Whether you want to buy your milk alternatives at the store or make vegan milk from scratch, this guide has you covered with the best vegan milks out there.
Table of Contents
- What is Non-Dairy Milk?
- Why do Some Milk Alternatives Contain Added Sugar?
- Milk Alternatives
Milk alternatives have come a long way since I first went vegan over 10 years ago. Back then, soy, almond, and rice milks were really the only options available. Those are still perfectly good vegan milks, but they’ve been joined by so many other delicious milk alternatives.
What is Non-Dairy Milk?
Non-dairy milk is a blanket term that covers any milk alternatives made from plants.
There are dozens of non-dairy milks out there, but in general, to make plant milk, you simply puree the nut, seed, bean, or grain with water, then strain out the solids. The resulting liquid is milk-like in texture, though thickness will vary based on ingredients and the specific technique you use.
Most store-bought non-dairy milk uses thickeners to give the plant milk a texture more like cow's milk. They also usually include ingredients to prevent the remaining solids from separating and a touch of sweetener.
Why do Some Milk Alternatives Contain Added Sugar?
The reason vegan milk recipes contain sweetener is because cow's milk is extremely sweet. A cup of 1% milk, for example, contains 12.7 grams of sugar. That's more sugar than you find in half a Hershey's Bar.
Soybeans, almonds, oats, and other popular bases for milk alternatives, on the other hand, are tend to be very low in sugar.
That's why if you want your vegan milk to taste like cow's milk, you need to sweeten it.
My Favorite Milk Alternatives (Plus How to Make & Use Them)
Choosing the best milk alternative can feel incredibly overwhelming. It seems like every day a new company comes out with a new type of plant milk. The true "best" milk alternative is somewhat up to your personal taste, so it may take some trial and error to find your fave.
It's also important to note that vegan milk can vary as much from brand-to-brand as it can from type-to-type. If one sort of soy milk isn't your jam, for example, that doesn't mean you should write off all soy milks. I recommend starting with the cheapest option (like the store brand), then upgrading, if the first one wasn't to your liking.
Below, I break down the differences between the vegan milks out there with tips for how to make and use each one.
Soy gets a terrible reputation, based totally on myths. A lot of the negative press about soy comes from the dairy industry. In fact, Big Dairy is so scared of plant milks, like soy, that it is lobbying Congress and the FDA to force makers of plant-based milks to remove the word “milk” from the label.
But back to soy milk. Soy milk is high in protein and delivers healthy doses of calcium and vitamin A.
Soy is one of the milks of choice in my house. My husband and I have been drinking, cooking with, and baking with soy milk for over a decade. Our six-year-old son has been drinking soy milk since he turned one, and he is in perfect health.
Uses: Soy milk is great in coffee, cereal, baking or anywhere else you’d use a cow’s milk. Regular soy milk is one of the milk alternatives that tastes closest to cow's milk, in my opinion.
How to Make It: You can make soy milk from scratch. I have done it before, and it's pretty time-intensive. This is a good recipe, if you want to give it a go!
Nut Milks (Almond Milk, Cashew Milk, etc.)
There are so many nut milks out there! Almond, cashew, pistachio, macadamia…you name it!
Like soy, I find that nut milks work well anywhere that you’d use a cow’s milk. You can buy nut milk at the store or make your own. There are two ways to make nut milk from scratch:
- From whole nuts. Connoisseurus Veg has a nice, simple recipe for making your own almond milk. You can use the same technique to make other nut milks, too! You can cut down on mess when making nut milks by using a nut milk bag to strain instead of just cheese cloth.
- From nut butters. This recipe takes about 30 seconds to make. Simply scoop your favorite nut butter into a blender with water. You can add a little bit of salt and sweetener, if you like. Puree until you have a creamy nut milk.
Do not choose nut milks, like almond milk, if you’re looking to add protein or a serving of nuts to your day. As you can see from the recipes above, it doesn’t take a lot of nuts to make quite a lot of nut milk, which means there's not a lot of protein.
Uses: Homemade almond milk works well in cooking, baking, and on cereal, but it tends to separate in coffee. Store-bought almond milk is a bit more versatile, and you can use it anywhere you'd use cow's milk.
Oat milk is another family favorite at my house. The fortified oat milk in my fridge says it contains 15% of your daily vitamin A, 45% of your calcium, 50% of your B12, 4% of your iron, and 35% of your vitamin D. It has 1 gram of fiber per cup.
How to Make It: Making oat milk from scratch is a bit labor-intensive, but it's not difficult at all. My friend Mel at A Virtual Vegan has a tried-and-true homemade oat milk recipe. She strains her oat milk twice, which makes it even work well in coffee, which you can't say for most homemade vegan milks out there.
Uses: Use oat milk in cooking, baking, coffee, cereal, or drink it by the glass. It is shockingly similar to cow's milk in both taste and texture.
Other Milk Alternatives
Like I mentioned above, part of choosing the "best" vegan milk is up to your own personal tastes. If my faves above don't do it for you, try these!
Hemp and flax milks are also popping up on shelves now. Hemp milk delivers a good dose of protein and iron in a single serving. Flax milk doesn’t provide any protein, but it does offer calcium and is low in calories.
Uses: Seed milks have a less neutral taste than soy or nut milks, in my opinion. Some people find the taste off-putting, but others enjoy it. Personally, I prefer using hemp or flax milk in cooking or coffee, where their flavor doesn’t shine through.
There are several types of coconut milk out there, and choosing the right one can be confusing. If you’re looking for a cow’s milk replacement, you want the boxed coconut milk intended for drinking, usually labeled "Coconut Milk Beverage".
Like nut milk, don’t look to coconut milk beverage for your protein needs.
You can also buy canned lite or full fat coconut milks. These are both thicker than the coconut milk beverage and intended for cooking things like coconut soup or curry. Lite coconut milk is just thinned coconut milk, sometimes with a thickener added to make up for the missing fat.
Lite and full fat coconut milks are great for baking and for making creamy soups and curries. Full fat coconut milk is a great replacement for dairy if you’re making ice cream, as long as you don’t mind a coconut edge on the finished product.
Go Dairy Free has a great guide to coconut milks and where to use which type, if you want more information on the different coconut milk varieties.
Rice milk tends to be the thinnest of the milk alternatives and doesn't contain a ton of nutrition. It has a unique, sweet flavor from the rice that I find really pleasant, though.
Uses: I love rice milk for sipping or in cereal. For baking or to lighten coffee and tea, thicker milk alternatives are probably a better option.
You can make banana milk at home, and it’s high in potassium, vitamin B6 and pectin. To make one serving of banana milk, combine in your blender:
- 1 frozen banana (Peel and chop the banana prior to freezing.)
- 1 cup water
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
- pinch of sea salt
- Puree until smooth.
Uses: You can drink your banana milk, pour it on cereal or use it as the base for your next batch of overnight oats.
What's your favorite type of vegan milk? Did I miss one that you absolutely love? Tell me all about it in the comments!