Milk is one of the easiest things to give up when switching to a plant-based diet. “But milk is in everything!” (I hear you say). And while milk is one of the most common ingredients found in just about every cuisine, it is also the easiest to swap out.
There are endless varieties of vegan milk available, with each type perfectly suited for different uses. By using plant milk, vegans can still enjoy ice cream, yoghurt, cheese, cappuccinos, and baked goods without consuming dairy. These are also great options for people who are lactose intolerant, or just trying to be more conscious consumers.
For those who are overwhelmed with the vegan milk selection and don’t know which one to choose, we’ve got the best options for each possible application.
Vegan milk is any milk that is made from plant-only sources — an alternative that is just as suitable for all the same purposes of regular milk. The majority are sourced from beans and nuts including soy, almond, and macadamia, but can also be sourced from oats, coconuts, and even rice.
The plant source of the vegan milk will determine how it is made and processed. However, the general procedure for producing vegan milk involves grinding the beans/nuts/oats, soaking in water, and blending the mixture with a high-speed blender. Next, the mixture is filtered, the pulp is removed and the solution is homogenised. Lastly, any additional sweeteners or flavourings are added, as required.
There are several variants of vegan milk with different flavour profiles and perks of use:
Soy and almond milk are the most common vegan milk substitutes, as they are the closest in taste and nutritional profile to cow’s milk. They are also popular because almonds are the most environmentally friendly, emitting the least amount of greenhouse gases during production, with the processing of soy milk producing only slightly more.
Oat milk and rice milk are both completely cholesterol-free. While rice milk contains carbohydrates and is low in calcium, oat milk is high in fibre, as well as calcium and other vitamins. Another vegan milk type with impressive nutritional value is hemp milk which contains more vitamin A than dairy while keeping a lower calorie count.
Coconut milk, in addition to being nutritious, is also quite sweet with its own distinct aroma and taste. You can also get macadamia milk, which contains a high load of iron, thiamine, calcium, and vitamin B6, and cashew milk, containing magnesium and potassium which are great for cardiac health.
With a high protein content and likeness dairy, soy milk is considered the best vegan milk to bake with. Protein helps to maintain structure and consistency, as well as aid browning to give baked goods a nice finish.
Almond milk and oat milk can also be used in vegan baked goods like cake, muffins, cinnamon buns, cookies, and brownies, but the overall best vegan milk to use while baking is soy milk. It’s also important to note that many baked goods can be made without using milk whatsoever. In fact, bread nearly never contains any milk or milk products. For those recipes that do typically contain milk, you can easily swap it out for soy, oat, or almond milk. Find some vegan baking recipes here.
The main problem with using vegan milk for coffee is the tendency of most plant-based milk to break up or curdle when used in coffee preparations, especially specialty coffees like cappuccino and lattes.
Why does it curdle? Well, this is mainly as a result of the high acidity of the coffee, along with the high heat which turns your coffee into a coagulant that causes your chosen vegan milk to split.
What to do? Try reducing the acidity by changing to a less acidic coffee type, or increasing the temperature of your milk by either heating it up a bit or adding it first in your cup, then slowly pouring the hotter coffee.
To avoid curdling, oat milk, soy milk and almond milk are the best choices in this category.
Although almond milk requires some special preparation to stop it from curdling, it complements most South American coffees because of its nutty flavour. It also froths well when used in specialty coffees.
Oat milk on the other hand is so consistent, that some even use it as a foamable milk for their coffee and lattes. This doesn’t mean it can’t curdle though. However, it is one of the least likely-to-split options, and so a favourite for people transitioning to vegan milk usage.
Soy milk is most people’s default alternative for dairy, and it does work for many dishes. It also goes well with specialty coffees, whether hot or cold. If you’re interested in a cup of iced coffee, try soy milk as it is less likely to curdle, and is also very creamy.
For the tea lovers out there, the best vegan milk you can choose to accompany tea is those with a non-distinct flavour. You don’t want the flavour of the milk to overpower the taste of the tea variety itself. Vegan milks with a stronger flavour, like coconut milk, wouldn’t allow you to experience the true taste of the tea you choose.
While cashew and oat milk are the most common alternatives to dairy milk for tea, we’d recommend going with oat. In addition to great texture, its flavour is indistinct so it allows you to savour the taste of the tea.
For cereal or granola, you will need vegan milk that has an appealing taste on its own, and thick consistency.
In this category, soy milk, as well as hazelnut milk are two perfect vegan milk choices. They both taste good, even without adding artificial sweeteners and also have a consistency that is not too thick or too light, so it’s perfect for cereal.
Because of its higher fat content and creamy nature, coconut milk is widely recognized as one of the best vegan milk options for making soups and sauces.
It is an ideal base for purees as it is not denatured by heat, and also has a delicious flavour that improves the taste of the sauce it is included in. If cream sauces are your forte, then coconut milk is your best bet to create a rich, flavourful sauce.
Vegan milk sources are incredibly nutritional across the board, and yet are quite unique in use. While there may not be a universal best vegan milk across the board, there’s always a vegan milk alternative that best suits whatever you intend to make. From baked goods, to coffee, to cream sauces, there is a vegan milk that will do the trick.
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