VC GUIDE: VEGAN MILK
Making the choice to become vegan can be a little overwhelming at first, and when it comes to dairy-free milk, you can often be paralysed by choice, blindly grabbing the first carton that comes to hand and promises the world and more often than not, left with an empty wallet and a bad cup of tea. After a more than significant amount of personal and professional experimentation (that sounds weirder than it is) and more and more supermarkets and coffee chains offering non-dairy alternatives, I've put together this
brief guide. I hope to level the playing field, demystify the milk aisle and help you make a more informed choice whether you're making midnight cereal, or grabbing a coffee in the city.
Soy is the basic b*tch of non-dairy milk. Often the first alternative presented in people's first foray into veganism and undeterred by some of the sexier milk alternatives popping up on the shelves, soy
milk remains the cheapest and most widely available choice for most.
While high in protein, and often fortified with good vitamins, soy has seen a little bad press of late. Environmentally, soy is one of the most controversial products in the world, with the seed one of the largest GMO's and contributors to farmland destruction. It's also a common allergen so make sure to check whether you are allergic before you pop a carton into your trolley. On top of that, you put cold soy milk in your tea and...well, it's best left unsaid. However, unsweetened, ethically sourced and taken in moderation, soy milk is not the villain it's made out to be and is a decent replacement for your cereal and in baked goods.
Milk of my dreams, milk to the stars (I'm pretty sure Beyoncé uses it). The milk derived from this epic nut is thick, creamy, high in good fats and calcium and offers a subtle sweet and tropical flavour making it perfect for milk-based espresso drinks and a great substitute would you usually take sugar. The milk is beautiful used in Asian dishes and stands up well to heat and thus is an excellent replacement in baking. But it's also like dipping a bounty in your tea, so nothing's perfect.
Almond milk (unsweetened varieties if you can) is an easily available all-rounder for coffees, great in your morning porridge and is naturally high in vitamin E, magnesium, zinc and Iron, as well as being fortified with much-needed Vitamin B12 and D. It heats
well so if you're steaming milk at home for your lattes, or making a vegan rice pudding, almond milk is good to go. It can be a little strong tasting so if you're not a fan of the nut itself, you will almost definitely not like this.
Further down the line of nut milk we have cashew, and with that hazelnut and the even more recent premium-priced star spangled hybrid inventions (cashew and coconut etc.). The pros are similar to that of almond; the nut itself is high in good fats and iron. Being naturally sweet and creamy, cashew milk is a good allrounder and it's not the worst thing you could put in your tea. As with all packaged and processed foods however, these milks can be high in artificial sweetener and colour which pretty much negates the benefits of
choosing (and paying extra for) a nut-based milk in the first place.
BUT! If you have the time and your 2017 resolution is to embrace the zero processed, anti-consumerist Good Life, it's actually super simple to create your own nut based milks to your tastes.
There are dozens of recipes online using various combinations of nuts but for a quick guide, use a 4:1 water to nut ratio. Let the nuts soak overnight, blend (and at this point add a little natural sweetener to taste if you'd like, agave nectar or dates work well). After blending, drain through a muslin cloth. At this point, the milk is ready to use and can be kept for up to 5 days. The remaining pulp after draining can be blended even further to create nut flour. And with cashew milk too working so well in bakes, you've got yourself the makings of a gluten-free brownie here...
Rice milk is one of the newer players on the field in the UK, but is not without its strengths. Mild and unassuming in taste, rice milk is perfect in your regular cup of tea and doesn't curdle. Low in fat and non-allergenic, rice milk is an easy to find alternative. It doesn't look like traditional milk, being a light brown...ish in colour which can be off-putting to a lot of non-vegans (so expect comments if you're making a brew for your non-vegan family or friends) and if you're looking for a protein fix in your milk, there are better choices than rice. But given its relative low price and wide availability you could do much worse than this humble wee milk.
Given that my job requires standing over a milk jug and steam wand for much of the day, I'm weirdly aware of the nuances of texture in dairy-free milk once heated. Which may sound immensely dull but it does mean I'm fully assured when I suggest oat milk for your flat whites and cups of tea.
Solidly tried and tested, this milk offers a not-too distracting taste when cold so can be easily sploshed into your tea, but when heated turns into a smooth creamy wonderfully textured liquid joy. Often soya is the default in restaurants and cafes which is unhelpful if you're allergic or just don't feel like soy. But you, as the consumer have the power to change that, just by asking. Any cafe worth their beans will be interested and respect your choices. It's often the case that soya is the default because the person behind the counter is not vegan themselves, so just ask and you may open them up to a whole new world of latte art. For home use, oat milk is widely available, and can quite happily be poured onto your cereal, has a pleasant unobtrusive flavour and is a good substitute in any baking.
Made from the multitasking cannabis plant and water, hemp milk is high in hard-to-find Omega 3 and protein, naturally occurring iron, folic acid and numerous vitamins. It's creamy, heats well, and offers a slightly nutty taste that wouldn't be unwanted in your cuppa. Hemp is the wee underdog of the alternative milk market, overshadowed by the more popular coconut/cashew etc. but if you have a nut allergy and are looking for the same texture in your milk and wanting a quick high protein fix: go Hemp.
Of course there are dozens more alternatives in the shops...Flaxseed? Quinoa milk anyone? And as the vegan market grows, and more and more people are turning away from over-processed, high sugar cruelty of dairy milk, expect to see even more choices in the future. Until then this guide should help a wee bit. Now, put the kettle on will ya?