Choosing a Non-Dairy Milk: 7 Popular Plant Milks and Their Perks
If you’ve glanced at the milk aisle in grocery stores over the last few years, you may have noticed an ever-growing (and overwhelming!) selection of non-dairy options. These range from soy to almond to flax and each are a little bit different in their tastes and consistencies.
You might think to yourself: Why should I bother with these non-dairy milks when I’ve always bought cow’s milk? Well, there are a few reasons why you may consider switching it up! In a nutshell, the dairy industry is incredibly taxing on the environment given its resource-intensive feed quotas, water allocations , and greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the approximately 250 million dairy cows producing milk globally. Beyond environmental factors, there are also serious ethical concerns within the dairy industry and its treatment and exploitation of cows. If you’re looking for ways to lower your carbon footprint and contribute to a more ethical milk while doing so, I’ve got some tips for you on how to choose the best one for your needs!
When it comes to plant-based milks, almond seems to reign supreme as a transitionary milk away from dairy. It can be found in just about any store that sells cow’s milk and is priced equally, if not cheaper. In terms of its best uses, almond milk is great in cooking and baking given its mild flavor in unsweetened varieties. It’s also a good option for smoothies, puddings, and cereal given its thin-yet-milky consistency. With regards to its nutritional value, almond milk lacks in protein at 1g per serving but does contain a healthy dose of vitamins and minerals including riboflavin and vitamin E naturally present in almonds, along with other vitamins often added to store-bought almond milk like calcium and plant-derived vitamin D.
Things I may not recommend almond milk for include coffee drinks to use as creamer or in espresso beverages since its consistency is thin and it doesn’t hold up well to the strong flavors of coffee. Basically, if creamy is what you’re going for, almond milk may not be the one for you.
Soy milk is another one of the OG non-dairy milks, found in just about every grocery store next to the almond milk. Typically, you’ll find a wall of almond and soy milk varieties with options like vanilla, chocolate, unsweetened, and original. Soy milk is another incredibly versatile milk, perfect for using as a substitute for cow’s milk in baking and cooking. As an added bonus, soy milk is one of the best options nutritionally with 7 grams of protein per cup. It also contains a healthy amount of antioxidants in the form of isoflavones which reduce inflammation in the body and may have cancer-fighting properties.
The best uses for soy milk include baking and cooking (it’s worked in any recipe I’ve tried as a 1:1 substitute for cow’s milk!), creamer for your coffee, and really anything you’re used to eating with dairy milks. It’s a versatile, nutrient-dense option, particularly in its unsweetened varieties.
Let me tell you about the one, the only, OAT MILK! This seems to be a newcomer to the plant-milk squad, but it is such a winner. With hype-generating brands like Oatly on the market, oat milk is rising to the top of the non-dairy playing field. As a barista, this is particularly relevant in the coffee world. Missing your dairy-based creamer in your morning coffee? Look no further than oat milk to rescue you! Oat milk is perfect for lattes—hot or iced—and provides a smooth and creamy texture when added to coffee as creamer. With its creamy-yet-light consistency, oat milk would also be great as a substitute for cow’s milk in cereal, smoothies, and sweeter cooking and baking dishes.
If you’re not buying Oatly or a similar brand like Planet Oat, I recommend checking the sugar content before purchasing. Some shelf-stable oat milks can have upwards of 14 grams of sugar per cup! Refrigerated brands tend to have much less, with Oatly having 7 or so grams of sugar. If you’re concerned about fat content, Oatly also makes a low-fat version (no, this isn’t sponsored—just a devoted fan!).
If you like the taste of coconut, coconut milk might be the one for you! Its consistency is in between thin and milky, and can be wonderful when added to cold coffee drinks like cold brew. Nutritionally, it lacks in protein but has a high fat content if you’re looking to add healthy fats to your diet. As for its additional uses, coconut milk is great for cooking or baking but do note that there will likely be a flavor note of coconut in your final dish. For this reason, however, it can be great in Thai- or Indian-inspired dishes with curry-based sauces!
Given its coconutty flavor, I wouldn’t recommend this option to those who aren’t fond of coconut. Also note that coconut milk that you buy in a carton is very different from canned coconut milk, which tends to be full-fat and much too creamy to drink straight out of a glass. When cooking soups, stews, or curries though, canned coconut milk can be a great tool to have on-hand in your kitchen!
Creamy, creamy cashews. They’re wonderful for blending into creamy sauces and equally as wonderful in milk! It’s easy enough to make at home by blending some cashews, water, sweetener of your choice, and a dash of salt (maybe a recipe to come on that later…) but you can also buy store-bought varieties! Particularly, Silk sells a cashew & almond protein milk with 10g of protein per serving.
For best uses, cashew milk is great in smooth, creamy lattes and would also hold up well in creamy dishes. The cashew flavor is super mild so it’s a great option for cooking that won’t interfere with the primary flavors you’re going for. Similar to almond milk, cashew milk lacks in protein but try Silk’s protein blend if you’re looking to up your protein intake.
Pea milk is a new kid on the block from brands like Ripple boasting 8g of protein per serving along with 50% more calcium than 2% dairy milk, omega-3s, vitamin D, and iron. I personally haven’t tried pea milk warmed up in cooking recipes, but it’s fantastic over cereal, by itself from a glass, in smoothies, and in coffee.
Given its high protein content, this non-dairy milk would be great for adding a protein boost to smoothies without needing to worry about protein powder. Simply add pea milk, a handful of greens of your choice, 5-8 berries (fresh or frozen), some ice, and blend away! For some added fat, consider throwing a scoop of your favorite nut butter in too.
Last but not least, flax milk is an interesting new contender in the plant-based milk market! Since flax milk is made up of cold-pressed flax oil and water, it doesn’t have an impressive protein content (0g per serving), but packs a punch of omega-3s which are great for vegans to be supplementing. In my experience, I find flax milk to be on the watery side and don’t think it would work well for creamy purposes like in coffee or cooking. Instead, it’s great over cereal, in oatmeal, by itself, and great in smoothies too.
If you’re interested in flax milk for its omega-3 benefits, check out Good Karma products which are sold in most grocery stores and definitely at Target! They also make a flax milk + protein option which has 8g of protein per serving along with 1,200 mg of omega-3s per serving. A winner!
There you have it! Some of the most popular plant milks on the market right now and how you can best use each of them. If you have any other favorites or recipes you love in particular with a non-dairy milk, please share in the comments below!