Food Trend: Milk Substitutes Invade the Dairy Case
If the supermarket dairy section is a gauge of current food trends, then more and more people are trading cow’s milk for dairy-free, knock-offs, made from plant-based ingredients like almonds, soy, coconut, hemp seeds, rice, oats, flax seeds and cashews. These milk substitutes appeal to consumers who choose to forego cow’s milk for health, environmental or ethical reasons. I don’t drink cow’s milk for health reasons – I am lactose-intolerant, a common occurrence in Asian-heritage people.
To research this post, I toured the “milk” section of my favorite local natural foods market and read scores of web articles and blog posts about commercial milk alternatives. Here are the most useful things I learned:
- If your goal is to replace milk’s nutrition in your diet, choose alternatives that resemble cow’s milk nutritionally. Look for the “fortified” label on the carton to confirm that the manufacturer has added minerals and vitamins including vitamin D to the product. Protein levels will vary but may not be an issue if your diet includes protein from other sources.
- If, like me, you simply want a milk-like beverage to enjoy in a smoothie or latte, choose a product based on taste. I sometimes use store-bought almond and coconut milk for convenience but prefer homemade almond milk or cashew milk made with organic ingredients (see recipes at the end of this post).
- Count the number of grams of sugar per serving. A glass of cow’s milk has around 12 grams of lactose (milk sugar). I noticed that most alternative milk cartons boldly state the number of sugar grams and calories per cup.
- Nearly all the fat in milk alternatives is unsaturated fat and heart-healthy. When you compare the fat content of different products, focus on the number of grams of unsaturated fat.
- If you have food allergies, read the ingredient list carefully. To improve the non-dairy milk’s flavor, texture and creaminess, manufacturers add thickeners or gelling agents like carrageenan, xantham gum, rice starch and gellan gum. These additives may trigger food allergies in some people.
- If your goal is to be “greener” with your food choices, opt for milk substitutes made with plant-based organic ingredients. These products should not contain artificial or genetically-modified ingredients. Again, study the ingredient list before buying.
- Non-dairy milks may not work in your favorite cooking recipes. In baking recipes, for example, cow’s milk adds flavor, richness and texture, qualities that may be difficult to duplicate with milk alternatives. Most manufacturers offer cooking tips and recipes on their websites. Many bloggers also share their experiences cooking and baking with milk substitutes.
My DIY ventures include making homemade dairy-free milks. Several years ago, I bought a soy milk maker, but was disappointed in the taste and texture of homemade soy milk. My current favorites are homemade almond milk and cashew milk. Although both are easy to make, be sure to plan ahead. You need to soak the almonds or cashews overnight. As a refreshing treat, try horchata, a traditional sweet Mexican beverage made with rice and flavored with lime and cinnamon. My version is slightly adapted from a recipe by renowned American chef, Rick Bayless.
Horchata Recipe from CHEFS Mix
Adapted from “Horchata” recipe by Rick Bayless in his cookbook, Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico
Horchata or “rice water” is a popular sweet drink in Latin America and Spain. This recipe uses blanched almonds to add richness and body. Makes about 1-1/2 quarts
6 tablespoons long grain white rice, uncooked and unwashed
6 ounces (about 1-1/4 cups) blanched almonds
1 cinnamon stick, about 1-inch long
2-1/2 cups hot tap water
3 strips lime zest (colored rind only), about 2″ x 3/4″
4 cups cold water
1 cup granulated sugar (more or less to taste)
1. Soak the rice and almonds
In a blender or grinder, pulverize the rice. Transfer ground rice to a medium-sized bowl. Add the almonds, cinnamon stick and strips of lime zest. Stir in hot water. Cover bowl and let sit at room temperature for at least 8 hours or, preferably, overnight.
2. Blend and strain
Scoop the mixture into a blender jar and blend at high speed for 3 or 4 minutes or until no longer gritty. Add 2 cups of water and blend for another 5 to 10 seconds. Line a sieve with three layers of damp cheesecloth. Place sieve over a mixing bowl. Pour in the almond-rice mixture a little at a time. Gently stir the mixture to help the liquid pass through the cheesecloth and sieve. When you have strained all of the mixture, gather up the corners of the cheesecloth and twist them together. Hold over the bowl and squeeze the cheesecloth to expel any remaining liquid.
3. Finish and serve
Stir in 2 cups of water and add sugar to taste. If the horchata is too thick, add more water. Cover and refrigerate until you’re ready to serve. Stir before serving. Serve over ice. Garnish with a sprinkle of powdered cinnamon, if desired. Makes about 1-1/2 quarts. Horchata will keep for up to five days in the refrigerator. For an adult version, add light rum or golden rum to taste.
Homemade Cashew Milk Recipe from CHEFS Mix
Time-saving tip: If you use a high-speed blender like a Vitamix, you won’t need to strain the cashew milk.
1 cup cashews, raw and unsalted
Water for soaking
4 cups cold, filtered water
2 tablespoons agave nectar or honey (more or less to taste)
Pinch of sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
1. Place cashews in a bowl and cover with cold water. Let soak overnight at room temperature.
2. Drain the cashews in a colander and rinse well with cold water. Transfer cashews to blender jar. Add water, sweetener, salt, cinnamon and vanilla extract. Blend on the highest speed until smooth. The cashew milk will be quite foamy (it will settle after sitting in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight) and slightly grainy. Strain the liquid if you want a super creamy cashew milk.
3. Pour cashew milk into in glass jar with tight fitting and store in refrigerator. Use within 3 to 4 days. Makes about 1 quart
Homemade Almond Milk Recipe from CHEFS Mix
2 cups almonds, raw and unsalted
Water for soaking
4 cups cold, filtered water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Place almonds in a bowl and cover with cold water. Let soak overnight.
2. Drain almonds in colander and rinse well with cold water.
3. Place almonds, water and vanilla extract in blender jar. Blend on highest speed for 2 minutes or until smooth.
4. Line a strainer with damp cheesecloth. Place strainer over bowl. Pour in the almond mixture a little at a time. Gently stir the mixture to help the liquid pass through the cheesecloth and sieve. When you have strained all of the mixture, gather up the corners of the cheesecloth and twist them together. Hold over the bowl and squeeze the cheesecloth to expel any remaining liquid from the almond pulp.
5. Pour almond milk into a glass jar with tight fitting lid and store in refrigerator. Use within 3 to 4 days. Makes about 1 quart