The Ultimate Guide to Dairy-Free Milks

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The Ultimate Guide to Dairy-Free Milks

If you have decided to skip cow’s milk either due to allergies or other dietary reasons, finding a new alternative can be a confusing. There are a plethora of milk alternatives to choose from, each seeming to boast different health benefits.

The most important thing to ensure is that your new milk alternative is fortified with calcium. How? Take a look at the nutritional panel and in the table where it says calcium – make sure there is at least 100mg for every 100ml of liquid.

So whether you’re taking a break from cow’s milk or wanting to experiment with some new flavours, use my guide to dairy-free milk to help you understand what to buy.

Coconut milk

Flavour… Coconut milk has an amazing flavour which lends itself well to both sweet and savoury dishes. It’s full of flavour, so be prepared for the dish to take on the coconut flavour – make sure you like the taste! 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 it’s interchangeable with milk – it’s not. Coconut milk may look like milk, but that’s about where the likeness ends. High in saturated fat and kilojoules, coconut milk isn’t something you want to have too much of.  Coconut milk doesn’t contain calcium either, which is a big minus.

Best for… Coconut milk is a great all-rounder.  It works well in hot and cold dishes, as well as baked goods.

Verdict … Coconut milk is quite high in saturated fat – even the ‘lite’ versions, so use sparingly. Or try Vitasoy’s new coconut milk which still has all the flavour of coconut milk, but the calcium of milk (and much lighter on the kJ’s!).

Rice milk

Flavour… Rice milk has a very mild delicate flavour and it’s quite sweet. Its sweetness comes from the processing of the brown rice that it’s made from. It has a thin, watery mouthfeel and overall it won’t pack much punch into your dish in terms of flavour.

Nutrition… Compared to normal milk rice milk is quite low in protein (0.3% protein compared to 4% in milk), so don’t rely on it to fill you up! Look for a product with added calcium to keep those bones strong.

Best for…Best for cereals, smoothies and other sweet dishes given its sweet flavour. Can be used in baking too, just stay away from savoury baked goods. Avoid using in recipes which require thickening (custards, thick sauces etc), as the rice milk won’t work thicken very well due to its low protein content. Is a great drink just to have on its own.

Verdict… A good one to start with for those trying dairy-free milk for the first time as it’s quite palatable. Also, rice milk is the most hypoallergenic so great if you have intolerances and allergies. However, it’s quite low in protein and can be costly. If you are choosing rice milk, choose a brand that has been fortified with calcium.

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. Some products will have sugar added so it can be a little sweet too.

Nutrition… While it’s high in antioxidant-rich vitamin E and low in fat, it has less protein than cow’s milk. However, it’s a better source of protein compared to rice, oat or quinoa milk. 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 too, check the label and go for the unsweetened one if using in savoury products.  

Best for…Those who don’t like soy, or want to try something different. It can be used in place or normal milk, but check there is no added sugar in yours before using it with savoury dishes.

Verdict…A lot of enthusiastic cooks are now making their own almond milk. Just be aware that there won’t 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!

Soy milk

Flavour… Soy milk has a distinctive flavour, which isn’t unpleasant but does take a little getting used to. It has a thick, creamy texture similar to milk. There is a lot of variation in flavour and texture between brands so experiment and try a few. I like Vitasoy So Milky and Bonsoy for their creamy flavour. As with most dairy-free milk, there can be sugar added so if this is a concern go for an unsweetened version.

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

Best for… If you want to make sure you are still getting the most nutrition from your milk, swapping to soy is a good option. Soy is a good all-rounder and can be used in place of milk in cold and hot dishes and in baked good. Just watch it in coffee as it can curdle, not nice!

Verdict… One of the most common non-dairy sources, soy milk is a good swap as it will contain the most nutrition of all the dairy-free alternatives and is most widely available.

Quinoa milk

Flavour…Quinoa has a distinct flavour – mild and quite nutty, and the milk tastes the same. It’s quite watery and thin so don’t expect it to offer too much flavour to your food.

Nutrition… Quinoa milk is similar to rice milk in terms of nutrition. It has very little protein (0.05%) so don’t expect it to be as filling as other milk.  If you do try this, make sure you buy a product that has been fortified with calcium to boost the nutrition of this.

Best for…Those who have milk and nut allergies and don’t like soy. As far as nutrition and price go, quinoa milk would not be something I’d recommend as a first choice to clients.

Verdict…Quinoa is one of the newer dairy-free milk being sold. It’s pretty low in nutrition compared to its cost, so it might be best to use this in conjunction with other dairy-free milk and vary it up.

Oat milk

Flavour… Oat milk has mild oaty flavour (think porridge). It’s not as creamy and thick as you might want – it feels quite watery in the mouth.

Nutrition…. Oat milk contains a type of fibre called beta -glucan, great for helping to lower cholesterol. Like the other grain-based milk, oat milk is low in fat. However, if you are sensitive to gluten, it might be best to give this one a miss. Again, opt for a product which has been calcium fortified.

Best for… perfect for those who don’t really enjoy the flavour of nut-based milk. Oat milk can be used in place of normal milk, so a good all-rounder. Avoid using in recipes which require thickening (custards, thick sauces etc), as the oat milk won’t work thicken very well due to it having lower amounts of protein. Is a great drink just to have on its own.

Verdict…Give it a go if you are looking for something to help lower cholesterol.


Written by Sanchia Parker (Seed and Kilter)

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