Looking for something plant-based to add to your tea, cereal or recipes instead of cow’s milk? Well, there are loads of options!
Milk substitutes come from either nuts, seeds, beans or grains. Several varieties are now available in shops and supermarkets, making life very convenient. Easily available are almond milk, hazelnut milk, and coconut milk, along with oat milk, rice milk, soya milk, and hemp milk.
Basic nutrition overview
Milk, whether from an animal or a plant is like any other food in the diet – it makes up only one (and a relatively small) piece of the entire “dietary puzzle”. No food, or drink, should be viewed, or relied upon, to provide all one’s nutritional needs. When it comes to plant-based milks, we must remember that these are essentially water, with small amounts of nutrients such as protein, calcium and other minerals.
All of the following milk substitutes are around 90-95% water, with added vitamins and minerals such as calcium, vitamin D and B12. Many also have added oil and salt. If you prefer to make your own fresher and purer milks, we have a recipe at the end that can be used to make all kinds of nut, or seed milks.
Certainly, if you’re one of the growing number of individuals who follow, and thrive on a plant-based diet, relying on “milk substitutes” is usually a prerequisite. It is therefore very much worth knowing what sorts of “milk substitutes” are out there (commercial or otherwise), and what they may (or may not) provide you with.
But first, here is a short “low-down” on some of the most popular “milk substitutes” available right now…
Rice milk is a sweet-tasting milk that is fortified with calcium, vitamin D and B12. It can be purchased sweetened or unsweetened and there are flavoured rice milks available too. It is a low-protein drink, lactose-free, and best used with cereals or simply enjoyed as a refreshing beverage.
Coconut milk is a relatively new addition to the range of “milk substitutes” available in the chilled cabinets of supermarkets. It is made from pressed coconut meat, with added water, and like all plant-based milks, it is lactose-free. Shop-bought varieties are usually enriched with calcium. It is, again low in protein, and has higher levels of fat than most other plant-based milks. Coconut milk has a pleasant taste with only a hint of coconut. Coconut milk is not coconut water that has received so much attention in the health press, with regards its electrolyte mineral balance. In addition, the thicker coconut milk that you find in cans is not suitable for drinking, and is much higher in fat, being mainly used in curries and desserts. If you want to make your own “DIY” coconut milk, simply soak unsweetened coconut flakes, or desiccated coconut in hot water. Blend it and then strain through a colander, or nut milk bag. Voila!
Almond milk is the best-selling milk substitute, and has recently surpassed soya milk, as the most popular non-animal milk product. Commercial almond milk is made up of water, with a very small amount (actually only 2%) of ground almonds. It also contains a little sea salt and sunflower lecithin as an emulsifier, and the stabilising agents locust bean gum and gellan gum. It’s enriched/fortified with calcium, and some vitamins including vitamin D, vitamin E, B2 and B12. It has a subtle, sweet nutty flavour and works very well on granola! It is easy to make your own almond milk, so check out the recipe below and give it a try!
Hazelnut milk is moving up the ranks and increasing in sales in the UK. Commercial hazelnut milk is, like almond milk, made up of mostly water with around 2.5% ground hazelnuts. It also contains sea salt, a little sugar, sunflower lecithin, stabilising gums, and enriched with minerals and vitamins. It has a smooth, creamy, nutty taste and is quite delicious as a warm drink, and on muesli or granola.
Oat milk is also growing in popularity, and in fact, one of the most nutritious plant-based milks available, being higher in calcium and iron than many other milk substitutes. Commercial varieties are however fortified, with added minerals and vitamins such as vitamin D, B2, and B12. Made from pre-soaked oats (10% oats) it is low in fat, lactose-free, and has a creamy taste. Organic versions are available.
How to make your own homemade nut milks…
You will need…
A blender and some muslin
1 cup of nuts or seeds (almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, hempseeds, or sesame seeds)
4 cups filtered water
1-2 Medjool dates or a spoon of raisins to sweeten, ground raw chocolate or cacao for chocolate milk, ground cinnamon to taste, or a vanilla pod for vanilla milk
Soak the nuts or seeds for 2-4 hours, and then peel nuts such as almonds to avoid a bitter taste to the milk. Discard the soaking water and then blend the soaked nuts or seeds (with the filtered water) on high speed for a couple of minutes. Pour the mixture through muslin, squeezing to strain all the “milk” from the pulp. You can use less water to make the milk creamier if you want. After rinsing the blender, pour the fresh nut milk back into the blender, and add any sweeteners for natural flavours you want. Blend again. Pour the finished milk into a glass bottle or container and refrigerate. Voila… a delicious homemade nut milk!
Don’t discard the pulp after soaking the nuts or seeds. This is, in fact, where all the dense energy and nutrition lies! Use the pulp in recipes for homemade biscuits and breads and get the most from your ingredients.