What Are Plant Milks?
Plant milks are essentially plant-based drinks and not milk per se, but they’re referred to as milk because they are marketed as alternatives to dairy. These can be made of a variety of plants:
- Grains (e.g. rice, oats, quinoa)
- Nuts (e.g. almonds, hazelnuts, coconuts, cashews, macadamia)
- Seeds (e.g. chia seeds, hemp seeds)
- Beans (e.g. soybeans, peas).
Mixes of two or more kinds of milk are also popular. Different plant milks will have different nutritional content and can be sold sweetened or unsweetened, all of which will be specified on the packaging of a given product. Because of this variability in nutrients, it’s difficult to assess how healthy plant milks are overall compared to cow’s milk, but we did compare and contrast popular milk varieties in this article: Pros and Cons – Which Milk is Best for You?
Also, keep in mind that not all plant milks will be suitable for everyone, and if you’re allergic to nuts or gluten, some milks will not be the best for you, so make sure you check the ingredients of each product before consuming or even purchasing it. Finally, in this article, we focused on more affordable and widely available plant milk options because they’re more accessible to consumers.
1. The Best Plant Milks to Pair With Coffee (and Other Warm Drinks)
Replacing milk or creamer with an equally creamy and frothy plant-based alternative is one of the biggest challenges. In the end, it all boils down to your personal taste, but we do want to give you tips and options, and here are our top picks:
1. Oat Milk is an excellent one to use with coffee because it has a neutral taste and can be whipped up in a nice latte or cappuccino. Also, it’s one of the most sustainable and widespread milk varieties, so it’s double, no - even a triple win.
2. Coconut Milk makes some of the best dairy-free cappuccinos, as it is creamy and can be easily whipped up with no extra effort. It also obviously tastes like coconut, which can be both a good and a bad thing, as those of you who enjoy specialty coffee varieties may find coconut milk a bit overpowering, but those who love coconut will love the taste.
When choosing coconut milk, it’s best to go for the bottled variety, and not the ones that come in cans, as the last one can be a bit too fatty and tends to separate when combined with steaming hot coffee.
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3. Soy Milk is also an excellent choice for coffee drinkers, as it has a relatively neutral taste and can be whipped up. It’s also widely available and inexpensive compared to other plant milks. Soy milk is the most nutritionally similar of all plant milks to cow’s milk and is a good source of protein. What’s not to love?
Related article: A Guide To the Health Effects of Soy Products.
4. Almond Milk is another suggestion for coffee lovers. You won’t be able to fluff it up as you would the other plant milks listed here, but it’s benefit is that it has a neutral taste and silky texture, so it will complement many coffee varieties.
Highly acidic coffee varieties can emphasize the natural bitter aftertaste of almonds, but this is easily salvageable with a dash of sweetener and it doesn’t happen with all almond milk varieties available on the market or homemade almond milk.
5. Cashew Milk is our final suggestion. It's very similar to almond milk, but is a bit more full-bodied and has a less nutty taste, which makes it perfect for lattes.
2. Plant Milks That Go With Cereals and Oatmeal
If you’re concerned that you won’t be able to have your usual morning cereal, granola or oatmeal when you go dairy-free, don’t be, as all three pair perfectly well with a wide range of plant-based milks. In fact, we’d venture out to say that plant milks are superior to cow’s milk, as they can add a twist to your ordinary breakfast and make it more variable and interesting.
In our opinion, these are the best plant milk options to pair with cereal and oatmeal:
1. Coconut Almond Milk is my personal favorite to add to granola or cereal simply because it spices up an otherwise bland breakfast without being too overpowering. It also pairs ridiculously well with fruit, especially bananas or mangoes.
2. Almond Milk, (or Oat Almond Milk) is the best to prepare cereal, as it’s fatty enough to make your cereal creamy, but simple enough not to overpower the taste of oats.
3. Hazelnut Milk is an interesting one as well, as it tastes just like Nutella if combined with a bit of dark chocolate, but healthier, and who doesn’t want to have Nutella for breakfast? Hazelnut milk pairs so well with cereal, granola, and oatmeal because it imparts a nutty, simply delicious flavor to any breakfast. It’s also used in baking, but it’s a bit pricey.
We wouldn't recommend milks that are too rich or too watery to pair with cereal, granola or oatmeal, so it's best to reserve rice milk, coconut milk, cashew milk and soy milk for other tasks.
The Best Plant Milks for Cooking and Baking
The options of using plant-based milks in cooking and baking are limitless. You can add them into smoothies, soups, and curries, or use them to make the fluffiest pancakes and bake the most delicious desserts. For a few delicious examples, check out this dairy-free recipe of Healthy Carrot and Nut Muffins or this finger-lickin' good Thai Coconut Soup.
When choosing plant milk for cooking or baking, look for the more inexpensive and neutral milk varieties that will be the closest to cow’s milk so that you can simply substitute it in any recipe, with the obvious example of coconut milk that’s traditionally used in many Asian recipes.
Here are our plant milk recommendations:
1. Soy Milk is suitable for cooking and baking because it’s so thin and similar to cow’s milk. Apart from that, it’s the only plant milk we know of that can be turned into buttermilk, just like cow’s milk, which makes it invaluable for baking. Finally, soy milk is relatively affordable, which is an important consideration, since you typically use a lot of it when baking or cooking.
2. Rice Milk is thin and has a very neutral taste, which makes it a suitable option for baking and cooking as well. Another reason to choose rice milk is that it’s the least likely of all milks to cause food allergies, since both it’s nut-free and gluten-free.
3. Oat Milk is affordable and has a thin consistency that’s very similar to skim milk. Compared to cow’s milk and most plant milks, it has more protein and fiber, slightly more calories and less fat. Since oat milk has a slightly sweet, yet very bland taste that’s similar to cow’s milk, it works very well for both cooking and baking.
4. Hemp Milk is an interesting, yet somewhat more difficult to get and pricey choice. Still, some people swear by it in pastries and baking in general, plus it’s among the healthiest options out there, since it’s rich in essential omega-3 fatty acids that support good brain and heart health.
Bonus Video: How to Make Homemade Almond Milk
Tip: to make plant milk from other nuts or seeds, follow the same directions by simply replacing the almonds with your choice of the main ingredient.