Some people never touch a glass of milk, but we love it. We can drink two eight-ounce glasses a day. That’s in addition to cereal milk, yogurt and other milk-based products.
Our brother is the same. So we were surprised recently when he asked if we’d like a few quarts of almond milk; he had purchased too much.
Why? A physician had suggested that he cut back on cholesterol. He found that he preferred the rich, creamy taste of almond milk to fat-free cow’s milk (plant-based foods are cholesterol free). He also likened the flavored varieties—Chocolate, Coconut, Vanilla—to milkshakes without the calories.
Almond milk can be used in just about any recipe calling for cow’s milk: in baking, hot and cold beverages, sauces and soups. The only significant limitation is in recipes that require cow’s milk starches to thicken, such as custard, pudding and yogurt. You need to add other thickening agents.
Another benefit: You need never run out of milk. Brands like Almond Breeze have shelf stable versions. Just store extra cartons in the pantry. Like Parmalat brand cow’s milk, no refrigeration is required until the container is opened.
TRENDS: WHAT’S HAPPENING TO MILK IN AMERICA
Almond milk is our favorite of the nondairy milk alternatives. Photo courtesy Juice Queen.
For decades, cow’s milk consumption per capita has been on the decline, as newer generations—even pre-teens—drink coffee and soft drinks instead of a glass of milk. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, consumption across all age groups dropped 25% in the 37 years between 1975 and 2012.
Since 1999, according to market research firm Euromonitor, plant-based alternatives, called non-dairy milks, have grown in annual sales by an average of 10.9%. They are now a $1 billion-plus category in domestic retail sales.
The trend is based on personal factors, largely allergies, kosher and vegan diets, lactose intolerance and sustainable lifestyles*.
*Cow manure and flatulence produces huge amounts of methane, a major greenhouse gas. Here’s more information.
Twenty years ago, the option for non-dairy milk at supermarkets was soy milk. Then rice milk arrived. Today, the list is threefold larger:
Which one you choose should depend on two factors: taste preference and nutritional components. For example, if you want the milk to supplement your protein intake, look at the nutrition label. Some have more protein and other nutrients, some add nutrients equal to fortified cow’s milk (cow’s milk usually has added vitamin D; reduced fat varieties have added vitamin A). Some may contain additives you don’t want, from lecithin to sugar.
As the disclaimer goes, speak with your healthcare professional before making any changes.
The problem with flavored almond milk: It tastes so much like a shake, you can drink buckets of it. The good news: These 10.5- ounce portions have only 30 calories and 6 grams of protein. Photo courtesy Califia Farms.
HOW THE MILK ALTERNATIVES COMPARE
Almond milk doesn’t have the protein of cow’s milk, but it is lower in calories and some brands add calcium and vitamins during processing. The key benefit for us is the mild taste. You probably wouldn’t even notice if someone replaced almond milk for cow’s milk in your coffee. A close second to soy in terms of sales, almond milk is the non-dairy milk with the largest annual sales increases.
Coconut milk (the drinkable milk in a carton, not to be confused with the canned coconut milk for cooking and cocktails) has a noticeable amount of coconut flavor. If coconut is one of your favorite flavors and you want to taste it every time you use milk, then this is your milk alternative. While coconut milk is low in calcium and protein, on the good side it is also low in calories.
Hemp milk is a product that people either love or hate. Personally, we don’t like the earthy flavor in a milk product. Like rice milk, it is an option for people who have nut and soy allergies.
Rice milk can be gritty and watery. It is also higher in calories, carbs and sugar, lower in calcium and a poor source of protein. It is best for people who have nut and soy allergies.
Soy milk is tasty when flavored, but in its plain form, we don’t like the beany aftertaste. Perhaps that’s why Starbucks eschews plain soy milk in flavor of sweetened vanilla soy milk as its only non-dairy alternative. Soy milk has the most protein of the non-dairy milks; but on the down side, processed soy isoflavones can affect hormones, raising the risk for breast cancer; they can also depress thyroid function. Unless it’s organic, soy milk is likely made with GMO soybeans. Soy is the highest milk alternative in sales, but that’s because it’s been around for so long and anyone who has drunk it for years has no incentive to change. But almond milk is closing in!
Other non-dairy milks are on the shelves, and no doubt more will follow.
Cashew milk is beloved by our vegan expert Hannah Kaminsky, who drinks and cooks only with non-dairy milks. We should have tried it by now, but are too enthralled by almond milk.
We tried oat milk once, and didn’t care for it. Ditto with flax milk. Be your own judge.