Non-dairy milk: the benefits of plant-based milks
Non-dairy milk can be made from soya, oats, rice, nuts, barley and almonds… But what are their different nutritional qualities? Which should you choose and why? In order to find out, we’ve interviewed Anne Brunner, author of “Homemade plant milks and yoghurt”.
Every type of non-dairy milk has different properties and benefits it’s worth upping your knowledge so you can choose the best for your needs and palate. There are loads of plant-based milks available, and you can even make them yourself at home!
Nutrition packed non-dairy milks
To begin with, you should know that the term plant-based or non-dairy milk is a bit misleading… In fact, these “milks” are not milky drinks but actually mixtures of water and cereals. Overall, it would be more precise to call these products drinks rather than milk.
Non-dairy milks can be produced using a cereal base (oats, rice and wheat), oleaginous fruit (almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts…) or pulses (soya or peanuts).
So what are the nutritional benefits? These non-dairy milks are all free of cholesterol, lactose and casein, and are full of vitamins (A, B, C and E), minerals (calcium, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus…) and plenty of fatty acids (unsaturated fats).
This means these milks are really worth a look for people who are allergic or have food intolerance to cow’s milk, and equally those who need to lower their cholesterol. Here are the nutritional benefits for a few types of non-dairy milk:
- Soya milk: Best known plant-based milk, which is rich in calcium and proteins;
- Almond milk: Nutritious and acts as an antiseptic for the intestines, it contains high quantities of vitamins A, B and E, calcium, iron and magnesium, and also has a lot of fibre;
- Hazelnut milk: Known for its richness in iron, calcium and magnesium, and monounsaturated fatty acids (which protect against cardiovascular disease);
- Rice milk: The sweetest of the non-dairy milks and the easiest to digest. It contains silicium, an essential component for bones and cartilage, which allows calcium and magnesium to fix properly;
- Chestnut milk: Rich in minerals and sugar and easy to digest, it’s good for those suffering from gastric acidity.
It’s worth alternating between different non-dairy milks that you find in shops to diversify your body’s nutritional supply. If you make these milks at home, you have even more choice, including milks made from millet, quinoa, barley and chick peas too!
Choosing your non-dairy milk
Choose your milk according to the use you wish to put it to. If you want to drink it, “Non-dairy milks have very different tastes, so it might be necessary to try a few in order to find the one you like best,” says Anna Brunner, cooking author and blogger.
“For me, the best is Thai rice milk, which is more fragrant than ordinary rice milk,” she adds. Anne Brunner also recommends testing almond milk and oat milk too, which have more subtle flavours and really appeal to the taste buds.
For breakfast you can also go for sweetened milks or those with vanilla added. For cooking, soya milk is the best. “Soya milk works like cow’s milk in the kitchen,” Anne Brunner explains. “This is true also of heavier versions like almond milk,” she adds. In fact, soya milk can be used instead of cow’s milk in all dishes – sweet and savoury. It is also the only one of the non-dairy milks that can be used to make yoghurt.
“Almond milk is easy to use in sweet and savoury pancakes, gratins, mashes and cakes,” our culinary author says. There’s nothing to stop you using rice milk to make crepes but they will break really easily, so it is better to use this milk only in creams or flans. Anne Brunner also tells us that, “Oat milk is ideal in deserts or smoothies, and also in soups; pumpkin or squash soup in particular.” Lastly, she adds that “Hazelnut milk has a stronger taste than almond milk, and it will give your dishes flavour and an unctuous texture.”
Making your own non-dairy milk at home
The major plus with non-dairy milks is that it is absolutely possible to make them yourself at home… as long as you have a bit of time and patience! Furthermore, this will save you money if you make a sizeable amount, when compared to buying the same milks in the supermarket. And the method?
You’ll make the milk in three stages; first grind the cereal, oleaginous fruit or pulse you have chosen (you can use a product already ground), then add water, and finally, filter it. For making certain milks, there is also a cooking stage
- Homemade almond milk: For 250ml of almond milk, you need 50g of almonds. Soak them for a few hours, take off the skins and then mix them in a blender with two glasses of water. Drain the resulting mixture off with the help of a sieve with a fine mesh or strain it through muslin.
- Homemade soya milk: To make 2 litres of soya milk, buy 250g of hulled yellow soybeans. Soak them for a whole day, rinsing them regularly. Mix them with half a litre of water, and then cook the mixture with a litre and a half of extra water for 30 minutes at 70°C. Filter the resulting liquid. A good thing to remember is that you can use the soya beans remaining, after filtering, in cakes and pancakes.
Store your non-dairy milk in the fridge, in an airtight container. They’ll keep for the same length of time as an opened bottle of dairy milk. If you want to make almond milk quickly and in small quantities, Anne Brunner advises buying a pot of pureed white almonds (sold in organic health food shops) and diluting a table spoonful of puree gradually in the water until you get a milk.
- To learn more about making your own, get the Kindle edition book: Non-Dairy Milk, Russel Eaton, 2011 for only £1.27 on Amazon.