The best dairy-free milks

We compare six of the most popular non-dairy milk alternatives to choose from

If you’re not drinking cows milk due to intolerances or other reasons, finding a milk alternative can be a bit confusing. There is a plethora of milk alternatives now available, and each variety seems to boast different health benefits.

When choosing a new milk alternative, the most important thing to ensure is that it is fortified with calcium. Dairy foods are our most important source of calcium, so this is a priority when finding dairy alternatives. To see if a dairy-free milk is fortified with calcium, take a look at the calcium amount in nutritional table to ensure there is at least 100 mg of calcium for every 100 ml of liquid.

Here are six of the most common dairy-free milks and how they stack up when it comes to flavour and nutrition.

1. Almond milk

Flavour

Almond milk is made from finely ground raw almonds and water, and it has a mild, nutty flavour with a creamy mouthfeel. Most almond milk products will have sugar added to it, so it can be a little sweet too.

Nutrition

While its high in antioxidant-rich vitamin E and low in fat, almond milk contains less protein than cows milk. However, its a better source of protein compared to rice, oat or quinoa milk so if you are looking for something to keep you full, nut-based milks are a better source of protein. Some supermarket brands contain added sugar, so check the label and go for the unsweetened one if using in savoury products.

Verdict

A viable milk alternative with some nutritional value. It can be used in place of cow’s milk, but check there is no added sugar if you are using in savoury dishes. A lot of enthusiastic cooks are now making their own almond milk at home. Just be aware that there wont be anywhere near the level of calcium in homemade almond milk compared to the fortified products, so make sure you are still getting your calcium in.

2. Coconut milk

Flavour

Coconut milk has an amazing flavour which lends itself well to both sweet and savoury dishes. Be prepared for the dish to take on the coconut flavour so ensure you like the taste. It adds a great tropical feel to any dish, especially when paired with other tropical flavours (think pineapple or mango).

Nutrition

Although the word milk implies its interchangeable with cow’s milk, its not. Coconut milk may look like milk, but thats about where the likeness ends. High in saturated fat and kilojoules, coconut milk shouldn’t be considered an everyday food. Coconut milk doesnt contain calcium either, which is a big minus.

Verdict

Coconut milk is quite high in saturated fat even the ‘liteversions, so use sparingly. It’s not advisable to have coconut milk as a replacement for cow’s milk because of its saturated fat content and lack of calcium. If you enjoy the flavour, try Vitasoys new coconut milk which still has all the flavour of coconut milk, but includes calcium and islow in saturated fat.

3. Oat milk

Flavour

Oat milk has mild oaty flavour (think porridge). Its not as creamy and thick as some dairy-free milks, it feels quite watery in the mouth.

Nutrition

Oat milk contains a type of fibre called beta-glucan, which can help lower cholesterol. Like other grain-based milks, oat milk is low in fat. However, if you’re sensitive to gluten, it might be best to give this one a miss. It’s also low in protein so it’s not as filling as other options. As with most dairy-free milks, it can have sugar added to sweeten it, so ensure you opt for sugar-free if used in savoury dishes.

Verdict

Oat milk is good for those who have nut or soy allergies. Avoid using in recipes which require thickening (custards and thick sauces), as the oat milk wont thicken very well due to it having lower amounts of protein. Give it a go if you’re looking for something to help lower cholesterol.

4. Quinoa milk

Flavour

Quinoa has a distinct flavour mild and quite nutty, and the milk tastes the same. Its quite watery and thin so dont expect it to provide too much flavour to your food.

Nutrition

Quinoa milk is similar to rice milk in terms of nutrition. It contains very little protein (0.05%) so it won’t be as filling as other milks.

Verdict

Quinoa is one of the newer dairy-free milks being sold, good for those who have cow’s milk and nut allergies and dont like soy. Its pretty low in nutrition compared to its cost, so it might be best to use this in conjunction with other dairy-free milks.

5. Rice milk

Flavour

Rice milk has a very mild delicate flavour and its quite sweet. Its sweetness comes from the processing of the brown rice that its made from. It has a thin, watery mouthfeel and overall it wont pack much punch to your dish in terms of flavour.

Nutrition

Compared to cow’s milk, rice milk is quite low in protein (0.3% protein compared to 4%), so dont rely on it to fill you up. Look for a product with added calcium to keep those bones strong.

Verdict

Rice milk is a good option for those trying dairy-free milks for the first time as its quite palatable. Also, rice milk is the most hypoallergenic, so it’s great for intolerances and allergies. It’s quite low in protein, though, so avoid using in recipes which require thickening (like custards and thick sauces), as rice milk wont thicken very well due to its low protein content. It can be quite sweet so it’s best not to use with savoury foods, and it’s also fairy costly. If you are choosing rice milk, choose a brand that has been fortified with calcium.

6. Soy milk

Flavour

Soy milk has quite a distinctive flavour, which isnt unpleasant but takes a little getting used to. It has a thick, creamy texture similar to cow’s milk. There is a lot of variation in flavour and texture between brands so experiment and try a few. As with most dairy-free milks, there can be sugar added so if this is a concern go for an unsweetened version.

Nutrition

Soy milk is the most nutritionally comparable to cow’s milk and has the highest protein content of all the dairy-free milks, so you will still be getting a healthy dose of protein and good fats in each serve.

Verdict

One of the most common non-dairy sources, soy milk is a good swap. It contains the most nutrition of all the dairy-free alternatives, and is also the most widely available. Soy is a good all-rounder and can be used in place of cow’s milk in cold and hot dishes and in baked goods. Just watch it in coffee as it can curdle – not nice! 

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