The Ultimate Guide To Plant-Based Milk

The Ultimate Guide To Plant-Based Milk

'Oat milk - kind to the environment' (Photo: Shutter Stock)

Plant milk can be made from soy, oats, almonds, coconut, hemp, rice, cashews, and even peas, so there is a dairy-free milk for every taste. If you're feeling creative in the kitchen, it's easy to make plant-based milk at home, but there are many options available in stores around the world. Let's take a quick look at the world of plant-based milks!

Soya Milk – the classic choice

Soya milk is a classic choice, its widespread availability making it one of the most popular plant-based milks. It works consistently well in hot drinks, and has a much lower impact on the environment, compared to cow’s milk. Of all the non-dairy milks, soy milk is the most nutritionally similar to cow’s milk. It is moderate in calories and is a good source of protein and calcium, if enriched with calcium.

Soya milk contains compounds called isoflavones and phytosterols, that can possibly lower the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. It is suitable for a wide range of purposes and can be used without restriction for cooking, baking, or in coffee, and it can even be frothed. As with cow's milk, soya milk is now available in various flavors, including vanilla, chocolate, and banana.

Almond milk – rich in nutrients

The nutritional profile of almond milk is quite different to that of soya or dairy milk. The small amount of fat in almond milk is healthy unsaturated fat and it contains powerful antioxidants. It has a mild and slightly nutty taste and is ideal for eating with cereals. 

Depending on the brand, almond milk can be less suitable for use in coffee since it has a flaky consistency. Environmentally speaking, a glass of almond milk does require a lot of water to produce, although typically less than the average glass of cow’s milk.

Rice Milk – great for allergies

Rice milk is less likely to cause food allergies compared to any other milks because it is nut- and gluten-free. It has a naturally sweet taste and can be used for cooking and baking. The calories in rice milk are mostly from carbohydrates, and it has very little protein or fat. Since rice milk is a rather thin milk, it is less suitable for coffee. Like almond milk, rice milk requires more water to produce than other plant milks.

Oat milk – kind to the environment

Oat milk is slightly sweet, with a thin consistency similar to low-fat milk. It contains a moderate amount of calories and has more protein than most plant-based milks. It also has more fibre than other milks, Oat milk has more carbohydrates and sugar than many other milks – even unsweetened – so it may not be the best choice for people with diabetes. It is, however, suitable for cooking and baking. Of all the plant milks available, oat milk has one of the least negative impacts on the environment.

Coconut milk – great for cooking

Coconut milk is ideal for cooking and baking – both creamy and satisfying, while giving food a delicious aroma. It is delicious in all kinds of recipes – from curries to vegetable soups, smoothies, chia seed pudding and even ice cream. While canned coconut milk works best for cooking purposes, the coconut milk you buy in a carton (specifically for drinking) is fantastic in a cup of coffee or in cereals.

Cashew milk – a creamy newcomer

Cashew milk has a nutty taste and is suitable for cooking and baking. The fat contained is mostly healthy unsaturated fat. Cashew milk has only about two grams of carbohydrates per cup. It is suitable for coffee and adds a thickness that works wonderfully in lattes.

Hazelnut milk – a treat for the palate

Compared to other nut milks, hazelnut milk has slightly more calories and not as much protein. It has a delicious nutty flavour, which makes it a great choice for baked goods or adding to coffee.

Hemp milk – a good source of omega-3 fatty acids

Hemp milk is made from the seeds of the hemp plant. It is low in carbohydrates and high in fat – but most of those are healthy unsaturated fats. Hemp milk is rich in alpha-linolenic acid, the omega-3 fatty acid which helps support good heart and brain function. It is suitable for cooking and baking and has a slightly nutty taste.

Macadamia nut milk – the fancy milk alternative

Macadamia milk arrived on the scene much more recently than the other nut milks mentioned here and is still not widely available. This nut milk is low in calories but also very low in both protein and carbohydrates. It tastes great on its own and is particularly suitable for desserts and coffee.

(Environmental facts taken from the University of Oxford study,  Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers, 2018, Poore and Nemecek)

Plant-milk brands

Now that you've heard about the most popular plant milks, maybe you'd like to give them a try! More and more consumers are questioning the consumption of cow's milk and the impacts of dairy on animals, the environment, and our health. This is reflected in the increasing consumer demand for plant milk. Here are just some of the world's most recognized brands. And don’t forget, you can also try making plant milk at home!

Oatly: Available in the USA, and across Asia and Europe. Includes chilled, long-life, and flavored variants, as well as the ever-popular Oatly Barista, which can be frothed for the perfect dairy-free latte.

Alpro: Available in Canada, South Africa, and across Europe. Includes a wide range of chilled and long-life products such as soy, almond, cashew, coconut, hazelnut, rice, oat, flavored and variants specifically for young children. Alpro also produces plant-based yogurts, ice cream, cream, and desserts.

Silk: Available in the USA and Canada. Includes chilled and long-life products, as well as almond, soy, cashew, coconut, flavored variants, high-protein blends, creamers, and yogurts.

Vitasoy: Available in China, Singapore, Australia, USA, Latin America. Includes a range of products, such as almond, coconut, soy, rice, almond, and, oat milk.