Cashew milk. Hemp milk. Oat milk. Almond milk.
Dairy-free beverages made from plants are becoming really popular among folks who eat vegetarian or vegan diets, or those who need to avoid dairy products for other reasons. These plant-based products aren’t technically “milk” — but brands use that word to cue consumers in that they can be used in ways similar to dairy milk. They’re packaged in containers similar to cow’s milk, and can be poured over cereal, in coffee, in smoothies, or just into a glass.
But which of these should you choose, if you’re interested in non-dairy drinks?
The answer: It depends.
Your choice might boil down to the reason why you’re considering one of these products:
- Are you steering away from dairy because of allergy or other health issue?
- Because you follow a vegan or vegetarian way of eating?
- Because you’re concerned about the environmental impact of dairy milk?
- Are you seeking a lower calorie alternative to cow’s milk?
- How do you consume these products? Drink a cold glass of cashew milk? Pour it over cereal?
And finally, what do your tastebuds tell you?
Top 5 Non-Dairy Milks
We tried five of the trendiest plant-based dairy alternatives:
Other plant milk options include: rice (which has been around for a while and is comparably high in carbs), coconut (high in saturated fat), and flax (one of the newest, and a bit hard to find).
At its core, a plant-based milk is simply a nut or seed that’s been finely ground, mixed with filtered water, steeped and then the solids strained off. By itself, this mixture isn’t particularly tasty or nutritious, so manufacturers add vitamins, minerals, salt, thickeners, emulsifiers (to keep the mixture from separating) and sometimes flavorings like vanilla.
Let’s take a look at the nutritional and flavor profile of these five top plant milks (for comparison, low-fat (2%) cow’s milk contains 125 calories/1 cup serving):
- Creamy, lightly nutty, not sweet
- 25 calories/1 cup serving
- Less than 1g protein
- What’s in it: cashews and almonds, water, vitamin/mineral blend, thickeners, emulsifier, salt
- Creamy, plant-like vegetal taste, slightly sweet
- 100 calories/1 cup serving
- 2g protein
- What’s in it: hemp seed, water, cane sugar, vitamins, emulsifier, thickener, salt
- Less creamy, not a lot of flavor, very little sweetness
- 70 calories/1 cup serving
- 7g protein
- What’s in it: soybeans, water, vitamins, salt, natural flavors
- Less creamy, not as nutty as cashew, not sweet
- 30 calories/serving
- 1g protein
- What’s in it: almonds, water, thickeners, emulsifiers, vitamins, minerals, salt
- Creamy, lightly toasted, the sweetest of all
- 130 calories/cup
- 4g protein
- What’s in it: oats, water, vitamins, emulsifier, salt — the briefest ingredient list
Looking at these options, you can see how the choice that’s right for you depends on a number of factors. If you’re looking for GMO-free products, be sure to seek out organic. Calorie counts among these plant milks vary pretty widely, so consider whether that’s a concern for you. Is environmental sustainability an important issue in your decision to choose plant-based products? Know that almonds, for example, require a lot of water to grow.
For straight-up drinking out of a glass, these alternatives take a bit of getting used to. (Though we’ll say that oat milk was our favorite in the taste test.) All would be fine milk replacements on a bowl of cereal or oatmeal, or for making Overnight Oatmeal in a Jar
. Manufacturers say that these plant milks can also be used in place of dairy milk for baking. We substituted cashew milk for cow’s milk in a basic cornbread recipe and could taste the difference, but only barely. Oat milk in a cake recipe was not noticeable.
Want to see what all the buzz is about? Choose a plant-based milk and give it a try!