Non-dairy milks – which one should I use?

November 22, 2018 6:08 am Published by 3 Comments

Once upon a time, when health food shops were dusty, musty, unwelcoming places, there was soya milk. Sold only to those with a very good reason for avoiding dairy milk, it was a dull, greyish sludge – rather, I’d imagine, like liquid cardboard.

The world has changed. Health food shops are bright, light and full of smiles. Some of them – like Naturally Good Food – are wholly online, pioneers in the brave new world of the internet. And we’re in the business of selling hope now, not despair!

We turn the spotlight on non-dairy milks.

Non-dairy milks: out of the darkness and into the spotlight!

Gone is the greyish sludge: soya milk is now white and bright and available in several different brands. It’s drunk by people with allergies to dairy milk, as it always was, but also by increasing numbers of vegans, by people interested in expanding their diets, and by those who believe it to be a much healthier option than dairy.

It’s been joined on the shelves by nut milks (almond, hazelnut, cashew and coconut milks), milks made from grains (quinoa, rice and oats), and milks made from seeds. Some are sweetened, some are thickened, some are reduced fat, some are fortified or flavoured. They’re all made in a similar way – by soaking the crushed nut, seed or grain in water, and then blending the liquid and solids together. Sometimes, the milk is then dehydrated, to form non-dairy milk powder, which is ideal for those who are travelling, for instance.

Non-dairy milks aren’t milk, of course, but the name has stuck. They’re designed to be used in the same way as you’d use milk: in hot drinks, as a drink on their own, and in cooking. But they’re really simply drinks in their own right. You don’t have to ‘be dairy-free’ to drink them.

The trouble is – with so much choice now out there, how do you begin to narrow it down? Which milk should you go for if you’re a complete novice in the world of non-dairy milk? Which is best for health? Which one works best in coffee, on cornflakes, or in cupcakes?

We’re experts in non-dairy milks at Naturally Good Food and we’re here to help you. Here’s everything we know about choosing the right dairy-free milk!

Best for cooking

Good old soya milk is a good bet for cooking in general. It’s easy to substitute for dairy milk, in the same quantities, with the same effect. It’s also stable at high temperatures. Of course, much depends on what exactly you’re cooking. For savoury dishes, you might well like a milk that gives a more pronounced, nutty taste, such as hemp or hazelnut. For sweet dishes, a milk with a hint of sweetness, like almond or coconut milk, is great.

Coconut milk brings a complementary flavour to curries, while rice and oat milk, being reasonably thin, are good bets for light dishes, such as summery soups (and p.s. – are also good on cornflakes).

If you need something that will thicken and leaven, in baking for instance, soya milk is recommended. It reacts with acid to produce a ‘curdling’ effect, which helps the mixture rise, giving good baking results.

Best for foaming in coffee

If you’re trying to make a coffee-shop-style coffee, you’ll need a proper, foamable non-dairy milk. Bonsoy soya milk flies off our shelves and onto those of baristas across the country. It’s a favourite because it doesn’t separate in hot drinks and foams up beautifully. (The barista’s secret, apparently, is to heat the soya milk to 50-60C. While doing so, angle the jug containing the liquid to encourage it to spin, in a ‘whirlpool method’. Having reached the desired temperature, allow the milk to settle for around 30 seconds, to develop the perfect texture. It can then be stretched and ‘free poured’.)

It’s not just soya milk. Oatly, makers of amazingly good oat milk, have a new Oatly Barista milk out there. Based on liquid oats, it’s particularly light and also foams well. Once again, you need to swirl it, while heating.

Best for adding creaminess

If you want to add a touch of creaminess to a drink or recipe – or love glugging a creamy drink straight from the fridge – then cashew milk and coconut milk are good, rich options. Of course, we also sell non-dairy specialist ‘creams’, too at Naturally Good Food – check them out here.

Best for a cool, refreshing drink

Although it feels like a slightly contradictory statement, coconut milk is not only one of the richest, creamiest milks, but also one of the most refreshing – thanks, no doubt, to its ‘tropical’ taste and bright white colour. Almond milk, too, with a natural sweetness, is a great summery choice, while the thinner rice and oat milks are also refreshing.

Best for young kids

Don’t remove dairy from young children’s diets without taking medical advice first. If you’ve done so, and are now legitimately let loose on the world of non-dairy milks, you might wish to be guided by nutritional factors first, as well as the taste your child prefers.

You might well plump for one of the fortified non-dairy milks, such as Ecomil’s almond milk or Provamel’s soya milk, which make reasonable replacements, nutritionally, for dairy milk. Look out for milks with a high protein content, and with added calcium and vitamin D. Taste-wise, young children are often fond of the sweetness of almond, rice and oat milks, and generally love the creaminess of coconut milk. However, soya remains the most popular, perhaps because it’s so easy to track down. Do keep an eye on any sugar that’s been added, in the list of ingredients.

Best for making chocolate

We stock the most wonderful dairy-free chocolate at Naturally Good Food, made with dairy-free milk. So what do the experts use? Rice milk, oat milk and, increasingly, coconut milk. The latter brings a beautiful smoothness and richness.

Best for making frozen desserts

Vegan ice-cream? No problem! Seasoned ice-cream-makers tend to choose coconut milk (rich and creamy and makes a good base for tropical flavours) or soya milk (nice and stable) for their non-dairy ice-cream – or use a mixture of the two. Cashew milk has a following, too, in the vegan ice-cream world, with many feeling that it gives the best texture.

Best for a cheese sauce

Which non-dairy milk should you use for mac and cheese? We’d plump for cashew milk, as we like its thickness and nutty flavour. But soya milk is also easy to work with and thickens up nicely. For a well-textured sauce, we’d tend to avoid the lighter rice milk – and we’d bypass coconut, hemp and hazelnut too, with their more pronounced flavours.

Best for lunch boxes

Our mini almond and coconut milks are ideal for lunchboxes and picnics. If you’re feeling particularly decadent, we’ve also got mini chocolate coconut milks.

Best for calories

For high calories, opt for coconut milk. For low calories, unsweetened almond milk fits the bill.

Best for allergies

If you suffer from many allergies and are worried about trying something new, rice milk is generally considered to be the least allergenic of all these milks.

Best for nutrition

All our non-dairy milks have their own nutritional profiles, and many of course are fortified, making it difficult to single any one out. It’s best to work out your own precise nutritional requirements and check them off against the full range of dairy-free milks.

Some do have certain stand-out points. Soya milk is well-known for being rich in protein, for example, as are hemp milk and quinoa milkAlmond milk provides a good helping of vitamins, while oat milk is a fine choice for fibre. If you’re short of fat in your diet, meanwhile, coconut milk might be the answer.

And of course – best for taste

Everyone has their own personal favourite, of course – but here are a few tips to help you decide. Rice milk is generally thought to have the closest taste to dairy milk and is one of the sweetest options out there, along with almond milk. Coconut milk is good for those who don’t like the taste of dairy milk at all, as it has its own distinctive flavour. Hemp, hazelnut and cashew have more pronounced nutty flavours, while oat milk and soya milk are more neutral.

But there’s really no substitute for trying them all out. There’s a whole new world of dairy-free milks out there – and something for everyone in it!

Naturally Good Reads v2


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This post was written by Yzanne


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