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Picking Your Perfect Plant Milk

Simply put, “plant milk” refers to a beverage that’s made from plants and nuts that can be used in place of dairy milk. Usually the drink is made by soaking the plant and pulverizing it after. Though its popularity has skyrocketed within the last 10 years, there actually have been recorded uses of different types of plant milks for centuries. While soy milk was perhaps the most recognizable plant-based beverage in the United States (actually mentioned in a USDA report in 1897), there’s more evidence to suggest that almond milk was created even sooner, with records tracing back to the middle ages to people using almond milk as an alternative to dairy milk when observing Lent and fasting from meat.


Factors to Consider When Buying a Different Kind of Plant-Based Milk

Okay, if you’re deciding whether you want to swap out your regular milk carton with something new, there’s a couple different things you might want to take into consideration. Think of your dream milk: what are you looking for with this new candidate?

Do you want it to contribute nutritionally to your diet?

As far as what health aspects appeal to you the most, this is going to be individual to each milk and how you use it! There exists no exact duplicate nutritionally to dairy milk (that we know of), so a plant milk might have more or less of the nutrients you are looking for your particular diet such as Calcium, Vitamin D, Protein, or healthy fats, and these will most likely be advertised right on the carton. You’d be surprised how many plant milks are generally lower in calories than dairy milk- just make sure you’re looking for unsweetened. There are constantly new brands being released that now boast protein as well. A popular though admittedly unusual example of this is “Pea Milk,” a product whose premise simultaneously intrigues and possibly repulses the average consumer.

Are you mostly looking for taste, where you mostly just use it as a vehicle for your favorite cereal?

Another one that’s going to be personal for you, so it might take a little trial and error as you get used to different flavors and consistencies of plant-based milks vs. dairy milk. You can’t paint all your plant based milks with one brush! If looking for something that’s neutral and non-offensive, soy milk and oat milk are great options. If you like something more off the beaten path, you can try experimenting with more exotic flavors to pair with your morning bowl (like banana milk or coconut milk with your Cocoa Puffs, or complement Honey Bunches of Oats with a hazelnut milk). If you’re used to skim milk, flax milk or rice milk are options that have a slightly thinner consistency. Again, this is something that’s trial and error.

Do you need it to perform the same in cooking or baking without separating or getting weird?

For this particular category, it does make a difference which milk you use for what recipes. Anyone who is familiar with baking knows that it’s a science, and that means sometimes substitutions can drastically alter your dish. While it’s best to check individually alterations needed for different milks, as a rule soy milk and hemp milk are a pretty safe choice. For cooking a larger question is just going to be taste, as cream is generally used as a fat source or thickener and using one milk over another won’t usually destroy a dish. Of course, many dishes like curries have flavors that depends on using coconut milks or creams (such as our Instant Pot Coconut Fish Curry).

Do you mostly just use it as a splash in your morning coffee or tea, or steamed for a latte?

If you’re the kind of person who just can’t drink black coffee, once again it’s going to come back to personal taste. While you can for some milks intuit whether or not they’re going to have an overwhelming flavor (such as coconut milk), other milks are going to be far more neutral in taste. If looking for a substitute for your lattes or other drinks that use steamed milk, we are pretty confident in recommending that oat milk is hands down the closest duplicate in terms of flavor, consistency, and the practical act of foaming. If you are ordering a non-dairy milk latte at a coffee bar that uses a steam wand, there is some minor adjusting in terms of technique and temperature that the substitute will be prepared at compared to a normal whole milk latte.


Our Small Taste Test

In our quest to deliver you the most informed flavor results, here at Spices Inc World Headquarters we administered a taste test of some plant milks with some curveballs thrown in. It should be noted that in our region of Central Pennsylvania we traveled about an hour just to get access to all these varieties. Banana milk was made in-house by Chef Jeff since they were out at our closest Wegman’s, but they do normally carry one.

These are the kinds we tried, and a brief summary of our nine collected verdicts.

