Non-dairy milk alternatives have proliferated in recent years. There are currently more than 15 “milks” on the market made from nuts, grains, seeds, and fruits that offer various flavor profiles and uses in cooking. Here, we explored seven of the most popular.
Nutritional information is collected from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's FoodData Central. Serving size is per 8 ounces (and unsweetened, of course). We also had help from five Phoenix-area vegetarian and vegan chefs and restaurant owners. Below, they share their personal thoughts and current offerings on each milk type.
Our panel includes Stormie Burcky, a barista at Dark Hall Coffee, Chris Gruebele, a chef at Verdura, David Warr, owner of The Giving Tree Café, Keith Wyatt, owner of Whyld Ass Cafe, and Jason Wyrick, chef and owner of Casa Terra.
Let's get started.
In 2013, almond usurped soy as the most popular non-dairy milk in the United States. As of July, 2018, annual sales of almond milk totaled $1.2 billion. However, it’s recently been criticized for its negative effects on the environment.
How it’s made: Soak almonds overnight. Combine with water in a blender. Strain through a nut milk bag or a fine-mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth.
Protein: 1.55 grams
Fat: 2.88 grams
Fiber: 0 grams
David Warr (DW): We [at The Giving Tree Café] do a vegan quiche with almond milk and it's really quite nice. It’s super simple, almond milk. I'm not exaggerating. You can make an entire half a gallon of almond milk in three minutes.
Stormie Burcky (SB): There is ample research on the amount of water and pesticides needed to grow almonds and how it is impacting our environment in the long run.
Jason Wyrick (JW): I usually make almond milk. It’s super easy to make, easier than oat milk, and comes out very clean for a homemade product. It’s virtually a blank slate, so you can flavor it with dates, cardamom, fresh vanilla, or anything else you can imagine. I love it as a cooling summer drink before I go on a bike ride.
Cashews have the highest concentration of zinc and copper compared to other nuts, and a cup of unsweetened cashew milk has just 25 calories. Because cashew crops are low-yielding, cashew milk may not be the most environmentally friendly option, according to one study.
How it’s made: Soak nuts for a minimum of six hours, then rinse and drain. Combine in a blender with water and mix until it becomes a homogeneous liquid.
Protein: 1 gram
Fat: 2 grams
Fiber: 0 grams
SB: We [at Dark Hall] make all our coffee drinks with non-dairy milk. Each one really has a profile where it shines best. If one wants to order a caramel latte, we suggest adding cashew milk since both the flavor and the milk here are rich and creamy.
Keith Wyatt (KW): We [at Whyld Ass Cafe] make a milk blend of walnut and cashews. This is a nice, creamy milk we use as a base for our lattes as well as our tomato bisque. After we blend and strain, we add agave, vanilla, and pink Himalayan sea salt to our milks.
Often marketed as a “coconut milk beverage,” drinkable coconut milk is not the canned coconut milk used for cooking. Its rich taste comes from its high oil content, most of which is saturated fat.
How it’s made: Combine fresh coconut with hot water in a blender and strain through a nut milk bag or a fine-mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth.
Protein: 2.29 grams
Fat: 3.6 grams
Fiber: 0.3 grams
Chris Gruebele (CG): Coconut milk and coconut cream come into play when I'm trying to emulate something more “creamy” like a dessert curd or a creme anglaise, but I never really stick to any set rules of what dairy substitute I use.
KW: We [at Whyld Ass Cafe] make coconut milk and use this in our baked goods, smoothies, and lattes if that’s what the customer likes.
Hemp is a highly sustainable crop, which makes hemp milk a favorite among eco-conscious consumers. It has a texture closest to cow’s milk and some baristas say hemp milk makes for better latte art. Hemp milk is rich in nutrients including omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids, magnesium, beta-carotene, calcium, fiber, and iron.
How it’s made: Combine hemp seeds and water in a blender. Add vanilla extract to enhance flavor. Straining is optional.
Protein: 4.7 grams
Fat: 7.3 grams
Fiber: 1 gram
DW: Even though we don't sell it in [Whyld Ass Cafe], I kind of love hemp milk. It’s super nutritious and easy to make. I don't mind the little bits of fiber in my smoothies and that's normally how I use it.
KW: If I were stranded on the infamous deserted island and could only have one non-dairy milk, I would probably want to take hemp milk because of its nutrients.
JW: Hemp milk has off flavors. No thank you!
Popular for its creaminess and flavor, oat milk is also a good non-dairy option for people with allergies to nuts or soy. Oats are an environmentally friendly crop that grows in a range of conditions including cold-weather climates and are said to restore nutrients to the soil.
How it’s made: Combine rolled oats and water in a blender. Strain pulp through a clean T-shirt or towel.
Protein: 3 grams
Fat: 5 grams
Fiber: 2 grams
SB: As a non-dairy barista, I absolutely choose oat. This milk is really versatile, allowing bold and subtle flavors to take the stage where offered. Most oat milk also steams smoother than your best pitcher of 2 percent [milk]. When steamed properly, the microfoam stays integrated within the latte and keeps a light, fluffy texture without sacrificing mouthfeel. It's also very filling.
JW: I’m a big fan of oat milk. If I’m using a nut milk, it’s usually in coffee and oat milk makes great lattes. Just add it to a frother like you would dairy milk and you’re good to go.
The thinnest of the milk alternatives (it’s 89 percent water), rice milk is the least likely non-dairy milk to cause allergies. It’s naturally sweet and can be fortified with nutrients.
How it’s made: Combine boiled brown rice, water, and a sweetener like vanilla extract or brown rice syrup. Strain through a nut milk bag or cheesecloth.
Protein: 0.28 grams
Fat: 0.97 grams
Fiber: 0.3 grams
KW: We [at Whyld Ass Cafe] make rice milk, which we use as a base in all of our recipes to keep them butter free.
JW: I tend to stay away from rice milk because it’s so watery.
Originally a natural byproduct of making tofu, soy milk has become one of the most popular non-dairy milks on the market. One market study in 2019 forecast total sales of soy milk would reach $11 billion by 2025.
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How it’s made: Soak soy beans overnight. Grind soy beans, combine with water, and boil. Filter through a nut milk bag.
Protein: 6.95 grams
Fat: 3.91 grams
Fiber: 1.2 grams
SB: Studies have shown that soy produces an excess amount of estrogen in the body that slows down thyroid and auto-immune functions.
CG: Typically, I use soy in place of a 2 percent or whole milk in baking cookies or making a cream of asparagus soup.
There are even more milk alternatives to explore, including varieties made from peas, peanuts, flax seeds, and walnuts. Whatever one's personal tastes and choices, one thing's clear: Milk alternatives aren't just for the lactose intolerant anymore.