Nowadays there is much debate over which is the best of the various dairy free milk alternatives. I don’t wish to repeat the information that is already out there; for example, I will not be telling you which are the healthiest alternatives. Instead, I thought it would be interesting to tell you what I enjoy using, and why.
Soy Milk. I thought it would be good to start out by telling you what I use most infrequently. While back in the 1980s, when I first became aware of my dairy allergy, soy was the most readily available alternative, and I therefore consumed it a lot, I never was that crazy about it. I find that it is too heavy for many applications – for example, I remember trying to make pudding with soy milk, and the stuff was so thick that the bottom of the pan burned before it ever came to a boil. And that aftertaste, and the gas it causes – too much unpleasantness. Granted, it is still easiest to find dairy free yogurts made from soy milk (I happen to like Stonyfield’s O’Soy when nothing better is to be had), and outside of New York City, if I want dairy free milk, soy might be the one option on the shelf; but when I have other options, I will pass on soy milk (plus, my doctor tells me I should have no more than 8 ounces a day, and GMO-free preferably). The one exception is Tofutti – love the brand, especially their Better than Cream Cheese and Better than Sour Cream – awesome products, and great for baking and cooking (if I ever had the chance to talk to the company’s founder and owner, Dave Mintz, I would ask him if he has ever experimented with using other bases like almonds for his products).
Rice Milk. Again, back in the 1980s, the field of dairy free milks was pretty slim. So, not being a soy lover, when rice milks came on the market, I was thrilled. Thinner, a more pleasant taste, good for baking (used rice milk in cookies for probably 20 years). Whenever I ate breakfast cereal, I would use rice milk – Rice Dream was my brand of choice. Then came something that changed all of that (see the next paragraph).
Almond Milk. I was visiting my buddy Ed, who to this day lives a vegan lifestyle, about 10 years ago. After a day of inline skating or some other intense activity, we went back to his apartment to relax. I was really thirsty, and after downing a couple glasses of water, Ed said, if you’d like something cold and sweet, try this chocolate milk. I took a sip, and my reaction was, “wow, this tastes as good as dairy chocolate milk. What is this?” That was Almond Breeze chocolate milk, and after that, I was hooked. Part of the appeal of almond versus rice was in my mind I was thinking that the rice milk couldn’t be offering me that much nutritional value, that almond milk would give me more of that. But honestly, I like the taste better (I will address my thoughts about dairy free milks and nutrition later). These days, when I am making a recipe that calls for milk, I will use almond milk – original sweetened for desserts and things like pancakes, unsweetened for savory applications.
Coconut Milk. It is crazy how many different products made from coconut milk So Delicious has on the market these days. Here is just a sample:
I’ve been eating this company’s products since back in the ’90s when they were called Soy Delicious. When they launched their Purely Decadent line of frozen dessert flavors like Rocky Road and Peanut Butter Zigzag, I was thrilled. Finally, a dairy free dessert to rival Ben & Jerrys! I am a late convert to their coconut-based products, I have to say.
See, when I would need coconut milk in a recipe (often, wherever “cream” is called for), I would usually turn either to Thai Kitchen’s Coconut Milk or Trader Joe’s Coconut Cream (the latter is amazing for making coconut whipped cream, for example). And while I tried So Delicious coconut based frozen desserts when they first became available, I was initially unimpressed – I thought the desserts were kind of bland.
Little by little, though, So Delicious has been winning me over. I don’t drink coffee very much, but when their Cococcino came out, I tried it and found it quite awesome. At the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference in 2014, I tasted their Passionate Mango yogurt and enjoyed it – the tanginess reminded me of the dairy yogurt experiences of my youth (my doctor recommended coconut milk yogurts for their probiotics, and also said that coconut milk can aid with healing in the digestion). And more recent tastings of So Delicious coconut frozen desserts have been much more satisfying (I am sorry to hear they have discontinued the Pomegranate Chip variety – its mix of chocolate chunks and tangy pomegranate flavor was wonderful).
Most recently, I was excited to hear about their CocoWhip – kind of like a coconut milk-based Cool Whip. I have a container defrosting in my refrigerator even as we speak, and hope to use it on tonight’s dessert (pavlova). Normally, I would be happy to make my own coconut whipped cream, but I want to see what this dessert topping can do.
So those are the main dairy free alternatives I have used in my life thus far. I know that there are many many others on the market – oats, cashews, quinoa, hemp, flax, and on and on. I recently bought some Pacific Hemp Milk to try that, and some So Delicious Cashew Milk as well. Once I taste them, I will give you my take on those.
I will close just with a few words on my feelings about dairy free milk and nutrition. I know that for generations, people have drunk dairy milk as part of good nutrition. Older women who were worried about calcium loss after menopause especially have been keen to keep drinking milk. My personal feeling is that that is mainly a scam perpetrated by the dairy industry. Studies have shown I believe that our bodies don’t absorb the calcium in milk, for example, and that drinking milk actually can make the situation worse for these milk-drinking women.
What I am saying is that I don’t personally drink milk or use it in my cooking as a nutritional supplement. I am not worried if my almond milk doesn’t have as much protein as dairy milk. I use it because I like it, and because I don’t think it is harmful to me. I am happy to hear your feelings on this issue, and also, am curious as to which dairy free milks are your favorites!