Just a few years ago, anyone looking for a non-dairy milk to add to their cereal or coffee would find themselves faced with few choices and lots of skepticism. Today, alternative milks are ubiquitous in coffee shops, restaurants, and home kitchens across the country, and the different brands, flavors, and categories of alt milks are seemingly endless.
It needs to be said—alt milks are not one size fits all, and they often can’t be used interchangeably in the same sets of recipes and culinary uses. While some are best for foaming into lattes, others work way better for subbing into baking recipes and mixing into savory dishes like curries.
If you are curious about the world of non-dairy alt milks, we’ve got you covered with a deep dive into the various flavors, textures, techniques, and uses for the most popular alt milks on the market. Get your blender and cheesecloth ready—it’s time to get milking!
Almond milk—made from soaked, blended, and strained almonds—is one of the most popular alternative milks that can be found in most grocery stores and coffee shops. With a consistency similar to skim dairy milk, almond milk has the perfect texture for mixing into pancakes or cookies. Simply substitute an equal amount of almond milk for dairy milk as called for in the recipe, and continue with the instructions as otherwise directed.
If you’re not a fan of the almond milks on the supermarket shelves, which can have various sweeteners and thickeners added in, this guide to making your own nut milk at home will have you on the path to delicious, simplified homemade alt milk in no time.
Soy milk was arguably the first alt milk darling of the culinary world, as it soared in popularity in U.S. hippie food culture in the 1980s and 90s, and became more mainstream in the early 21st century. Soy milk was largely the first non-dairy milk that commercial coffee shops added to their menus—a true sign that this humble alt milk had entered the mainstream.
Because of its neutral, non-nutty flavor, it’s ideal for pouring soy milk over cereal or granola, or stirring a splash into your morning cup of coffee.
We love the creamy texture of homemade or store-bought cashew milk, which is typically thicker than many of its alt milk counterparts like almond or soy. This creamy texture makes it the perfect alt milk base for overnight oats and smoothies.
You can make your own cashew milk by the same method that you would make almond or any other type of nut milk. Control the thickness of the milk by adding more or less water to the blender before mixing—less water will get you a thicker consistency closer to that of whole milk, while adding more water will yield a texture closer to skim milk.
Unlike nut milks, which are derived from blended, soaked nuts, coconut milk comes from shredded coconut flesh, puréed with water. While many alt milks are found in cartons or boxes and are housed together on the supermarket shelf, coconut milk is usually found canned and shelved in what’s often called the “International” aisle, alongside Thai and Vietnamese spices, pastes, and powders. Keep this in mind if you find yourself unable to locate the coconut milk on your first pass through the market!
There are so many delicious sweet and savory uses for coconut milk, from curries to matcha lattes to dulce de leche. Because it’s so shelf stable, we recommend picking up a few cans the next time you’re at the grocery store and keeping them in your pantry. You never know when a recipe can be improved by a little coconutty sweetness!
If you’re already stocked up on coconut milk (or have some leftover from a recipe that called for less than a full can) and aren’t sure where to start, check out a few of our innovative ideas for putting this fantastic alt milk to good use.
Oat milk has exploded onto the alt milk scene in the past year, gaining a cult following amongst latte aficionados and curious non-dairy consumers alike. Much like with nut milk, oat milk is made by soaking, blending, and straining rolled oats with water and salt. Some people like to add a sweetener (like dates, or maple syrup) or flavor (like vanilla or cocoa powder) to their oat milk at the blending stage, but this alt milk also tastes great in its simple, original form.
The resulting creamy liquid is perhaps the most similar to dairy in terms of aesthetic and texture, and doesn’t separate when added to coffee as other nut milks tend to do. This is perhaps why oat milk is so beloved by coffee lovers who want a creamy latte that’s just not the same with steamed and foamed almond or soy milk.
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