Over the years, people have become more aware of the negative environmental, health and animal welfare impacts of the dairy industry and dairy consumption. This has lead to more research into alternatives for dairy products such as beverages consumed for centuries that look or perform similarly to dairy for particular uses. These beverages include the coconut milk used in Asian curries, soy milk, which has been produced and used in China for the last 7 centuries and tiger nut milk and rice milk which have been used in the western and northern parts of Africa, and in Spain, to make kuunu aya, horchata de chufa and horchata de arroz before 1000AD. As a matter of fact, the white liquid formed from blending grains, tubers, seeds and some fruits with water has been referred to as “milk” for the last 8 centuries!
Whether you are allergic to dairy, lactose-intolerant, vegan or just looking to reduce your consumption of animal products/by-products, there is a plant milk for you. Some of these kinds of milk compare closely with the nutritional value of dairy, without the potential negative health effects, while others contain nutrients that can not be found in dairy making them healthier or more suitable for certain purposes.
In this article, we are going to introduce you to a few plant milks to give you a better idea of what they are and make it a bit easier for you to find the most suitable milk for you.
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The protein content of soy milk matches that of dairy milk. However, although it is nutritionally similar to dairy, it contains no cholesterol, fewer saturated fats and calories than full-fat dairy milk and similar calorific content to that of 1% fat milk. It also contains compounds such as phytosterols and isoflavones which aid in protecting your body against cardiovascular diseases, some cancers, osteoporosis and, in the case of phytosterols, high cholesterol. More information on the benefits of phytosterols to our body can be found in our Nutrient Index.
Like cow’s milk, soy milk is extremely versatile. It can be used in hot drinks (foamed or not foamed), for cereals, baking, cooking, cheesemaking, yoghurt making, et cetera, making it one of the most popular and sought after plant milks on a global scale. It should be noted that it is best to avoid soy milk if you, or someone you plan on serving a plant milk to, have a thyroid disease.
Almond milk is next to soy milk in popularity. However, it is nutritionally inferior to both soy and dairy milk. Although almonds are a great source of protein and calcium, commercially produced almond milk contains very little protein and often, it is fortified with calcium and other nutrients in order to increase the nutritional value of the milk. Nonetheless, almond milk is low in calories and contains no saturated fats. The fats it contains are all healthy and unsaturated.
Almond milk has a slightly nutty taste that often does not affect the taste of foods it is added to. It can be used for cereals, baking and cooking. However, most brands are unsuitable for use in hot drinks, such as coffee, as the milk is prone to curdling once in contact with hot drinks. We have a range of recipes featuring almond milk which can be found by clicking here.
This is our favourite milk. It contains more protein and calories than most plant milks. However, it also contains significantly more fibre and beta-glucan, which aid in regulating digestion and lowering cholesterol levels in the body and a lot of iron which is beneficial for preventing anaemia. More on the benefits of iron, fibre and beta-glucan can be found in our Nutrient Index.
Oat milk has a naturally sweet and extremely delicious taste (even the unsweetened versions) making it ideal for cereals, cooking, baking and making desserts. It can also be frothed and heated without curdling making it ideal for use in hot drinks such as teas and coffee. However, due to the amount of sugar naturally occurring in oat milk and oats usually being grown/processed alongside or near wheat, oat milk is often advised to be avoided for diabetics and those with coeliac disease or who are gluten intolerant.
Cashew milk is a really smooth and creamy tasting milk. Like almond milk, commercially produced cashew milk tends to be nutritionally inferior to soy and dairy milk. However, similarly, it is often fortified with nutrients such as calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin D and vitamin D in order to enhance its nutritional value. Homemade cashew milk does contain a higher amount of protein and fat than commercially produced cashew milk, but the higher levels of nutrients come with higher calorie content.
Cashew milk has a slight, almost undetectable, nutty taste making it suitable for use in most cooking, baking or drinks recipes that require milk. The creaminess of cashew milk also makes it suitable for use in hot beverages, such as coffee as it adds a creamy quality similar to that of lattes. As it tends to be low in carbohydrates, it is also more suitable for diabetic people than oat milk.
Our favourite brands of cashew milk are Alpro and Plenish. (click on the names to find where to order them) The Alpro version is currently on sale so it is about 80p cheaper than usual. The Plenish version is more expensive. However, it also has a higher protein content, is creamier than the Alpro version and more similar to homemade cashew milk.
We would say that coconut milk is third in line in popularity as it has been used in one form or another or centuries and, as coconuts are not actually nuts, it is more suitable than most kinds of plant milk for those who have nut allergies or intolerances.
The consistency and qualities of coconut milk vary greatly depending on what it is sold in. Canned coconut milk is usually thicker and creamier than the coconut milk sold in bottles or cartons. The former is usually used for cooking recipes such as those for curries and when making desserts such as a vegan cheesecake or ice cream while the latter is usually used in drinks and cereals – for purposes that require a lighter slightly less flavoursome liquid. We recommend not using a can with a percentage of coconut extract lower than 60% when cooking.
The nutritional value of coconut milk varies with the brand and vessel in which it is sold. Naturally, it contains nutrients such as iron, zinc, lauric acid, fats, potassium and magnesium. However, nowadays, coconut milk of drinking consistency tends to be fortified with additional nutrients such as calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin D2 and vitamin E. You can find more information about the benefits of these nutrients in our Nutrient Index.
Hemp milk is made from hemp seeds which are sourced from a plant similar to that of cannabis. However, they do not contain psychoactive chemicals and, as a matter of fact, hemp seeds are a good source of nutrients such as protein, iron (more than soy and dairy milk), unsaturated fats, omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids! Just 300ml of hemp milk contains over half of the recommended daily value of omega-3 fatty acids for our bodies. More information about the benefits of omega fatty acids to our body can be found in our Nutrient Index.
Hemp milk is usually sold in a drinking consistency making it suitable for use in tea, coffee, baking, oatmeal, smoothies, milkshakes and cereals. It has a slightly nutty taste, which is noticeably different from that from the aforementioned kinds of milk.
Our favourite brand of hemp milk is Good Hemp. It can be found in ASDA, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Morrisons and Holland & Barretts, with the widest variety of their products sold at Waitrose. Good Hemp usually costs £2, which is more expensive than other kinds of milk. However, it is currently on sale for £1.50 at ASDA, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Morrisons with two of the 4 varieties sold at Waitrose being sold for £1.99 each. On the other hand, at Holland & Barretts, its price ranges from £1.99 to £2.49.
Rice milk is one of the best kinds of milk for those who suffer from dairy, nut, seed, soy and gluten allergies or intolerances. It is naturally sweeter than other kinds of plant milk due to its higher carbohydrate content (making it unsuitable for diabetics). However, it contains fewer calories and less fat and protein than other kinds of milk and due to it also containing lower amounts of other nutrients, or not containing the at all, rice milk is often fortified with additional nutrients to improve its nutritional qualities. It should be noted that although rice milk is more suitable for allergy sufferers, it is not advisable for infants and very young children due to the levels of inorganic arsenic it tends to contain.
Due to rice milk’s thin consistency, it is not suitable for use in hot beverages such as coffee, tea and hot chocolate. However, it is suitable for cooking, baking, making cold drinks and for use in cereals.
We hope this article helps you choose the best plant milk for you.