  • Oat Milk- Oat Milk was a popular choice for those who weren’t bothered by the “baby formula” smell. In general it is pretty neutral in taste and had a pleasant consistency. It’s unsurprising most people thought this would be an easy switch for their cereal vessel.
  • Cashew Milk- Across the board, most people were enticed by Cashew Milk’s smell, but enjoyed the actual taste a lot less. Those who prefer a less sweet milk might enjoy this one, or someone who favors a skim milk consistency.
  • Flax Milk- A very similar reaction to Cashew Milk. While there was no unpleasant smell, the taste was either too subtle for people to enjoy it, or they weren’t happy with the thinner consistency.
  • Macadamia Milk- A surprise! Most of the taste testers hadn’t heard of macadamia nut milk, and found the smell and taste enjoyable. In terms of consistency, it was appreciated across the board as neither too thin nor too rich.
  • Soy Milk- The closest alternative in terms of taste and consistency to regular milk. For people who like milk, this was an exciting revelation. For people who venture outside the dairy world because they like a more exotic flavor, it was pretty uninspiring.
  • Banana Milk- Just tastes like straight up bananas (that’s what it is, after all). A few people (who like bananas) were intrigued by its application in baking.

All of our taste testers were given identical cups, and a sheet to fill out that had basic questions asking the testers to rate the experience of each sample based on taste, smell, consistency, and whether they would consider using it as an option in their normal routine at home (not necessarily replacing milk). We didn’t reveal what any particular item was until after the test was over. As far as name recognition, most people had at least heard of 4/6 of these milks (Macadamia milk not being an option anyone guessed, and most people not even realizing Banana milk was a thing until they immediately recognized it after trying it). The #1 question we received from our blind testers were “Is THIS Pea Milk?” which reflects the effect expectation might have on your own personal tasting journey at home and a statement to how unassuming our options performed.


Is It Worth It?

Plant milks can be made from a whole variety of things that might boggle the imagination- such as nuts, legumes, grains, seeds… even bananas! Though the tools and technology exist to make plant milk accessible for a lot of people, there still are some challenges when developing and creating beverages to find ways to keep the mixture combined or stable enough to be sold in a traditional supermarket setting. One answer for this is a word that you might have read before when disparaging plant milk before, and that’s the word “emulsifier.” Some common emulsifiers that are used in plant milk development are “Guar Gum,” “Xanthan Gum,” “Soy Lecithin” and “Carrageenan.” While these words might sound inherently unnatural, eggs are an example of another product that have naturally occurring emulsifiers in it (lecithin) which is how we are able to make mayonnaise. The main concern people have regarding the use of emulsifiers are the possible effects they can have on digestive health in the body. Because these ingredients are used to add thickness and combine two substances that naturally want to separate, they can also have some weird effects on your body if you consume a lot of them. Carrageenan in particular, an emulsifier made from seaweed, has been reported to have some long-term side effects if consumed too often- because of the increased scrutiny of this product within the last few years, many plant milk brands have made the switch to no longer use this ingredient as a stabilizer.

If the idea of eating or drinking anything with a longer ingredient list in general doesn’t sit well with you, but you also don’t want to possibly drink a lot of hormone filled bovine milk, it may seem the only answer is to just make your plant milk from scratch. For our case, with banana milk, the whole process took literally less than five minutes as bananas are soft enough for Chef Jeff to just peel them and blend them in a food processer with some water. Nut milks are a little more time-consuming, often taking a few hours to soak them before blending and straining with cheese cloth or nut bag. Depending on your lifestyle and resources that might not be realistic, so we recommend just picking up your food and reading the ingredients list first- if you’ve never heard of a particular product and want to know what it’s used for, there are resources out there that can help you better understand the food you are buying! Though the idea of diverging off your old beaten path at your supermarket might seem daunting, don’t be afraid to do some research to help you find the products out there that are best for you (and your family). Whether or not you’re seeking out a plant milk just to try something new or need to make a switch from dairy for health or personal reasons, there is absolutely a plant milk out there that can be right for you- it just might take a little hunting.


Read More

8 Ingredients For Super Healthy Smoothies
Heart Health Awareness
Cooking with Nuts
Got Alt-Milk? How Plant-Based Alternatives Compare

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