Vegan milk galore – rice milk, almond milk, coconut milk, even peas milk?? How is it made? Is it really healthy? Is this all confusing? Do they taste different? If you need help decoding different vegan milks, you have come to the right place.
While all the choices may be a bit overwhelming at first, it will get easy over time if you willing to be open minded and try different options.
Why should I buy vegan milk??
I would argue that it is not for the health benefits. In fact, in my personal opinion, cows milk has very high levels of protein that newer vegan options are just starting to match.
BUT, given both the future of the planet and the treatment of the animals in the animal farms, I think it is best to reduce our consumption, if not eliminate, our use of animal based milk.
Isn’t almond milk bad for the environment too?
Now, many of you must have heard that almond milk contains very little almonds and it sucks up a lot of water. In reality, most beverages are predominately made of water, and almond milk is no different.
In general beverages have around 85% or more water. Additionally, you got to compare apples -to-apples. Whatever water it takes to make almond milk, it takes much more to produce cow’s milk. Moreover, it is not even considering the fact that the almond trees capture greenhouse gases rather than produce them.
What about all the ingredients and additives in vegan milk?
Read labels – while it may look like a lot, there are actually no preservatives
Here is a way to understand which ingredient is added for which purpose:
- Preservatives – Preservatives have typically names like Sodium benzoate, pottasium sorbate, sodium metabisulfite etc.
Most large companies are NOT using preservatives. Why? The packaging process itself has gotten so sterile using UHT (Ultra high temperature) packaging, canning or HPP (High Pressure Packaging) that it does not need preservatives.
- Emulsifiers – Guar gum, Xanthum gum. Say, you make fresh almond milk at home. Within a few hours, there will be a sediment at the bottom and water at the top. Emulsifiers keep them mixed until you reach the last drop.
- Fortifications – Calcium, Vit D, Vit A etc. In the US, even cow’s milk is fortified with Vitamin D, due to the prevalence of rickets in young children in 1930s. It is also reported that population groups with low animal milk intakes often have deficiency of dietary calcium, iodine, vitamin B12 and riboflavin.To combat these shortcomings, plant based milk substitutes can be fortified with calcium and vitamins, mainly B12, B2, D and E. These are within the daily recommended values, so these are not huge amounts.
- Sugars – Always check labels for sugar. Did you know that 1 cup of regular cows milk has 12g of sugar (lactose) – natural sugar? Personally, I prefer to look for vanilla milks that has less than 8g of sugar (2tsp) in 1 cup, no more. Unsweetened, with 0g sugar, is obviously the best choice.
How do they taste?
We buy vegan milks regularly at home. This is my personal opinion on tasting all the milks:
- Almond milk – Thin and bland. We buy almond milk a lot. Useful for smoothies, warm flavored beverages (like turmeric milk, etc)
- Cashew milk – Very creamy, bland taste. Has a thickness to it more prominent than other nut milks.
- Oat milk – It is rising in popularity, though I am not that fond of it. It has a heavy, grainy taste (according to me).
- Peas milk (Ripple) – It is a big hit in the family. We all love the creamy, sweet taste of it. Waiting for the prices to come down a bit for more regular use. If it is on sale, you can bet, I stock up on it.
- Cold Pressed milk (Malk) – Not super impressed. The taste is odd, for the supposedly high price point.
- Soy milk – I know some people have issues with estrogen content or whatever, but I am a big fan. You can make the best home made chai from Soy milk. I say this after many wasting many almond and other vegan milk ‘chai’ cups in the sink.
- Rice milk – So thin. It almost feels like drinking water.
- Coconut milk – I am a fan of the canned coconut milks used for cooking more than the coconut milk beverage. The beverage has a strong coconut taste (obviously), but not to my liking.
- Flax milk – I like the vanilla version. The unsweetened version is a little too thin for my liking.
- Hemp milk – Definitely has a unique taste. Slightly borders on bitter, but a good kind of bitter.
You can easily make any of these milks at home. There are tons of youtube videos for that. But there are 2 problems –
- Time consuming (so much of splashing and sticking)
- You got to use it up quickly, otherwise it will go bad. So you have to repeat the same cycle every few days.
I have made fresh almond milk before. It is delicious, no doubt. But, I lost enthusiasm after a few weeks. If you are more energetic than me, then all power to you!!
What are the uses for a vegan / plant based milk?
As a Protein source (maybe…)
Cows milk is definitely the king of protein when it comes to milk. 1 cup of cows milk has 8g of protein. Soy milk is the only milk that comes even close (7g protein).
Rice milk and coconut milk have negligible amount of protein while almond milk has a meager 2g of protein. The protein is usually trapped in the pulp. So, the main vegan milks available are not that great source of protein yet.
But Ripple has come up with peas milk that is specifically innovated to provide high protein in vegan milk. Malk that does something similar with nuts. The food geek in me is thrilled that vegan milk is really a hot bed of innovation right now.
As a Cool Beverage
Most of the time, we store our vegan milk in the refrigerator and take a swig after dinner or lunch just to have something cool and sweet.
I find fruits (especially acidic ones) and cows milk are not a great match. So, I often use vegan milks (especially almond milk) in fruit smoothies for a delicious, healthy drink.
In Indian Desserts
I yap so much about food, it is no surprise that my 66 year old mother cannot escape either. One day she called me to yell at me about vegan milk. “You keep telling me to reduce my usage of cows milk. So I used almond milk for making chakkarai pongal and it was awful. It was too watery and completely ruined the taste.” My bad!! I forgot to tell her which vegan milk to use.
If you want creamy milk – canned coconut milk (not beverage) is the best. Get familiar with the milk’s taste before you use it in a complicated or traditional recipe.
Most of the time, I enjoy vegan milks. I have only gotten it wrong only 2 times. Once, I got quinoa milk, for which I have written a very polite review. To be more blunt, it was awful.
Another time, the kitchen science nerd in me decided to try and make Sesame milk. Dear lord, I couldn’t swallow more than a sip. It was so bitter!!
But, in all other cases, I am happy to see aisles with burgeoning vegan products. Whenever I go to the grocery store, I always look for any vegan milks on sale.
When it comes to food products, I cannot stand companies like Coca cola that peddle sugary drinks to unsuspecting populations.
But, vegan milks is among the category where new research and innovation is bringing us food without preservatives while relieving pressure off animals. I, for one, am happy with their success and wish them well for their future to feed this planet with growing population.
Have you tried vegan milk? What is your favorite vegan milk? Share your thoughts and comments down below. As always, I look forward to hearing from you.
All opinions are my own. I have no connections to any of the companies listed in the post above.