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Dana Beninati for Food Network Kitchen
Dana is a host, chef and sommelier.
Today, people may seek alternatives to conventional milk for a variety of reasons. Maybe you’re looking for options that better fit your ethical, environmental or health concerns. Whatever the reason, the market now has many options for you to consider. We categorize them according to source.
What is the best milk substitute? (ranked by category)
Grain milk, made from processed grains, has grown in popularity over the past decade, with oat milk leading the way. While all milk alternatives are more environmentally friendly than conventional milk, cereal milk is said to be the least taxed on the planet.
- Oat Milk – PRO: Environmentally sustainable. CON: Prices go up.
- Rice Milk – PRO: Gluten Free. Cons: Watery.
- Quinoa Milk – PRO: Nutritious. CON: Expensive and hard to find.
- Barley Milk – PRO: prone to allergies. CON: It’s hard to find.
Nut milks are loved by crowds for their creamy texture and generally low calorie content. They have a pleasing flavor and work well in everything from coffee to curries. However, as nut allergies become more common, these are not always the safest options. Also, if environmental concerns are a priority, it should be noted that these milks require a lot of water to produce.
- Almond Milk – PRO: Easy to find. Cons: Common allergens.
- Macadamia Milk – PRO: Very smooth texture. CON: Expensive and hard to find.
- Cashew Milk – PRO: Creamy texture. Cons: Expensive.
- Hazelnut Milk – PRO: It tastes great. Cons: Condenses when heated.
Seed milks can be harder to find and more expensive, but they are an excellent milk substitute for those with common allergies. These nutrient-dense non-dairy beverages tend to contain more protein than nut milks, but less than soy or pea protein milks.
- Chia Milk – PRO: Nutritious. Cons: Hard to find.
- Hemp Milk – PRO: Creamy. Cons: Expensive.
- Flax Milk – PRO: Protein Dense. Cons: Hard to find.
- Sunflower Milk – PRO: Growing in popularity. Cons: May be an allergen.
Soy milk is the only milk substitute that rivals traditional cow’s protein infusions. We like to use these milks for more than just grains, as they work so well in baking and cheese making.
- Soy Milk – PRO: Affordable and nutritious. Cons: Common allergens.
- Pea Protein Milk – PRO: Protein dense. Cons: Condenses when heated.
- Peanut Milk – Pros: Affordable Cons: Common allergens.
Plant-based milk is an expanding category of milk alternatives, and we expect to see more experimentation in the coming years. Technological developments will continue to generate new non-dairy alternatives to address sustainability and health concerns. Meanwhile, there are two common sources of plant-based milk alternatives.
- Coconut Milk (Canned) – PRO: Rich and creamy. Cons: Strong taste.
- Coconut Milk Drink – Pros: More neutral in taste Cons: Expensive.
- Potato Milk – PRO: Cheap and allergy-prone. Cons: Hard to find.
What milk substitute is most like regular milk?
The milk substitute that tastes most like regular milk is just that—traditional milk with lactose removed. Lactose-intolerant dairy products like Fairlife are a great alternative for those who prefer to consume animal products.
However, if you need a vegan alternative, consider each of the following milk alternatives. First, we recommend that people who drink skim milk try rice milk. The texture matches very well with skim milk. If you’re used to 1% milk, try soy milk. Its fat content is nutritionally similar but provides more protein. If 2% milk is your jam, we recommend oat milk. Its natural sweetness and texture are sure to please. Finally, if you’re a whole milk lover, try rich nut milks, especially macadamia nut milks, as they will provide the closest thing to the whole milk experience you crave. If you want to try making your own milk substitute, check out our guide.
What are the healthiest milk substitutes?
First, when looking for the healthiest non-dairy products, we recommend looking for products labeled “no added sugar.” With the exception of coconut milk, non-dairy products are overall lower in fat than dairy products. On closer inspection, the difference is most pronounced with saturated fat, which is why milk alternatives are highly recommended for those concerned about cholesterol. While lower fat content sounds appealing, fat plays an important role in child development, so the USDA continues to recommend whole milk consumption until 2. Also, if protein is your priority, go for soy Or pea protein milk. They’re the only substitute that matches milk’s protein content, at 9 grams per cup. Other plant-based milks, such as almond and coconut, contain very little protein per serving. Milk made from oats, hazelnuts and hemp is somewhere in between when it comes to protein content.
We neglect to talk about nutrition and ignore the science of fortification, which is very common in the non-dairy industry. Fortification is the addition of nutrients to food to increase the nutritional value of the product. In the case of non-dairy milk, calcium and vitamin D are often added to mimic the nutritional profile of cow’s milk. While this sounds beneficial, it remains to be determined whether our bodies can consistently absorb these added nutrients. This is because vitamins and minerals that are naturally present in food are more bioavailable than those added later. In other words, our bodies absorb them more easily. Finally, it’s important to note that most organic non-dairy milks are not fortified.
Best milk substitutes for coffee
How well alternative milk performs in a hot cup of coffee often comes down to brand differences. For example, some almond milks blend well into hot beverages, while others curdle right away. When enjoying a cup of joe, our favorite is oatmeal and cashew milk. Avoid rice milk and pea protein milk, which will respectively dilute the coffee and make it curd. If you’re a fan of coconut milk, choose a coconut milk drink that matches the consistency of the milk, rather than the thicker stuff found in cans. For those who prefer steaming milk to their latte or cappuccino, look for “barista” versions of non-dairy milks, as they produce the firmest foam. You can find all our advice here.
The Best Milk Alternatives for Baking
Maybe you’re looking for a vegan option and need the best alternative to milk when you’re breaking out. If your priority is baking rather than drinking, then check out the OG of all milk alternatives, soy milk. Soy milk is a timeless invention of the 1910s, and it’s still your best alternative, and we’ll dive into why below.
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