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The 5 Best Non-Dairy Milk Substitutes

Non-dairy milk alternatives

Hardly a blog post has caused as many clicks on my blog as my contribution to the topic Cow’s Milk – Bad Idea?!”. I got a lot of messages from people who were thankful that I made the effort and that they did not know much about milk. All the more, my motivation was to show you the non-dairy alternatives to conventional cow’s milk. More and more people are deliberately opting for milk made from grains or nuts. In Germany, legally, non-dairy milk substitutes should not be called “milk” but must be labeled as a “drink”. So, as not to deceive the consumer. More in my already mentioned blog post. For the sake of simplicity, I will also call the non-dairy substitutes “milk”.

Often emulsifiers are added to get an emulsion. This only serves to ensure that the ingredients do not separate and sediment. Often, the packaging also states that one should shake the milk alternative before opening it.

The 5 most popular alternatives to cow’s milk

Soy milk – probably the best-known milk alternative

The soybean is repeatedly frowned upon, which is why I have dedicated this topic already a separate blog post. Soymilk (soy drink) is made by soaking dried soybeans and then puréed, cooked, and filtered with water. The main ingredients are water and soybeans. However, there are also varieties that contain flavors, calcium, vitamin B12, sugar, or other additives. Soymilk foams very well and is great for cooking as well as for baking. Though, many bother the typical soy taste, which is often quite strong in the natural variant.

Personally, I like Berief’s soy vanilla milk for my morning cappuccino. Meanwhile, there are even soybeans from European organic farming, which are of course much more sustainable and ecological than many other variants. In addition, soymilk contains about four times as much folic acid as cow’s milk.

Almond milk – critical ecological footprint

Almond milk has been a specialty in Spain since the Middle Ages! It is mostly made from roasted, ground almonds, which are put in water and later cooked and drained. These are also usually the main ingredients. From time to time you can also find vegetable oils, emulsifiers, sugar, salt, flavors, calcium or vitamin B12 on the list of ingredients. Since it tends to flocculate in coffee and foams rather poorly, I rarely use it here.

It is great for oatmeal, cereals, smoothies, or for baking. Almond milk is rather sweetish in taste and has a marzipan-like note. However, the ecological footprint of almonds is problematic because they can only be cultivated insufficiently in Germany and have a high water requirement. Wide transport routes from the main growing areas of California as well as from Turkey, Italy, or Spain do the rest.

There are so many milk alternatives and milk substitutes – there's something to everybody's taste
There are so many milk alternatives and milk substitutes – there’s something to everybody’s taste

Oat milk – the domestic alternative

Oat milk (oat drink) is probably the most ecological alternative, as oats are grown regionally and ecologically in Germany. In production, the dehusked oats are crushed, boiled with water, fermented and mixed with enzymes. Then, the resulting slurry is filtered and treated with vegetable oil to obtain an emulsion. The main ingredients are water, oats, and mostly vegetable oil. Again, sugar, flavors, calcium, B12, stabilizers, salt, and emulsifiers can be found on the list of ingredients.

Not every oat milk is gluten-free. Depending on the oat milk, there is good foaming, which makes it attractive for coffee creations. In addition, oat milk has a pleasant sweetness, which is suitable for both sweet and savory food. Oats are said to have a hypotensive effect, which is also noticeable in oat milk. I personally like the Barista editions of Oatly or DM Bio very much.

Rice milk – the sweet milk alternative

Rice milk (rice drink) is the sweetest alternative for me, even if no sugar is added. It is made from ground whole grain rice, which is boiled with water. The subsequent fermentation and filtration are completed by adding vegetable oil to get an emulsion.

Again, other additives may be included. Since rice milk barely foams, it is more suitable for cooking and baking, as well as for muesli or rice pudding. Often you get rice milk in combination with coconut or oat milk.

Lupin Milk – contains all the essential amino acids

Lupin milk (lupin drink) is probably the least known alternative among the already mentioned. The lupin is a native legume that is dried and soaked, ground, and then filtered for 8-10 hours. Due to its considerable taste neutrality, it is suitable for sweet as well as savory dishes. The lupin seeds are true protein bombs and contain all the essential amino acids. In addition, the lupin binds nitrogen in the cultivation and thus enriches the soil, which at the same time favors the following crops.

Other unknown alternatives to animal milk

Less well-known vegan milk substitutes are for example spelt milk (similar to oat milk), hazelnut and cashew milk (similar to almond milk), hemp milk or pea milk. Here, in the next few years probably some more varieties of cereal milk, nut milk or legume milk will open.

All non-dairy milk alternatives, unlike cow’s milk, are free of cholesterol, milk protein, and lactose. In addition, they are far more environmentally friendly. For 1 liter of cow’s milk about 1050 liters are needed. 1 liter of soymilk needs only about 297 liters of water. For 1 kg of almonds about 10,240 liters of water are needed. 1 liter almond milk contains about 2-5 % almonds and thus comes to a water requirement of about 204-512 liters.

Even with calcium and iron content, the alternatives to conventional milk are in no way inferior. I personally love both soy, oat, and almond milk and I always have them at home. In addition, it is super easy to make non-dairy milk yourself – more on my blog soon! Stay tuned! 🙂
What is your personal favorite?

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Sources for this blog post

Ercin, A. E./Aldaya, M. M./Hoekstra, A.Y. 2011: The water footprint of soy milk and soy burger and equivalent animal products, in: Ecological Indicators, Vol. 18, 2011, pp. 392-402.

Fulton, J./Norton, M./Shilling, F. 2019: Water-indexed benefits and impacts of California almonds, in: Ecological Indicators, Vol. 96, 2019, No. 1, pp. 711-717.

Poore, J./Nemecek, T. 2018: Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers, in: Science, Vol. 360, 2018, No. 6392, pp. 987-992.

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