A Guide to Milk Alternatives
A Guide to Milk Alternatives
We now live in a world full of alternative food and drink options created to cater for all kinds of diets and lifestyles. These days it’s common to find a range of dairy alternatives in a dedicated aisle at the supermarket including plant- based replacements for butter, milk and even cheese.
The extended shelf life of plant-based drinks also make these a viable choice for industry and home use. In this article we will offer a guide to the variety of plant-based ‘milk’ options for vegans, looking at the types available, the pros and cons to each including nutritional value and more.
What is a Milk Alternative?
A milk alternative is a non – dairy drink which is used to replace traditional cow’s milk in an everyday diet. Milk alternatives comes in many varieties today including soy, oat, coconut, almond, rice and hazelnut among others.
The consistency and taste vary between each alternative as does the nutritional value. Some of these varieties do not offer much in terms of nutrients and so beneficial vitamins and minerals are added by brands to enhance the product’s nutritional value.
Why do People Drink Alternatives to Milk?
Vegans and those with an allergy to dairy products make up the people who primarily opt for alternatives to traditional cow’s milk. Other men and women who make up this group are those who wish to lessen their environmental footprint by consuming little or no dairy. Those who suffer from lactose intolerance may also opt for plant-based alternatives to milk instead of lactose-free versions.
So, now that we know the reason for milk alternatives on the supermarket shelves, let’s take a closer look at some of the most sought-after options:
Many would argue that soy milk was the original dairy alternative often used for those with intolerances or allergies to dairy products rather than for dietary or lifestyle choices. Soy milk is the closest you can get to dairy milk in terms of nutrient value and protein content. The taste, however, does differ from dairy milk of course as this alternative is made from soybeans.
Pros - Healthiest alternative to cow’s milk, nutrient-rich, widely available.
Cons – The taste profile can be sour unless you choose a sweetened version, this is due to the natural taste of the soybean in the product, which must be fortified with calcium to contain any level.
Nutritional Value – Great source of protein, B-vitamins and isoflavones which are healthy plant chemicals.
Oat milk appears to be growing in popularity not just for the purpose of coffee but for baking too. The natural flavour of oats compliments many recipes for baked goods and so makes it an ideal plant-based alternative for vegans. You may be wondering what oat milk tastes like? It does sort of taste like oats but generally has a neutral taste profile which makes it great as an additive for tea or coffee. Oat milk also boasts a creamy texture similar to cow’s milk.
Pros – Oat milk has a creamy consistency like cow’s milk, it can be used in baking and cooking with ease.
Cons – The taste profile may be too bland for some, high in calories compared to other plant-based drinks.
Taste Profile – Neutral taste and flavour. Can be sweetened by brands to make a variety of oat alternatives.
Nutritional Value – Source of fibre, vitamin A and iron. Added Vitamin B12, Calcium and Vitamin D in fortified options.
Coconut milk is a popular option for those shopping in supermarkets and dining in cafes who want a naturally sweet alternative to milk. It is widely used in Thai cooking to balance heat in a dish while adding a nice, sweet flavour. As the name suggests this option tastes of coconut which has a refreshing taste. Coconut milk can not only substitute milk in your coffee but also sugar as the flavour itself is sweet enough so there is no need to add extra.
Pros – Suitable for cooking and baking as a sweet alternative to cow’s milk, especially good in curries.
Cons – The distinctive taste of coconut is not to everyone’s taste, with little to no protein content.
Taste profile – Sweet, refreshing coconut.
Nutritional Value – Low in calcium but a better source of iron and phosphorus than cow’s milk.
The final milk alternative in this list is nut-based and another vegan favourite. Almond milk is made by combing ground almonds and water however some brands like Alpro offer sweetened variations with added flavourings. As this is a nut-based drink anyone with an allergy to tree nuts should avoid consuming this plant-based option.
Pros – Creamy texture, alkaline beverage, and nutty flavour.
Cons – Low in protein, not suitable for those with nut allergies.
Taste profile – Rich nut flavour.
Nutritional Value – Natural source of Vitamin E, low in calories.
Barista Style Varieties
Fortunately, milk alternatives have evolved to cater for every eventuality, and what’s more important than your daily dose of tea or coffee? Barista style milk alternatives now exist for people to buy and use at home or more commonly for cafés to purchase.
Using a barista version of oat milk for example gives a creamier, foamier cappuccino compared to the standard oat milk drink which can be hard to create a substantial foam with. So, if you have a machine to froth your milk alternative at home then why not add barista varieties to your shopping list and enhance those DIY coffee skills.
Can Milk Alternatives Even be Called ‘Milk’?
In 2020 members of the EU Parliament voted in favour of something called ‘the dairy ban’. This proposal aimed to limit the words and terms that plant-based brands can use to describe their products.
For example, the phrase ‘vegan cheese’ is currently not allowed under European law and others include ‘almond milk’ and describing alternative cheese as exactly that. Such limitations leave plant-based brands like Oatly, Alpro and others restricted in terms of marketing their products and getting the word about quality alternatives out to the public.
Oatly, a popular Swedish brand of alternative milk makes the argument for the difference in greenhouse gas emissions between cow’s milk and oat milk. As governments and leaders work towards the encouragement of more plant-based diets, such laws do little to help the climate cause at the heart of many brands and customers who enjoy plant-based drinks.
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