As a true blue dairy lover, I was devastated a few years ago to learn that I had a milk allergy. I’ve since tried to trick and confuse my taste buds and my stomach with every milk alternative there is, usually ending with an attempt at drowning my sorrows in a half-gallon of real, cow’s milk ice cream, no matter the consequences. Thankfully, the dairy aisle at the grocery store has experienced an increase in population density in recent years. Due to rises in lactose intolerance, veganism, and diets that exclude milk, it seems people have begun making milk out of everything from nuts to fruit. Why are there so many different kinds, and how are they different? And most importantly, how do they compare to cow’s milk?
The first milk alternative to come to mind is often soy milk, but it’s definitely not the “end all be all.” Soy milk is made by soaking dry soy beans and then grinding them with water. It’s got a unique, nutty taste, and it can be used in place of cow’s milk in many recipes, but the nuttiness can be a little strong if you’re used to something more neutral. I’ve never met anyone who drinks original soy milk straight, but the chocolate variety is nothing short of divine.
When I started branching out from soy milk, it usually depended on which type of milk alternative was on sale. At my local grocery store, that was usually rice milk. It was a refreshing change from the heaviness of soy because rice milk is pretty thin, and its flavor is definitely more mild. Since it is thinner, it doesn’t hold up as well as soy in recipes, but its milder taste lends itself better to cereal and cookie-dunking.
Eventually the almond milk went on sale, and I finally realized what I’d been missing. It was creamier than soy milk, tastier than rice milk, and all around delicious. I use it constantly in recipes, and have never had a problem. In a real milk-craving pinch, I’ve even had a glass of almond milk all by itself and it was almost like the real thing.
Just a few weeks ago, I discovered my favorite of all favorite milks. Right next to the almond milk I now grab out of habit was something new- coconut almond milk. While I probably wouldn’t substitute it in most recipes because of the coconut flavor, it is still by far the most delicious option for straight use. Its fantastically smooth texture and heavenly flavor make every sip or bite of cereal taste like dessert.
If you’re cutting out dairy from your diet, have no fear. While nothing yet quite replicates cow’s milk, the alternatives are surprisingly delicious (and pretty healthy)! Who knows, you might find yourself liking nut, grain and fruit milks so much that you don’t even miss your old dairy friend (don’t worry, I’ll keep your secret).