, but it does offer calcium and is low in calories.
They have a less neutral taste than soy or nut milks, in my opinion. I prefer using hemp or flax milk in cooking or coffee, where their flavor doesn’t shine through.
There are several types of coconut milk out there, and choosing the right one can be confusing. If you’re looking for a cow’s milk replacement, you want the boxed coconut milk intended for drinking, usually labeled “Coconut Milk Beverage.” Like nut milk, don’t look to coconut milk beverage for your protein needs.
You can also buy lite or full fat coconut milks, and for the most part you can use them interchangeably in recipes. These are both thicker than the coconut milk beverage. Lite coconut milk is just thinned coconut milk, sometimes with a thickener added to make up for the missing fat.
Lite and full fat coconut milks are great for baking and for making creamy soups and curries. Full fat coconut milk is a great replacement for dairy if you’re making ice cream, as long as you don’t mind a coconut edge on the finished product.
Go Dairy Free has a great guide to coconut milks and where to use which type, if you want more information on the different coconut milk varieties.
Rice and Oat Milk
I’m lumping these together, since they’re both grain-based, and I feel like their tastes are similar. Because rice and oat milks are made from grains, they are on the sweeter side. I love these non-dairy milks best in cereal. You can use them in baking, as well. I wouldn’t use them to lighten coffee or in recipes like a creamy soup, because they not as creamy as other plant-based milks.
You can make banana milk at home, and it’s high in potassium, vitamin B6 and pectin. To make one serving of banana milk, combine in your blender:
- 1 frozen banana (I’d suggest peeling and chopping the banana prior to freezing.)
- 1 cup water
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- pinch of sea salt
- Puree until smooth.
You can drink your banana milk, pour it on cereal or use it as the base for your next batch of overnight oats.
This anti-inflammatory drink is not really a milk alternative, but it is too popular to leave out of this guide. You can use any of the plant-based milks in the guide above as your base for making golden milk. Here’s how you do it:
- 1 cup nondairy milk
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
- 1 teaspoon agave nectar or maple syrup
- pinch of black pepper (optional, if you like more heat)
- Whisk ingredients together in a small bowl.
- Strain into your glass or mug. Enjoy it warm or cold!
Do you have a favorite plant-based milk that isn’t in our guide? Tell us about it in the comments!
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