Teaching Tuesday: Non-Dairy Milks

By popular demand, this week's Teaching Tuesday is all about non-dairy milks!

Fun fact: Did you know non-dairy milks can't be labeled as "milk" in Europe? The word "milk" is actually a protected dominion reserved only for mammary secretions. (Source) Instead, they're labeled as "drinks" (i.e. soy drink).

There are a lot of non-dairy milks on the market today, but rather than focusing on all of them, here is a breakdown of the most popular (and common) ones and how they're made:

Soy milk is made from soaking dry soybeans and grinding them in water.

Almond milk is made from ground almonds and water. I use unsweetened almond milk for cooking and baking.

Rice milk is a grain milk made by processing rice. You can also make your own rice milk very easily.

Coconut milk the beverage is not the same as coconut milk in a can. The beverage is lower in fat and comparable to its non-dairy milk cousins. (Note: whenever my recipes call for lite coconut milk, I'm referring to the one that comes in a can)

Hemp milk is made from hemp seeds, which are soaked and ground into water. It has a nutty taste.

When people ask me which one they should purchase, my general answer is to find a plant-based milk you like and use it. If you don't like soy milk, that's fine. Try almond or rice or oat milk. Try different brands, too. There is a reason there are so many brands — they taste different. You might also prefer sweetened over unsweetened. The only milks I suggest avoiding are the coconut milk-based ones because they are so high in saturated fat (and they don't always work well in cooking and baking) and hemp milk because the earthy hemp flavor can be strong and not complementary to the flavors in your recipes.

What to look for when buying your non-dairy milk:

1. Make sure the plant-based milk you are using doesn't contain oil. Refrigerated milks tend to, but shelf-stable do not. The shelf-stable ones also tend to be cheaper, and the great thing about them is you can stock up so you never run out in the middle of the recipe.

2. If you trying to eat a low-fat diet, you might want pick the brand with the lowest amount of fat per serving. This tends to be rice or oat milk, as soy and almonds both are fairly rich in fat naturally. You can, however, find low-fat and fat-free soy milks. We like WestSoy's non fat soy milk, but tend to buy unsweetened almond milk.

3. Pick the brand with the least number of ingredients.

4. Buy unsweetened if you can. If you need your plant-based milk sweetened, that's fine. Sugar is a scapegoat, not the biggest concern. A little sweetener in your plant-based milk is nothing to worry about — just make sure you're buying sweetened plain or vanilla, not chocolate or another flavor, which is basically a candy bar in a glass.

And finally, because I know it'll probably come up in the comments ;), I want to briefly touch on carrageenan and GMO.

Carrageenan is a seaweed. It's also used in many foods, not just soy milk. I think because it is used in soy milk, and the dairy counsel is always looking for ways to smear their competitor (especially now as dairy sales are down and soy milk sales are up) it's been getting more attention and hot air than it would if it was only in, say, jelly beans.

That said, if you someone has concerns (I find the science to be slightly suspect), there are plenty of brands of non-dairy milk (including soy milk) that do not use carrageenan.

As for GMO, I previously blogged about GMO (and soy) for the Herbie 101 series, and it includes plenty of links to scientific studies.

But just in case that doesn't answer your questions, here are some informative links on both topics:

Is carrageenan safe? (video)

Jeff Novick: Carrageenan

Dr McDougall: GMO Foods: A Potentially Disastrous Distraction

Which non-dairy milk do you prefer?