Milk alternatives often get a bad rap for tasting weird and not being creamy enough. A growing number of people, however, are looking to replace traditional cow’s milk for ethical reasons, due to lactose intolerance or because they don’t like the taste of milk.
We’ve asked nutritionist Martolis Pieters of True Bite Nutrition (@truebitenutrition) to guide us through milk alternatives.
In this blog, we’ll answer the following questions
- What milk alternatives are there?
- How are milk alternatives made?
- How do milk alternatives compare nutritionally?
- What is the best milk alternative for frothing in coffee?
- What is the best milk alternative for baking?
- What is the best milk alternative for sauces?
- Can soy milk increase my oestrogen levels?
- What else do I need to know about milk alternatives?
What milk alternatives are there?
There are many options for milk substitutes on the market at the moment, so you really can experiment and see which one suits your tastes. There are the nut milks, such as coconut milk, almond milk, hazelnut milk, cashew milk and macadamia milk. Then there are other plant-based milks, such as soy milk, hemp milk, oat milk and rice milk.
We have borrowed this basic chart from the interwebs to help you determine which milk alternative is the most similar to cow’s milk, which is a good heavy cream substitute, which is a no-no for coffee and so on.
How are milk alternatives made?
Generally speaking, the source ingredient (almonds, coconut, oats, etc.) is blended with water and then strained to take out the bits. Often, stabilisers and thickening agents are added to improve the texture, mouthfeel and shelf life. These can be locust bean gum, gellan gum, acacia gum and carrageenan. For fortified milk, vitamin and mineral powders are added.
How do milk alternatives compare nutritionally?
According to Pieters, a study done on the nutritional comparison of cow’s milk and alternative milk products showed that soy, goat and cow’s milk provide nearly double the amount of protein compared to almond and oat milk. Cow’s milk has nearly double the amount of fat compared to almond, oat and soy milk, whereas almond milk has the highest amount of calcium out of all the milks. Almond milk has a notably low amount of folate and vitamin B12 compared with cow’s milk, whereas soy milk has nearly double the amount of folate and Vitamin B12 when compared with cow’s milk. Overall cow’s milk has the most well-balanced macronutrient ratio.
Here is a handy chart we found from 23degrees.com on the protein and fat content of different milks, as well as the optimum temp for steaming milk.
What is the best milk alternative for frothing in coffee?
For a good cup of coffee, what you want is froth and creaminess. To know which milk alternative is best in coffee, we need to look at the chemical compositions of the milk because, notes Pieters, “Milk of different compositions will have different steaming temperatures for optimal heating and sensory goals.” The milk alternative that is closest to cow’s milk and best for coffee if you don’t mind the taste, is soy milk, but you need to keep it to below 62°C.
This is dependent on the protein content. The higher the protein content, the creamier foam you’ll get with bigger air bubbles.
In cow’s milk, this is dependent on the lactose content. When lactose is heated, the Maillard effect causes sweetness to be created in the milk. For milk substitutes, this will depend on whether sugar has been added or, as in the case of oat milk, the milk alternative is already naturally sweet.
This is dependent on the fat content. Low fat content allows for stable foam at higher temperatures, whereas higher fat content provides stable foam at or below room temperatures.
What is the best milk alternative for baking?
The milk alternative with the closest protein, carbohydrate and fat content to that of dairy milk is soy milk and this would be best for baking. If you are intolerant to soy, you can use another milk substitute but will then have to compensate for the lack of fat/carbohydrate/protein by adding, e.g. fat in the form of a nut butter or olive oil.
What is the best milk alternative for sauces?
According to Pieters, here you want to opt for a milk with a balanced macronutrient ratio, but also one that does not overpower the taste of the sauce. A good option would be almond milk.
Can soy milk increase my oestrogen levels?
Pieters notes, “No, soy milk is a source of two isoflavones: genistein and daidzein. These isoflavones are known as phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are much weaker than the circulating oestrogen in your body and thus cannot directly influence the concentration of this circulating oestrogen.”
Soy products vary in their phytoestrogen level. For example, 1 cup of soy milk only has around 6 mg of isoflavone content compared to 1 cup of edamame beans, which contains around 32 mg of isoflavone. Soy milk is, therefore, highly unlikely to affect your hormone levels.
What else do I need to know about milk alternatives?
Shake before drinking
Most milk alternatives are low in calcium and so are fortified with it, but this can settle at the bottom of the bottle, so it’s a good idea to shake it before drinking.
Get as natural a milk as possible
If a milk alternative has been pumped with thickeners, sweeteners, stabilisers and gums to make it palatable, it’s probably going to put a lot more stress on your digestive system. Look for fortified milks with high levels of nutrients and low levels of sugar and additives.
There are milk alternatives that have as few as four ingredients, which are usually the source ingredient (almonds/oats, etc.), water, oil and salt.
If you love cow’s milk, the taste of milk alternatives does take a bit of getting used to. There are ‘milks’, such as oat milk, that have a beautiful natural sweetness. This then allows for less sugar to be added to your hot drink, so is valuable if you are trying to make healthier diet and lifestyle choices.
Milk alternatives also have the added benefits of reducing carbon emissions and avoiding supporting unethical dairy farming practices.